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Youth Take On National Counter-Recruitment Work
By Angie Hart
oung people took over leadership of the antiwar movement’s counter-recruitment work at a national organizing conference in Philadelphia the weekend of June 25-27. Many of the youths felt it was high time for such a change, after years in which mostly middle-aged, mostly white people led the resistance to the Pentagon’s efforts to lure young people, primarily young people of color, into the U.S. Armed Forces.
More than 100 counter-military recruitment activists had gathered at Philadelphia’s Friends Center to establish a national network to make the movement stronger, more effective and easier to plug into for folks not yet doing the oh-so-important work of opposing the militarization of youth. This freshly formed alliance—which has now been named the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth and will be known as NNOMY—came from an idea at the Stopping War Where it Begins Conference that took place in the same location the previous summer. Attendees at this year’s conference included individuals as well as people who represented organizations from all across the country; there were people from California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawai’i, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
Kicking off the conference on Friday evening, June 25, groups met in topical and identity caucuses to discuss how the network can spread its message to every community and make the counter- military recruitment movement a safe and welcoming place for all.
The reportbacks from these caucuses were due the next afternoon; meanwhile, on Saturday morning, Mario Hardy, who coordinated the Military Out of Our Schools program of the Philadelphia- and Bay Area-based Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, talked in a plenary session about the nuts and bolts of counter-recruitment work. Mario stressed the importance of credibility in the work. “There should be hesitancy to [using] statistics not coming from military sources—there’s so much dirt there anyway,” he said. He went on to explain that the Pentagon spends a lot of money researching, so counter-recruiters can use the government’s own statistics to show how bogus recruiter’s statements are. He also pointed out that one way he gets a lot of his credibility is from his time working on the G.I. Rights Hotline, noting that hearing the difficulties of military life from a person while they’re in is a great resource, and that counter-recruiters can then tell those stories to individuals or groups who are considering joining the Armed Forces.
After lunch, Clare Bayard, from the Anti-Racism for Global Justice project of the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop out of San Francisco, and former War Resisters League youth program coordinator asif ullah facilitated a workshop on “White Supremacy and the Counter-Recruitment Movement.” One of the military’s main recruiting targets is young people of color in urban areas. Clare and asif urged that in order to fight this racism, the movement needs to fight the racism that exists internally so it can work together. Workshop participants created a list of ways that they saw how racism affects this movement: The lack of youth leadership; the white middle-class values reflected in the agenda, structure and leadership of the conference itself; and a “missionary attitude” of saving people of color from the military were a few items on the list.
Once the list was made, the question arose, what to do with it? Participants came up with concrete ideas and suggestions to make this network an anti-racist one. A major idea was to mentor and allow the people most targeted by the recruiters (young people of color and other youth) to take a larger role in this work—that is, to take the leadership in planning events such as the conference, facilitating workshops and writing literature that speaks to young people.
A trend was emerging.
When it came time for the reportbacks from the caucuses that had met the night before, the trend exploded. The youth of color caucus had joined forces with the youth outreach caucus. The representatives from both groups walked up to the front of the room; it was clear that that was where they needed to be if this network is going to work well. A young man called Luis from Youth Activist Youth Allies Network of New York City asked all the youth present to join them up front. The youths declared that they were sick of talking about how young people have not had a significant voice no matter the race or color, and they were ready for action. So, once everyone under 25 was up at the microphone, those who had met the night before and over lunch related their complaints and needs. Most of the people who organized the NNOMY conference are middle-aged or older; the youth wanted to be more involved in that organizing process. In order to get there, young people made these demands, according to the minutes of the session:
The microphone switched hands a lot, but the general overall message was: “We are targets by recruiters and there is a chance that we or our brothers and sisters and cousins and peers will be drafted. This group says that we are counter- recruiting young people, but there is no significant youth representation. So we are making that change now. We want to be a part of the decisionmaking process; we said it, now we are doing something about it. We are asking for the adults’ support now. We want to keep the rest of the conference youth-led.”
As the young people took their seats there was mumbling in the audience. The young man called Luis was offered the chance to be the facilitator for the last session of the conference, which would take place the next day, after the decision-making session. He accepted.
After that, inside the meeting room of the Friends Center, the conference went on according to schedule, with a moderated discussion of possible strategies for improving local and national counter- recruitment effectiveness. But outside in the courtyard, there was an unplanned meeting of the youth to discuss what had just happened. The meeting was especially important for the youth who weren’t at the caucus the night before or at the lunch meeting earlier that day. All the young people planned what would happen next. They decided they needed to write a proposal and see if it would pass the next day at the founding document and structure discussion and decisionmaking session.
The proposal was drafted. It asked for:
Added at the bottom of the proposal was this statement: “In this national network and conference we believe that these changes are necessary due to the fact that the conference is based around an issue that directly effects youth.”
The Sunday morning decision- making session was facilitated by Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer from Norwich, CT, a member of War Resisters League, and Arlene Inouve, who does counter-recruitment work in Los Angeles. During this session, the network was officially christened the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, which passed with no objections. Some other proposals about how the group would make decisions were passed, and after that, the proposal from the youth (defined as under 25) came under consideration and passed by consensus.
It was a victory for young people in the counter-military recruitment movement. By the end of the conference, many of the groups that could have members on the steering committee were asking young people in the group if they wanted to be a representative.
Two weeks later, at the War Resisters League National Committee Meeting, WRL became a sponsoring member of NNOMY and did its part in keeping the network youth-led by agreeing that this writer will be the WRL representative to NNOMY.
Angie Hart was a high-school member of YouthPeace Connecticut and is presently a student at Humboldt State University in California.
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