We gather near Martin Luther King Boulevard, at Manual Arts High
School, one of the many heavily recruited inner city schools in
the 750,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
A high school student reads her anti-war poetry and tells her
audience she is friends with a murderer, a former JROTC drill
team leader, who enlisted, went to Iraq, and killed five people.
Vietnam Veteran Ron Kovic urges everyone to speak out against
school militarization. A paraplegic, Kovic recounts how police
clubbed and beat him and threw him from his wheelchair when he
led the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Many others, such as
Fernando Suarez del Solar, Rick Jahnkow, Jorge Mariscal, Blase
Bonpane, and student leaders, add stories and personal experiences.
February 7, 2004, a pivotal day in Los Angeles. Approximately
150 counter-recruitment and peace activists, from Sylmar to San
Pedro, from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Pacific Ocean,
converge for a take-action workshop called "Stopping Militarism
in Our Schools." Unprecedented in LA, the event features
panels and workshops on Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps
(JROTC), conscientious objection, opt-out policies, human rights
curriculums, and alternative programs. The workshop is sponsored
by the Human Rights Committee of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA),
a teachers' union of over 44,000 members, and a recently formed
Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools, an umbrella organization,
which in six months has grown to over 20 affiliates.
More than a workshop, we are building a movement in the greater
LA area. And along with a movement come hard questions. How do
we get diverse and sometimes competitive groups to work together
on this common purpose? What strategies should we adopt? How does
our past inform our present?
Militarism, embedded in public schools, has a long history in
Los Angeles, beginning in 1916 when the JROTC marched into LAUSD.
Today, JROTC is firmly entrenched in most of our district's high
schools, except for those on the more affluent Westside. LAUSD's
29 JROTC programs, situated in heavily populated year-round schools,
use space on crowded campuses where nomadic, roving teachers have
no permanent classrooms. LAUSD pays for more than half of the
$4 million JROTC budget, plus the California Cadet Corps, a National
Guard training program established in 17 of our middle schools.
In 1937 my aunt graduated from Roosevelt High School in East
Los Angeles. She remembers the culturally diverse student population
and JROTC. Today, I work as a speech and language specialist at
Roosevelt, the nation's second largest high school with 98% Latino
students and the reputation of being the Marines' number one targeted
Over the years, most teachers and other school staff members
never thought twice about military officers on campus, about rifles
cocked in marksmanship, or about the frequent visits by military
recruiters. It was school as usual. With the exception of a few
individuals who raised objections, there was no organized opposition.
But now the population is different, and the military recruiting
color-coded, for the population of LAUSD has shifted dramatically.
In the 1960s the majority of students, 70%, were Caucasian. Not
any more. In 2002 LAUSD, the most militarized school district
in California, had a student body that was 71.9% Latino, 12.1%
African American, 9.4% Caucasian and 6.3% Asian American.
About nine years ago, when Navy JROTC first sailed into the adjacent
Culver City School District, then-79-year-old community activist
Adele Siegel and her husband Henry went before the Board of Education,
asking questions about child soldiers in their backyard. Next,
they lobbied the LAUSD Board of Education to take a hard look
at the JROTC budget. In the late 1990s that post-Columbine
time of zero tolerance for guns at school some LA Board
members seemed receptive. But ultimately they retreated. Even
UTLA turned a deaf ear, and for many years Adele continued unceasingly
to ask the school district about the real cost of JROTC. Though
she now relies on a walker and sometimes an oxygen tank, this
90-year-old woman forges on -- inspiring us all as she collects
counter-recruitment brochures from various peace organizations
and assembles them into a packet called Peace Guides.
My own involvement in counter-recruitment began during the global
antiwar movement, before U.S. bombs seared Iraq, when the Human
Rights Committee of UTLA, along with other labor unions, adopted
an antiwar resolution and even distributed controversial T-shirts:
"A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind." Previously,
I had never been active in the teachers' union because I had felt
that broader issues of social justice and peace were often not
addressed. But these were revitalized days with UTLA, as the Human
Rights Committee raised social justice issues beyond the scope
of the union contract.
After helping to organize a teach-in last June, I was elected
the Human Rights Committee co-chair, along with Andy Griggs, a
math coach who also chairs peace and justice committees statewide
and nationally. Militarism in the public schools became our focus.
Last June I also attended the first national counter-recruitment
conference in Philadelphia, where I learned new organizing skills
and met representatives of other community groups who wanted to
address the issue.
After returning home, I worked with other Southland peace activists
to launch the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (CAMS),
a broad-based network to pool resources and share successful strategies.
CAMS is involved in the following activities: campus tabling,
passing out leaflets on enlistment myths, distributing opt-out
letters through specific academic departments, protesting military
logos on school supplies, presenting alternative service programs,
and talking to school staff and students about the meaning of
At the district level we are collecting data and approaching
the Los Angeles Board of Education on policy and budget concerns,
such as the low opt-out returns (less than 1%) and the hidden
costs of JROTC. Our presentations will include recommendations
implemented successfully in other school districts across the
Still, there are challenges. We live far apart from one another
and have limited time because many of us are already committed
to other efforts and organizations. Some leaders and groups prefer
to do their own thing. We have met these challenges by being as
inclusive as possible, consciously inviting all to work together
always mindful of diverse points of view. Sometimes this
requires ongoing outreach and dialogue which is a long and tiring
process. But what we have in common is the seriousness and urgency
of what we are doing and the deep concern for our youth. Secondly,
we have gained visibility by organizing workshops, collecting
contact information, attracting media support (radio, newspaper,
and Web sites), and spreading the word. Teachers and parents tell
us they are so glad to finally know where to turn for help.
We want to move forward, united and focused, as we solidify our
network. To this end, we have established a Web site (www.militaryfreeschools.org),
developed a factual brochure on militarism in LAUSD, and reached
out to developing national and regional counter-recruitment groups.
Could it be that one day teachers and students talking peace will
outnumber recruiters waging war? In working together as a broad-based
coalition, we can provide a powerful alternative.
Arlene Inouye is co-chair of the Human Rights Committee of
UTLA and coordinator of the Coalition Against Militarism in Our
schools (CAMS). Thanks to Marcy Winograd (teacher and Human Rights
Committee member) for editing support. Marcy has a Web site, http://www.teachin.org,
for activists to share counter-recruitment strategies.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)