Students say no to military - Recruiters face resistance

By LeiLani Dowell

Young people from New York to California, in colleges and high schools, are stepping up their efforts to stop the Pentagon from using the economic draft to lure their fellow students into the war machine.

Police assaulted and arrested three students at the City College of New York March 9 for peacefully protesting the presence of military recruiters at the school’s career fair. Hospital records of two of the protesters, Nick Bergreen and Justino Rodriguez, show that they suffered multiple contusions and post-concussion syndrome from the incident.

Two days later, the third protester, senior Hadas Thier, received notice that she had been suspended from CCNY and barred from setting foot on campus for “posing a continuing danger.”

That same day, CCNY police charged into the office of a CCNY staff member, Carol Lang, and arrested her on the charge of second-degree assault, as well as disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration, in connection with the protest. She was held in jail overnight.

CCNY Psychology Professor Bill Crain said of Lang’s arrest: “The arrest of a staff member in his or her office is almost unheard of ... . The security forces are out of control, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Rational discussion with the administration has become very difficult.”

In an effort to increase that same fear and intimidation of dissent, the college president sent an email to the entire faculty and student body listing unfounded allegations against the students.

The incident at CCNY follows the March 3 arrest of a student at William Paterson University for handing out leaflets opposing military recruitment. Both incidents indicate the desperation of military recruiters at a time of heightened resistance—in Iraq and on campuses and communities in the United States—as well as school administrators’ collusion with the state to prevent such counter-recruiting.

A statement by protest organizers at CCNY reads, “Together, the actions of the security guards, the City of New York, and the CCNY administration have served to stifle dissent and create a climate of intimidation.”

FIST, No Draft No Way call March 31 actions

The youth organization FIST-Fight Imperialism, Stand Together—issued a statement the day of the initial CCNY arrests: “As the U.S. military faces shortages in new recruits-due to the resistance of youth to become cannon fodder for an imperialist war of conquest—it is stepping up its efforts to entrap youth in the military machine.... This only makes our work as counter-recruiters all the more necessary.

“FIST vows to continue fighting to end the military-industrial complex in its entirety, and applauds all involved in the effort. In addition, we will continue to fight the repression of political dissent on our campuses and on the streets.”

With recruiting levels in serious decline, the armed forces’ increasing inability to meet their quotas through the economic draft, and an imperialist policy that threatens more wars of aggression to come, the threat of an “involuntary” draft looms. However, a movement is steadily growing to stop the draft before it starts.

FIST and the anti-draft group No Draft No Way have both issued calls for local actions across the country on March 31. On that day, the Selective Service System is to report to President George W. Bush that it is ready to implement the draft within 75 days.

According to the No Draft No Way call: “Right now, the SSS is staffing local draft boards, training volunteer registrars to work on high school and college campuses, and streamlining its induction process. They have also gained access to the Department of Education’s computer files, to ensure maximum registration. It is clear that the Bush administration is preparing for a draft.”

Connecting the lack of options for working-class youths in the United States with military recruitment, the statement continues: “The same young people that Bush wants to use to fight his wars are finding it harder to pay for their education, find jobs that pay a living wage, or obtain the basic necessities, like health care or affordable housing. It is time for young people, who are already under attack from the Bush administration, to take a stand.”

Knowing that the return of a draft will result in an even greater outcry of resistance, members of Congress are scrambling to introduce bills to entice and keep more recruits in the military. A bill introduced March 14 would increase education benefits under the GI Bill, and would eliminate the $1,200 contribution troops now have to pay to sign up for the program.

Another bill, dubbed the “Military Readiness Enhancement Act,” seeks to do away with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy instituted during the Clinton administration - not because it discriminates against gays and lesbians, but because it wastes money and the skills of those recruits who are kicked out.

Yet these stopgap solutions won’t solve the Pentagon’s crisis. According to a study by a group called Gfk Custom Research, the risks of military services “are perceived to far outweigh the rewards for the vast majority of youth.” And the chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel has said he sees the recruiting problem “getting progressively worse before it gets better.” (ArmyTimes.com)

Counter-recruiters win some

Meanwhile, counter-recruiters continue to successfully win battles against recruiters on their campuses. In San Francisco, protesters with Students Against War were able to force recruiters to leave an hour early from that school’s career fair. A protester told the school paper, “They realized that we weren’t going anywhere and they weren’t going to recruit anyone, so they left.”

Other organizations, whose recruitment efforts were also hampered by the protest, said they would “ask more questions” before paying to attend the job fair again. If enough organizations end up complaining about the protests, it might make the administration think again about having the recruiters at future career fairs.

In Bloomington, Minn., students at Kennedy High School won the right to set up a counter-recruitment table next to the military recruiters’ table, despite threats by the American Legion to pull funding from the school. In a commentary posted on the Pulse of the Twin Cities website, students Brandon Madsen and Matt Johnson described their first action: “The recrui ters’ table was abandoned. Meanwhile, our table was mobbed by hundreds of interested students who asked questions, signed petitions, took fliers and pamphlets, and discussed politics. By the end of the day we collected 120 signatures for the petition against recruiters being allowed to invade our school. Over 100 more signed in the following days.”

The students explained: “It is essential that we stand up and take action against military recruiters. The entire U.S. war machine relies on the willingness of young people to join the military and carry out the imperialist policies ordered by corrupt politicians. If we build a mass movement of young people against the war that exposes the lies of Bush and the military recruiters, the military will be unable to guarantee a stable supply of youth to use as cannon fodder.

“We can’t count on the government or our school administrators to stop military recruiters from spreading their lies. We need to take it upon ourselves to educate and organize our fellow students, and to make our schools off-limits to recruiters. If every time they show up we provide an overwhelmingly unwelcome environment, they will simply stop coming. Already at Kennedy, in stark contrast to the six to 10 recruiters who usually show up, only one came this time.”


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