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International Socialist Review Issue 43, SeptemberOctober 2005
R E P O R T S
College Not Combat
By ELIZABETH WRIGLEY-FIELD
WITH SUPPORT for Bush’s occupation of Iraq at an all-time low, reflected in plummeting rates of military enlistment, the antiwar movement has begun to reemerge. At the head of this revival has been a counter-recruitment movement that rapidly developed nationwide last year, particularly in schools, where young people resent being targeted to carry out an occupation they oppose. College students have kicked military recruiters off campuses around the country, while high school students, parents, and teachers’ unions are leading campaigns against recruiters in their schools.
This fall, the movement that began to take shape over the last year is taking steps to cohere itself into a more effective force to challenge military recruitment and the war. Two grassroots initiatives in particular show the potential for building a powerful movement organized around the theme College Not Combat.
San Francisco takes on recruiters
On November 9, voters in San Francisco will have the opportunity to vote for the following resolution against military recruitment in the city’s schools:
Resolved, that the people of San Francisco oppose U.S. military recruiters using public school, college and university facilities to recruit young people into the armed forces. Furthermore, San Francisco should oppose the military’s “economic draft” by investigating means by which to fund and grant scholarships for college and job training to low-income students so they are not economically compelled to join the military.
The resolution, known as the College Not Combat (CNC) initiative, was placed on the November election ballot in San Francisco after activists collected over 15,000 petition signatures—5,000 more than the legal requirement—in an effort to put the city on record calling for military recruiters out of our schools. Alongside teachers and veterans, parents petitioned with their children. This all-volunteer force was able to exceed its petitioning goals and secure ballot access in part because, according to activists’ estimates, about 80 percent of those approached signed the petition. In the words of CNC organizer Ragina Johnson, “It gives us the power to say the city of San Francisco is in favor of students and teachers and parents kicking recruiters off campus.”
That’s a message that organizers hope to send very powerfully in the November election, where they believe the resolution will pass by a wide margin. Last year 63 percent of San Francisco voters approved Proposition N, which called on the federal government to “bring the troops safely home now.”
The CNC resolution is symbolic: It expresses public opposition to recruitment without forcing San Francisco’s government to take action to ban recruiters, which would result in a loss of federal education funding under the No Child Left Behind Act and Solomon Amendment. But it has already galvanized opponents of the war by providing a way they can express their opposition.
The campaign has received significant media attention, including an Associated Press article picked up by newspapers around the country. It earned the endorsement of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, whose editorial argued, “activists are rightly moving to target military recruitment as a way not only to save the lives of potential recruits but to push for an end to the war.”
In addition to bringing a counter-recruitment message to people across California and beyond, the CNC campaign has brought together a number of activists and organizations. The campaign is endorsed by more than forty organizations and individuals, ranging from the Free Palestine Alliance to the San Francisco Labor Council. The CNC’s eleven-member steering committee reflects the wide range of groups campaigning for the resolution, including the International Socialist Organization, National Lawyers Guild, Oakland Green Party (represented on the steering committee by Aimee Allison, herself a conscientious objector from the first Gulf War), United Educators of San Francisco, and Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star Families for Peace co-founder who spent August camped outside Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
The next step is to build a public campaign leading up to the election to secure as many votes for the College Not Combat resolution as possible, beginning on the first day of classes at San Francisco high schools. Two big opportunities at the end of September will help to consolidate the campaign and bring in newer activists, who may become involved in organizing support for the resolution in the critical weeks before the election. On September 21, CNC will co-sponsor a San Francisco stop of the national speaking tour of the antiwar British Member of Parliament George Galloway, hosted by ISR, the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, and the New Press. And campaigners will also help to organize the San Francisco version of a College Not Combat contingent on September 24. Events like these can help bring others disgusted by recruitment for this occupation into a movement against it, while the ballot resolution offers a chance for a concrete victory that can raise the antiwar movement’s confidence about what we can achieve.
A national mobilization for College Not Combat
On September 24, in the first national antiwar demonstration in over a year in Washington, D.C., students, teachers, parents, and community members will march alongside one another in a College Not Combat contingent.
The Campus Antiwar Network initiated the contingent to bring together everyone opposing military recruitment—most of whom are organizing in small groups in relative isolation from one another—and to help bring new activists to the September 24 demonstration by connecting it to widespread anger at recruitment. The contingent has garnered over fifty endorsements. The nearly twenty sponsors planning to mobilize for the contingent now include Educators to Stop the War, which organized an 850-person antiwar conference in March; Coney Island Avenue Project, a South Asian immigrant rights group challenging detentions and deportations; and the Louisiana Activist Network, sponsors of a Peace Train that will begin in New Orleans and pick up activists across the South before ending at the march in Washington.
By giving a national voice to the fight against recruitment, the College Not Combat contingent is also helping to build the antiwar movement locally. In New York, activists with the New York City Counter-Recruitment Campaign are launching a campaign against military recruiters in the City University New York (CUNY) system this fall. This campaign, which is being spearheaded by CUNY students in the Campus Antiwar Network and professors in Educators to Stop the War, hopes to use the College Not Combat contingent and a CUNY petition campaign to bring together activists from a wide range of CUNY schools, creating opportunities for new campus antiwar coalitions to form and schools to unite in bigger actions.
Initiatives like these will be able to take on national scope at the On the Frontlines conference at the University of California-Berkeley on October 22–23, jointly sponsored by the Campus Antiwar Network and Military Out of Our Schools–Bay Area. Coming out of the September 24 protest and a new wave of antiwar organizing this fall, the conference presents an opportunity for these experiences to be generalized into a more coherent national College Not Combat movement, with those targeted by recruiters at its forefront.
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field is a counter-recruitment activist with the Campus Antiwar Network and helped stop a CIA recruiting event at her school, New York University. She has written about counter-recruitment for Left Hook and Znet. For more information on the College Not Combat contingents in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on September 24, visit www.campusantiwar.net. For more information on the College Not Combat ballot initiative in San Francisco, visit www.collegenotcombat.org.