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Recently, most students at the University of Vermont (UVM) in Burlington received an email with the heading ARMY PAYS OFF STUDENT LOANS in their university email box. The general message of the mass mailing was that if a student was nearing graduation and wondering how they were going to pay off the massive debt today’s US college students incur, they should join the army. In essence, this email was a college student’s version of the poverty draft that entraps so many working class and poor young people into enlisting in the service. The sender was a military recruiter working out of the US Army recruitment office in the Burlington suburb of Williston. Given that the university has a very clear policy forbidding these types of solicitations on their email servers one wonders how the recruiting office was able to obtain the address list. The university administration has been reticent when asked this question by various faculty, students, and parents. It is fair to assume, however, that the email list was released to the recruiter under the compliance sections of the so-called Solomon Amendment. For those unfamiliar with this legislation, it essentially forbids Department of Defense (DOD) funding of schools unless those schools provide military representatives access to their students for recruiting purposes. It is this same law that enables military recruiters to set up shop in high schools across the US and to call students at their homes attempting to entice them into joining the military.
At UVM, this email was met with anger and questions, and probably even a few inquiries. The anger is now being organized into a drive to keep military recruiters off the university campus and out of the students’ private communications. There is a petition campaign underway that demands that no recruiters for the regular military or the Vermont National Guard be allowed recruit on campus. Despite this, recruiters do show up unannounced on campus. One assumes that their strategy is designed to prevent student organizers from organizing protests against the recruiters’ presence. In addition, there is organizing underway to organize some kind of response to the military and Guard’s presence at the University’s Spring Career Day on March 8th. (This career day is also the host to recruiters from various corporations from the war industry-General Dynamics foremost among them) Here in Vermont, the Guard recruitment hits close to home, since the state ranks near the top in the number of deaths per capita in Iraq. The likelihood of the university denying these recruiters access is slim, especially in light of the mass email, yet the students involved continue on undaunted. If the petition campaign fails to produce the results they desire, there will likely be some kind of protest.
Other college campuses have already experienced such protests. On January 20, 2005, several hundred students at Seattle Central Community College chased army recruiters from their spot in the Student center. On February 23, campus police arrested a woman student during a picket in front of the military’s recruitment table at a job fair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A couple days before that, several dozen students chased military recruiters off campus at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). In September 2004, more than a hundred students protested the presence of military recruiters at the University of Pennsylvania. On February 22, 2005 several dozen students picketed recruiters at the University of Illinois campus in Chicago. At the USC Law School, recruiters were met with pickets and leafleters demanding that they leave, and at UC Berkeley, a couple dozen students protested the presence of a military recruiter table there. These are but a few of the dozens of protests that have taken place.
Meanwhile, in high schools across the US, more students and their parents seem to be opting out of taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a test given to high school juniors as a method of targeting potential recruits. It is an admissions and placement test for the US military. All persons enlisting in the US military are required to take the ASVAB. Although the military does not usually start turning up the pressure to join the military until students reach their senior year, about 14,000 high schools nationwide give this test to juniors. A recent piece in the Boston Globe detailed the troubles one recruiting office in New Hampshire is facing this year. According to ASVAB testing coordinator at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Boston, which handles enlistment processing for Rhode Island, much of New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts, many parents are writing notes excusing their kids from taking the test. At one high school in Nashua, NH, school administrators opted out of even administering the test this year. This is not an isolated case either; of the thirty schools in the Boston region that administered the test in 2004, only nineteen signed up to do so this year. One wonders how long it will be before the military makes the test mandatory for graduation.
Campus antiwar groups that formed in the past three years have called most of the university and college protests. In addition, lesbian and gay organizations and individuals have joined in because of their opposition to the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on homosexuality. Of course, many of the latter group also opposes the war in Iraq. According to a federal appeals court ruling made in November 2004, the essentially anti-gay policies of the military do allow universities to deny its recruiter’s access to their students and property. On top of that ruling, another federal judge in Connecticut found that the government unconstitutionally applied the Solomon Amendment after Yale Law School faculty sued Donald Rumsfeld when he attempted to deny federal funds to Yale because it prevented military recruitment on its campus. Yale denied the recruiters access because of their discriminatory policies against gays and lesbians.
While this strategy is not necessarily the best political strategy possible to chase recruiters off campus, it is a legal tool counter-recruitment activists should utilize while it exists. In my mind, the best political strategy is one that challenges the imperial policies of the US and calls into question not just the military’s discriminatory recruitment policies, but also the role of the military itself. A strategy based on this premise would not only diminish the military’s visibility, it would also challenge young people (and the rest of us) to examine for whom and what the military really fights. Additionally, it would allow the organizers of these campaigns to include defense contractors in their campaign. After all, it is these corporations that truly need young men and women to go to war.
A list of links providing information and avenues of action around this issue can be found here: www.groups.yahoo.com/groups/militaryrecruitment/links