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Seattle students and parents tell the recruiters...
"You're not welcome here"

May 27, 2005 | Page 12

ON MAY 20, the U.S. Army ordered its 7,500 recruiters to "stand down" for the day--to address widespread reports of misconduct in meeting recruitment quotas.

The "values stand-down" was an admission of the crisis facing the Pentagon. Both the Army and the Marines have failed to meet their quotas for most of this year. Meanwhile, antiwar activists on campuses across the U.S. have mobilized to confront the recruiters when they come to prey on students.

Much of the organizing has taken place at colleges and universities, but students and parents are taking on the recruiters at high schools as well. At Seattle's Garfield High School, dozens packed a meeting of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) that voted against allowing recruiters on school grounds. JESSE HAGOPIAN--a Garfield High graduate and son of PTSA Co-chair Amy Hagopian--tells the story of one school's challenge to the military.

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SGT. MELISA Porter had just spread out the banner reading "Army of One" and arranged all the slick brochures and pen giveaways and computer games when Amy Hagopian arrived. "Do you realize you aren't welcome here?" said Hagopian.

This was the first day the military recruiters had been to Garfield since the school's PTSA took the decisive step of adopting a resolution stating that "public schools are not a place for military recruiters."

As Hagopian described the encounter, "They're all carrying lots of cute giveaways: water bottles, pens, pencils, refrigerator magnets, etc. I brought a copy of the New England Journal of Medicine with the report (and graphic photos) on war wounded, and a copy of the New York Times magazine with similar pictures.

"The Marine got me going, because he wanted to tell me there were many perfectly safe jobs in the military where no one is at any risk at all. I told him that there was no way he could guarantee kids a safe assignment in the Marines, and that he was misleading our children."

The Garfield PTSA's resolution against military recruiting is perhaps the first in the country and adds to the growing anti-recruitment effort that has swept many colleges and high schools. For example, on January 20, hundreds of Seattle Central Community College students made national news when they confronted the recruiters and chased them out of the building.

The PTSA's action came on the eve of the national "stand-down" day for Army recruiters, with commanders under pressure over the fact that one in eight recruiters were investigated last year for "improprieties," according to a New York Times article.

Garfield High School senior Kolya Ludwig told Socialist Worker about how the Army goes about recruitment at his school. "This government--both Republicans and Democrats--wants to send working-class kids and minorities to die so they can increase their control of the Middle East, especially the oil supply," he said. "Of course, none of these politicians would send their own children to fight in Iraq. That's why they send recruiters to our inner-city schools--to replace the growing number of dead and injured soldiers with kids who aren't left many other options in this society."

Recruiters are struggling to meet enlistment goals. For three months in a row, the Army failed to meet its quotas, and the Marines haven't met their goal since January. Last month, the Army announced that the maximum age at which new recruits are eligible to join the National Guard and Reserves was being increased to 39--and the military has also changed requirements in order to accept thousands more recruits who lack a high school diploma, formerly a mandatory requirement.

As Amy Hagopian told Socialist Worker, "The PTSA is supposed to be confined in a bake-sale box, and when the PTSA becomes visible on a big national issue, that's news. PTSAs have a lot of power that they have never unleashed, and it's time to unleash this power to make our schools safe for all our kids, and free from coercion to sign up for the military.

"I think our anti-recruitment movement is a great handle, because recruiting stations are physical manifestations of the military that we come into direct contact with. They are in neighborhoods where ordinary people live, and they are in poor neighborhoods--gosh, I wonder why? And they are great targets for the antiwar movement; this could really be a new frontier of the antiwar movement."

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