Local Report: WRL Portland

When job and educational opportunities are limited or financially out of reach, how can truth-in-recruiting activists sensitively guide youth to those alternatives to military enlistment that will be fulfilling to them and contribute to a better world? Endless wars drain economic resources that could provide education, jobs, health care, housing, and other services. Antiwar activists in Portland, Oregon, were fortunate to have been able to visit in late February with WRL Organizing Coordinator Kimber Heinz and Field Organizer Ali Issa at the beginning of their West Coast tour. Participants included representatives from WRL -Portland chapter, Military and Draft Counseling Project, Recruiter Watch, Washington Truth-in-Recruiting (WaTiR), Metanoia Peace Community, and the Civilian-Soldier Alliance. The represented groups were antiwar and involved in some aspect of military resistance (truth-in-recruiting) and/or recovery (veteran support). The purpose of the gathering was to support each other in our challenges and celebrate our victories.

The lack of equal access in Portland Public Schools (PPS) to truth-in-recruiters remains the greatest obstacle. Under No Child Left Behind, schools must allow military recruiters access to students and their personal information if they are to continue to receive federal funding. Students may opt out at the beginning of the school year, but only to being contacted at home by a recruiter, not to military recruiter visitations to schools. PPS claims that equal access for truth-in-recruiters might result in other groups demanding free access, thereby jeopardizing the educational process. Truth-in-recruiters in Portland can currently access students on public sidewalks, through classroom presentations, through supplying alternatives information to guidance counselors, and through supportive student clubs. We have to be truly ingenious in finding ways to engage students.

Military and Draft Counseling Project provides free, nonjudgmental counseling on issues such as conscientious objection, Selective Service, pre-enlistment, and separation from Delayed Enlistment. With the support of other groups, it has been diligently working on a school board resolution to change the current PPS policy and provide equal access for truth-in-recruiters. At the invitation of teachers, it also offers classroom presentations featuring veterans, their families, and antiwar activists. Military and Draft Counseling Project also performs student outreach by distributing “bookmark” flyers.


WaTiR focuses on the “influencers” in the schools—the school boards, principals, teachers, and counselors. Many districts in Washington State allow equal access for truth-in-recruiters; however, most districts in Washington State, with notable exceptions (eg., Seattle), have more recruiter presence in the schools than does more liberal Portland. WaTiR, in conjunction with coalition partners, attended the highly militarized National School Boards Association Conference this past April in San Francisco. The keynote speaker was Condoleeza Rice, and the military had a highly visible presence in booths promoting JRO TC, U.S. Army and Navy Recruiting, American Legion, Troops to Teachers, and ASVAB testing. At its own initiative and with funds provided by allies and supporters, WaTiR paid for a booth at this conference and staffed it with volunteers from other Bay Area truth-in-recruiting organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) San Francisco office and Project Yano in San Diego. In addition, Portland representatives from WaTiR, Veterans for Peace (VFP), and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom are currently undertaking the gargantuan task of organizing the VFP National Convention to take place this August in Portland.

Recruiter Watch

Recruiter Watch was formed in the summer of 2005 in response to increased military recruitment in Portland schools and the disparately excessive recruitment of students in low-income, less academic, and minority schools. We educate about the fine print of the military contract, raise awareness of the “poverty draft,” and provide alternatives to the military. With an A.J. Muste grant, Recruiter Watch published “Life After High School,” a booklet providing local trades training, college, work, and travel opportunities, which was distributed to guidance counselors. We continue to collaborate with our allies on school policy issues and coordinate an extensive fall opt-out campaign, with volunteers on the sidewalks in front of high schools before and after school and during lunch, engaging students about their right to opt out of the military database, including co-presenting an opt-out “ jam” with the AFSC’s United Voices Peacebuilding Youth Program. In the last two years, Recruiter Watch has focused on forging alliances with youth through student clubs, faith-based youth programs, and attendance at events where youth are likely to be. Recruiter Watch has tabled at an evangelical hip hop concert benefit for a domestic violence shelter; an annual YOU th Summit against gang violence; the Oregon Queer Youth (and Allies) Summit; a spoken word benefit for a recording arts charter high school; and a Portland Peace Prize Awards Ceremony hosted by a local high school, among others. Recruiter Watchers have spoken at a Christian Anarchy Conference at a Mennonite church, a Northwest Student Coalition forum on educational equity at a college, and at a Radical Women meeting in a community center. Our successes have been measured by the students and other allies who come to us for support with their projects and by the volunteers—young and old—who have stepped up to support us.

Truth-in-recruiting is very difficult work right now. Portland is fortunate to have an active AFSC office with a Peacebuilding Youth Program. AFSC remains a valuable resource for truth-in-recruiting materials, particularly its bilingual brochure and DVD “Before You Enlist.” But how can truth-in-recruiting activists empower youth to transform a seemingly dire predicament (a world out of balance where profits come before people) and take advantage of the possibilities that remain for the creative who take initiative? How can truth-in-recruiting activists maintain the positive attitude necessary to continue in the struggle, despite volunteer burnout and lack of funding? There is an African adage that says, “When you wish to go quickly, go alone. When you wish to go far, go together.” We are grateful for each other and our collective strength.

— Recruiter Watch PDX

Military & Draft Counseling Project–WRL (Portland); (503) 238-0605; contact [at] wrlpdx.org (contact[at]wrlpdx.org)

Recruiter Watch PDX; rwpdxcoalition [at] gmail.com (rwpdxcoalition[at]gmail.com)

Washington Truth in Recruiting; (206) 855-6761; info [at] watir.org (info[at]watir.org)