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From Draft NOtices, March - April, 2004


Organizing to Demilitarize Schools in the Greater Los Angeles Area

— Arlene Inouye

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 school.

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 militarism.

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 nation.

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 (, 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,, for activists to share counter-recruitment strategies.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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