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US Students Kick Military Recruiters Off Campus

US Students Kick Military Recruiters Off Campus

US Students Fight The Military Machine

By Dani Barley
Green Left Weekly #622, April 13, 2005

Two years after the invasion of Iraq, which generated the biggest protests in history, the anti-war movement in the United States is re-gathering strength. At the forefront of this movement has been the families of soldiers in Iraq, and now, increasingly, students organising to stop military recruiters on their schools and campuses.

The US military has a US$4 million dollar recruitment budget and countless uniformed “pimps”, who are deeply entrenched in downtrodden and working-class neighbourhoods Their job is to spread lies suggesting the military provides the key to a glamorous lifestyle, and a way out of desperation and poverty.

Opposing them is a network of students and community members. Despite the disparity in resources, however, the students are proving powerful: military recruiters have been driven off several campuses across the country, with more to come.

Ahmed Shawki, a leader of the US International Socialist Organization who visited Australia to attend the Easter Asia-Pacific International Solidarity Conference, told Green Left Weekly that the current movement is based on a growing youth radicalisation that became apparent at the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organisation in November 1999.

Shawki argued that this radicalisation provided the basis for both the anti-globalisation, or anti-corporate, movement, and then, the anti-war movement. He argued that since the 9/11 bombings, the anti-war movement has really taken off, involving new activists and many of the leaders of the anti-corporate protests.

The US ISO has young members involved in anti-war groups across the country, especially on campuses, where it is probably the biggest socialist group. Shawki explained that there are three main foci of student activism against the government: organising against military recruiters, defending the civil liberties of Arab Americans; and defending academic freedom.

The most exciting, he said, is the counter-recruitment activism, which has really expanded this year, on both campuses and high schools.

The latest national newsletter of the Campus Anti-War Network explains: “‘Counter-recruitment' has become a national issue, and it's working. Between these efforts, and widespread anger about the war, recruitment is down.”

According to a March 6 Reuters report, “The regular Army is 6% behind its year-to-date recruiting target, the Reserve is 10% behind, and the Guard is 26% short”. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reports that African-American recruitment is down 41% since 2000.

At Seattle Central Community College, nearly 300 students forced recruiters to leave campus in January. The students later emerged outside and joined an additional 1000 students from local high schools and colleges protesting the January 20 inauguration of US President George Bush.

Counter-recruiters have been pursuing a variety of tactics to pressure the administration. One tactic is to cite campus anti-discrimination policies, pointing out that the military’s homophobic “don't ask, don't tell” policy contravenes them. Another is debunking the myth that the armed forces will pay US$70,000 towards recruits’ higher education, in return for a “mere” four years of service. In fact, the US military makes a $72-million dollar profit through its GI Bill Fund, largely because of the difficult conditions placed on accessing the fund.

In a March 4 interview with Socialist Worker, the newspaper of the US ISO, Ray Parrish, an Air Force veteran from Vietnam and current activist in Vietnam Veterans Against War explained: “When you talk to the veterans who are not using it, half the time they say, 'I wouldn't be able to handle the stress of a full-time college until after I've resolved my post-traumatic stress disorder.' And because the mental-health system is broken down, it's hard to get this help.”

Activists have faced harsh penalties. Three City College of New York (CCNY) students and one staff member were arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest against military recruiters at a campus career fair in March. The private security officials assaulted Justino Rodriguez and Nicholas Bergreen, and each suffered minor concussions and deep bruises. The university has also suspended a third student, Hadas Their, for simply taking photographs of the demonstration. Witnesses recall the guards pulling out Their's hair during the arrest.

All three were charged with misdemeanour counts of assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace. Two days later, CCNY staff member Carol Lang was arrested at work and charged with assault in connection with the protest.

In early March, more than 150 San Francisco State University (SFSU) students joined Students Against War and other groups to protest the presence of military recruiters at a school-sponsored career fair. The crowd flooded the fair, surrounding the recruitment tables. When Air Force recruiters tried to wait out the protest, students staged a peaceful anti-war sit-in and teach-in. The following day, recruiters returned to the SFSU career fair. As soon as two activists entered the career fair, eight police officers forcibly removed them from the student centre, pushing them and twisting one activist's arm. When the other activist asked why she was being forced to leave, she was pushed into a doorway, told she was causing a fire hazard by standing there, and then kicked out of the building.

In the weeks following the action, a number of members of Students Against War received official “notices of appointment” from the administration. The letters stated that complaints had been received and that each student must meet individually with Judicial Affairs. The letters specified that the meetings must be confidential and failed to inform the students of the nature of the offences against them.

The schools leading the anti-recruitment drive are not the “traditional hot-beds” of student activism, but largely working-class universities and community colleges. There are more recruiters on these campuses, and more students know and are related to soldiers already serving.

In the April 8 Socialist Worker, Chris Dugan, a former Marine recruiter, explained: “I learned that the recruiters had lists of everyone from the guidance office at my high school, which indicated what they were doing after graduation. If you were going to what they perceived as a good college, you got a postcard about becoming an officer, and that was usually it. But if you were going to trade school or the local community college, you became a prime target.”

Another important aspect of the US anti-war movement is the continuing organisation of Arab-American communities. This move follows 9-11 and the growing cries of outrage over the constant vilification of Arab-Americans by the media and the government. One notable organisation is the newly formed National Council of Arab-Americans (NCA), which will have its founding convention next month. The NCA is seeking to provide an umbrella structure to serve the needs of Arab Americans, as well as seeking to support the efforts of existing Arab American organisations.

A key initiative of the NCA has been the Defence of Civil Rights in Academia Project (DCRA). This national network aims to provide support for and defence of the rights of Arab American academics, students, faculty and staff. As it says in its announcement, “We believe that no one professor should stand alone, and no one student or student organisation should be isolated!”

This initiative comes at a crucial time. Two Columbia University professors recently came under fire for expressing pro-Palestinian opinions. Last November, Joseph Massad, a professor of Arab politics, faced a campaign to have him fired after he allegedly criticised Israel in his class. One of those leading the charge for his dismissal was Anthony Wierner, a Democratic member of Congress who is now running for mayor of New York.

In a statement, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger pledged to uphold the university's policy on freedom of expression but added, “We believe that the principle of academic freedom is not unlimited.”

More recently, Rashid Khalidi, director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, was removed from his position in a secondary school teacher development program by the New York Department of Education. His dismissal followed a scathing article by the New York Sun criticising his stance on Israel. The course, entitled “The Middle East: An Overview, History and Culture” was described in the program catalogue as a “course of study for K-12 educators providing a basic introduction to the countries and cultures of the Middle East.” The course is taught jointly by a number of professors from the Middle East Institute.

The coming months will be an important time for these activists. It is likely that the harassment faced by the Columbia staff will become more widespread as the war continues. Similarly, students on campus will face more administration crackdowns on their ability to organise. However, the students are looking to the past for ideas on how to proceed. One of the ideas is to organise debates among pro- and anti-war students and academics. Either way, its not going to be a silent fight.


[Dani Barley is a member of the socialist youth organisation Resistance.]

From Green Left Weekly, April 13, 2005.
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