Anti-war activists look to stop military recruiters on Pearl Harbor Day
By Joe Piasecki 12/07/2006
Infamy: n. 1) evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal 2a) an extreme and publicly known criminal or evil act b) the state of being infamous
— Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
Today is Pearl Harbor Day, usually a time to reflect on the great sacrifices made by the men and women who have served in America's armed forces.
It brings to mind those who fought and died not only in World War II, which for this country began with the Japanese surprise attack on the Hawaiian military base — “a day that will live in infamy,” President Franklin Roosevelt famously said at the time — but during all of our many wars.
There are, however, many who liken the Bush administration-led War on Terror being fought in Iraq and in other places around the world to a criminal enterprise — another infamy, only this one of American making.
That's why on this day in Pasadena area peace activists and college students have organized a protest that aims to shut down the military recruitment center on East Colorado Boulevard.
“If we have come to accept that this is an immoral, illegal war, then of course we have an obligation to actively pursue efforts to stop the military from recruiting young people to serve and kill or be killed,” said Lynda Llamas, a Caltech lab technician manager and one of several activists planning to risk arrest by blocking the doors to the recruitment center.
At noon, students and organizers with the American Friends Service Committee will congregate outside Pasadena City College's C Building before marching to the quad and then on to the recruitment center.
According to an Army spokesman, however, efforts to shut down their offices across from campus may already have worked.
“If there's going to be a bunch of [demonstrators] out there, then we don't man the recruiting station for that day,” said Tony Clemetson, a public affairs specialist for the Army's Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion. “People are going to protest, so the best thing to do is just not man the station,” he said of local Army policy, citing fears that if the location were open, some protesters could provoke more of a scene by attempting to enter the office.
That's good news to Garrick Ruiz, a member of PCC's Students for Social Justice club. If the Army doesn't show up, “With only the threat of having a few students in front of their office, we've had a real effect on their efforts to recruit more people for their war,” he said.
In his personal opinion, though, Clemetson doesn't see the point of the demonstration.
“I honestly think they're wasting their time. They're better off going to Congress to voice their opinion,” he said. “That's why we have a volunteer service, so people can make up their own minds. Some people don't like us recruiting, they don't like the war, but it's not our choice. It's up to Congress.”
But that's missing the point, says Ruiz.
“The most important point is that we, as students at PCC, are doing this because we're unfairly targeted to be frontline soldiers to carry out the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. We don't appreciate being targeted to be the ones who die as a result of these policies,” he said.
At least one of the three days he's on campus each week, Ruiz sees groups of recruiters engaging students in conversation, and advertisements for the military litter campus every day.
Over the past few years, turning political protest toward military recruitment has become a growing movement, especially in Southern California, where Los Angeles Unified School District teacher and South Pasadena resident Arlene Inouye heads the activist group Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools (CAMS).
According to CAMS activists, military recruiters are creating a de facto “poverty draft” by targeting youth who are likely to be from economically distressed families and who are often Latino or African-American.
Statistics compiled by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access seem to back up the poverty draft theory. According to that program, hundreds of students in East LA, South LA and Pasadena high schools have been enrolled in JROTC, or Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, but there aren't any such programs in places like La Cañada Flintridge, San Marino and wealthy neighborhoods of West LA.
Inouye's group has worked to limit recruiter access to students during school hours in many LAUSD schools — in some places changing laissez-faire policies that once allowed recruiters to pull students out of class or eat lunch with them on a regular basis.
CAMS, however, has done little within the Pasadena Unified School District, saying most schools professionals there have shown little interest in the program.
“In Pasadena there's quite a bit of turmoil in the school district, and in order to do our program you have to have the parents' and the community's and the schools' support. My understanding is the community's dealing with other issues right now, and we're not going to come in from the outside. It has to be something they choose to do, and we will support them,” she said.
According to Assistant Superintendent George McKenna, 277 PUSD high school students are enrolled in JROTC programs — 85 at John Muir High School's Air Force Program, 88 at Blair's Army-run program and 104 at Pasadena High School's Navy JROTC — but the district has already made efforts to regulate military recruiter access to students.
Unlike several Los Angeles schools, recruiters are only allowed to contact students after parents have agreed to allow that contact and are prohibited from using class time to do it, said McKenna, who is familiar with the poverty draft concept.
“The poorer kids are, the more vulnerable they are [to recruitment],” said McKenna.
But is Pearl Harbor Day the right time for PCC students to tell the military to back off?
You bet it is, says former PCC student and American Friends Service Committee organizer Georgie Noguera.“We're using the day in a positive way because we want to remember the troops and bring them home,” she said. “This is not an attack on the troops. This is direct action against the unjust recruitment practices directed against poor high schools and toward students of color at PCC.”