Ruckus Updates

Activists Pose Fresh Challenges to New Recruiter Tactics

As the military develops increasingly sophisticated approaches to roping in America’s youth, a renewed counter-recruitment movement is fighting back with its own fresh strategies.

July 28 – Raymond Cyrille thought about joining the military throughout junior high. The 18-year-old New Yorker said the Navy did well by two of his uncles, who lead lifestyles in retirement that Cyrille finds appealing.

But by the end of freshman year, Cyrille had changed his mind.

"They joined the military at a very different time. They’re from the South, and it was kind of tradition in that area for young men of color to join the military," Cyrille told The NewStandard. "For me to join now would be totally different. The money’s different, and we’re at war."

By his senior year of high school, Cyrille was engaged in counter-recruitment work with Youth Activists-Youth Allies (Ya-Ya) Network, a New York-based youth-led advocacy group.

Cyrille is part of a growing movement of anti-war, counter-recruitment activists across the country, many of them youth, who are using education, art, music, technology and community-building to face off against the amply-funded recruiting tactics of the United States military.

Deep pockets

Over the next week, US Army recruiters have scheduled appearances at venues as diverse as a rodeo in Abilene, Kansas; a county fair in Wheeling, West Virginia; "Mall Day" in Erie, Pennsylvania; pro-football hall-of-fame week in Canton, Ohio; and surfing competitions in Huntington Beach, California.

"Youth were really calling for the opportunity and the skills to step into that forefront and start leading the counter-recruitment movement."

The US military’s recruitment machine has become highly innovative, proving itself in-touch with many aspects of youth culture. The Army uses a slick, multi-player online video game that attracts enthusiasts of all ages from around the world, but most importantly infiltrates popular culture the Army says offers a "virtual experience within which to explore entry level and advanced training."

The Marine Corps, meanwhile, has set up its own page, attracting more than 13,500 "friends" on the social-networking site popular among young people. And the National Guard gives Internet users "HOOAH" points, named after the military’s own energy bar and drink. The points are redeemable for iTunes songs and "other cool stuff" – after they submit a valid name and e-mail address.

Recruitment goals for June 2006 alone were nearly 50,000 for the Army National Guard, about 25,000 for the Army Reserve, and about 6,000 for the Marines.

The Ya-Yas make a mark

Though their budgets pale in comparison to the military’s recruiting and advertising budget – about $1.4 billion for FY 2006 – grassroots counter-recruitment organizations across the country are nonetheless reaching young people about alternatives to war and military service. The Ya-Ya Network, according to director Amy Wagner, is one of the few counter-recruitment groups in New York in which young people of color are leading the organizing.

"Instead of going to Iraq and blowing up people’s homes, you can go to Sri Lanka for two years and build schools."

"I think that young people have had a lifetime of experience of adults who ‘know better’ telling them what to do and how to plan their futures," said Wagner, the only older adult at the organization. "And it’s very difficult when a recruiter comes in and has the uniform and the authority and the [billions of dollars] of recruiting advertising to spend. It’s very difficult to counter that if you’re just another adult telling kids what to do. And I think it’s a very different thing when, first of all, young people are empowered to speak for themselves, and second of all, when they speak directly to their peers to share information."

Young people, who are employed for 14-month periods with the Ya-Ya Network, have helped create curriculum for a workshop called "Counter-recruitment 101," which is conducted in teams for both youth and adults.

Brian Lewis, the oldest Ya-Ya at age 20 and a sophomore at the New School university, said when they interact with youth, Ya-Ya activists are almost like guidance counselors.

"But I think as youth we’re better and more effective than guidance counselors," added Lewis, "because we can identify directly with the youth, there’s not that age difference. We really feel comfortable talking to people and just having real conversations with them about what their interests are and what they need – [and] try not to preach to them, give them all this rhetoric."

Listening to what youth want, a skill at which Lewis said recruiters are experts, is exactly what the Ya-Ya network did when it decided to organize its first alternative job fair.

Listening to what youth want, a skill at which Lewis said recruiters are experts, is exactly what the Ya-Ya network did when it decided to organize its first alternative job fair.

"We did a workshop in the Bronx and the youth had told us, ‘That’s cool what you all are saying against the war and everything, but we need money for jobs and we need to get skills,’" Lewis recounted.

The job fair, held this past May at SEIU 1199’s headquarters in Manhattan, attracted 300 young people, according to Wagner, and included groups offering all the things the military does: education, job training and travel.

"Instead of going to Iraq and blowing up people’s homes, you can go to Sri Lanka for two years and build schools," Wagner said.

Not Your Solider

While groups like the Ya-Ya Network are working locally to reach youth in their communities, others are organizing coordinated national campaigns focused both on training youth to do counter-recruitment and decreasing the military’s access to young people in schools.

Not Your Solider formed in summer 2005, a joint project between the New York War Resisters League and the Ruckus Society, a grassroots-activism and direct-action training group. Hannah Strange, co-coordinator of Not Your Solider, said the project emerged from calls across the country for more skill-sharing and strategic planning in the counter-recruitment movement.

"And through all of those kinds of conversations, there was a real focus and desire for youth leadership to be at the forefront of this work," Strange told TNS. "Youth were really calling for the opportunity and the skills to step into that forefront and start leading the counter-recruitment movement."

Word about the Not Your Soldier project is also spreading with the help of hip hop artists The Coup. The music group launched a "Not Your Solider" tour this summer after partnering with the organization on Punk Ass Crusade, a short, counter-recruitment flash animation video. Volunteers have been distributing counter-recruitment information at concerts, and rapper Boots Riley has been discussing the issues from the stage, according to Strange.

The bigger picture

Other counter-recruitment initiatives, both national and grassroots, are using similar tactics to educate youth about military alternatives. In Montclair, New Jersey, Elizabeth Lipschultz helped to found a club at her high school called "Open Your Eyes, Open Your Ears" to educate her peers about their right to keep personal information from military recruiters.

"When the club started, it was just about when a lot of talk about the war in Iraq was starting," said Lipschultz. "We got involved very strongly in the anti-war movement, both locally and we participated in some national events. And t
hrough that we began to learn about other issues that were related, and we learned about the No Child Left Behind Act."

Lipschultz said she was alarmed to find out about Section 9528 of that education "reform" package, which required schools to provide students’ names, addresses and telephone numbers to recruiters.

Lipschultz said it took several semesters of work, starting with pressuring the school principal and then going to the school board. Eventually, the students and school officials worked out a clear system of distributing and receiving opt-out forms. The number of families who submitted paperwork to opt out of the school’s recruitment data program, according to Montclair High School officials, jumped from 33 to 91 percent during the 2005-2006 school year as a result of the education campaign.

In Tempe, Arizona, the Counter-Recruitment Coalition distributes information outside of public libraries, grocery stores and high schools, and organizes open-mic nights to "spit truth about military recruitment."

The Los Angeles-based Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools offers training tools, conscientious objector information, anti-war propaganda and training videos and an "adopt-a-school" program which provides support for doing counter-recruitment work at 35 Los Angeles schools.

In Seattle last year, after heavy counter-recruitment campaigning, the school board voted to adopt polices to restrict recruiters on school grounds who harass students or provide misleading or untruthful information.

Likewise, in Austin last month, the school board voted to limit recruiters’ access to high schools after protests from students and parents. The policy change would, in part, require recruiters to register when they come to schools and restrict where on campus they can approach students.

While it is difficult to measure the successes of such a newly animated movement still in the process of training new leaders and refining campaign tactics, Strange, with Not Your Solider, says these are all concrete ways to resist the war in Iraq and to address "the war at home."