Los Angeles: Activists on alert as recruiters target poor and people of color

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This is a great objective article in the alternative press examining military recruitment and the activist response in Los Angeles, though I could do without the long quotes from Minister Farrakhan. It bothers me that most articles I post here come from the corporate media, in part because they tend to lack a class, racial, or anti-militarism analysis. It would be good to see counter-recruitment groups and their allies be more rigorous about documenting their own struggles and sharing that information with counter-recruiters and the public across the nation, a la the POG. That’s a self-critique too – Youth Activists of Austin has been meaning to write up an account of our high school campaign for a while now and never done it.

From Final Call, via New America Media:

LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – President George Bush’s recent veto of a bill that would provide for emergency spending and a withdrawal deadline from the Iraq war has heightened peace activists’ concerns that a prolonged stay would foster more aggressive military recruitment tactics in low income and communities of color, due to its drop in new recruits.

In 2005, the Department of Defense reported that the Army fell 25 percent short of its goal for 6,700 new enlistees, mostly derived from neighborhoods of low- to middle-median household incomes, according to the National Priorities Project’s (NNP) study of active-duty Army recruits by neighborhood income for 2004-2006. NNP focuses on the impact of federal spending and other policies at the national, state, congressional district and local levels.

Arlene Inouye, founder and coordinator for the Coalition Against Militarism in Schools (CAMS), believes that military recruitment is implemented in a variety of ways and targets everyone. However, she said that youth of color and working poor families tend to experience more recruitment because of economic and social factors.

Recruiters court youth through emails, schools and music television advertisements. According to NNP, the military’s recruiting budget tops $4 billion per year, and includes $1.5 billion for advertising and maintaining the recruiting stations. Enlistment bonuses (used to attract new recruits) in the active-duty Army alone amounted to $166 million, it informed.

Ms. Inouye told The Final Call that much of the advertising targets Latinos, because they are vulnerable and make up 75 percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), among other things. She said that Belmont High School in central Los Angeles ranked as the 5th top school in the nation to recruit Latino youth in 2004.

So last year, CAMS launched the Operation Student Privacy Campaign from Belmont to inform students, parents, and school staff about issues of student privacy with regard to military recruiting. Ms. Inouye said that the military capitalizes on immigrants’ desires to become American.

“They really use the [bribe] of being a citizen if they enlist, and tell them some things that are outright lies about enlistment. I have one student who was told by a recruiter that if he enlisted, his deported father would be allowed back into the U.S., but it is the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) that they have to go through in relationship to citizenship; the military cannot help with their status,” she cautioned.

Pierre Simmons, a 16-year-old Black youth from South Central Los Angeles, said that at times, he feels like the military is the only option for him and his brother, who were both offered “lucrative” active-duty signing bonuses to join the military. Instead, he chose a school-work program—which will soon lose funding—but, his brother accepted the deal, which fell through after a military recruiter cheated on an exam.

Ms. Inouye noted that Blacks have always been over-represented in the military, but those numbers have been plummeting to more than 20 percent in the last three years. She said the military is redirecting its target, because it has found that the Black community is not as receptive to its message.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan repeatedly warns that it is crucial for Black, Brown and poor youth to resist military aggression.

During his April 8 lecture titled, “The War of Armageddon: How Strong Is the Foundation; Can We Survive?” Minister Farrakhan once again warned that America’s army will be broken, and sympathized with those who have ignorantly entered it, seeking refuge from drugs and other criminal activity in their neighborhoods.

“Army recruiters are all in our neighborhood. The country is not offering us jobs, but we are wanted in the Armed Forces because America knows she is going to fight many more wars.

“Mothers who have reared their sons and their daughters—suffering and scuffling for the little bit of money that they can scrape to give their children a decent life—they are asked to send their children away to Iraq and Afghanistan, only to come back broken and destroyed.

“Your children are trained to kill, and then they are brought home with that same training in their head. Women—taken away from their babies—are being sent to war, and then they come home, broken. When they come home, Veteran Administrations are not treating them as they should. This is criminal,” Minister Farrakhan continued.

Greg Akili, spokesperson for African Americans Against the War, said that Black youth are not accustomed to the boot camp behavior and treatment of tearing one down to build them up, so they rebel.

African Americans Against the War is a budding organization, which demands an immediate end to the Iraq war; troops be brought home now; an end to all campus recruitment; all war spending be redirected to building U.S. cities—beginning with New Orleans; and Reparations now.

Mr. Akili said that high school and college campus recruitments mislead people and use pressure tactics very similar to the gangs.

“[Recruiters say] ‘If you get with us, you’ll be somebody,’ but they don’t give you the full story,” he said, adding, along with Ms. Inouye, that full story includes changed or limited options after enlistment, basic training after active duty and increased tours from one year to 15 months.

Mr. Akili does not believe that the U.S. will reinstitute the draft, and said that Congressman Charles Rangle’s draft proposal is really a tactical position which states that if everyone’s child has to serve in the military, the war will end in six months.

Continuing, Mr. Akili stated that reduced recruitment standards and requirements mean to entice people to join and continue the war, and that it is ironic and unfair that those most susceptible and vulnerable are the very people who will not benefit from the war, nor had anything to do with this country going to war.

Ms. Inouye said that in addition to dropping the standards in terms of lowering the scores for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a military qualifying exam, the military has waivers for criminal offenses and more health waivers.

“I know kids with special education that have been waived. They even have an autistic, 16-year-old kid in Seattle recruited, and the parents told them he doesn’t understand the reality between video games and war, but they coached him to pass two to three times, and he did,” she said, adding that the teen’s parents went to the media and he was released.

Ms. Inouye noted that companies are throwing away money for jobs and apprenticeships because there are not a lot of applicants. Mr. Akili said that youth must prepare themselves with the skills necessary to enter the apprenticeships and jobs, and that it is the community’s responsibility to assist them.

Youth and parents may visit www.militaryfreeschools.org for a copy of CAMS’ Great Jobs Great Careers Great Futures brochure for career alternatives to the military.

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