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An Interview with Clint Coppernoll

Counter-Recruitement: Preventing the Military from Getting More Youth for Their Wars

by KEVIN ZEESE

The Army and National Guard have been failing to meet their recruiting goals for the last four months. Summer is typically the time they have their greatest success in recruiting and they are counting on this summer to make up for their shortcomings in the previous months. They are increasing their efforts and making more promises to get America’s youth to sign up for war. As a result those of us who oppose the war need to step up our efforts in counter-recruitment as well. Below is an interview with a counter-recruitment activist from Washington State that provides directions on how to get started and documents to assist in your efforts.

Clint Coppernoll is the father of two, a son who is a lawyer and a daughter who is an activist and student in San Francisco. He is the husband of an activist organizer and midwife, Belinda Coppernoll. He has been a peace activist and organizer since 1969 and has worked with many organizations on a range of issues including immigrant and farm workers rights, prison reform, and open access to the political system for all Americans.

Most recently his work has led him to work with a number or organizations on ‘Telling the Truth Behind the Sales Pitch’ that the counter recruiters are giving the young people of this country and their parents. One of the great outcomes of this work is his contact with young persons of Washington State and around the country. Any young people interested should contact him or Carrie Hathorn at 206-963-4873.

Zeese: Describe the counter recruitment project you are involved with.

Coppernoll: Kevin, Our counter recruitment effort is a ‘Direct Action, Direct Contact’ effort. We are a group of concerned people and organizations that have become sick and tired of the half truths and outright lies that are being told to young Americans by military recruiters. We are focusing on three areas; opt Out, Get the Truth and How to Deal with Delayed Enlistment.

Opt Out: Hidden in the No Child Left Behind Act is a provision known as section 9528 that requires public high schools to hand over private student information to military recruiters. If a school does not comply, it risks losing federal education funds. This breach of privacy gives recruiters access to addresses and phone numbers, allowing them to actively call and visit teens at home. A parent or student can present a letter to the school board or superintendent exercising the right to request that the school does not turn over the name, address, telephone listing and other school records to the Armed Services, Military Recruiters, or Military Schools. Information like exit test scores, assisted lunch programs and other information allow recruiters to target low income students and students that are being affected by the pressures of the high stakes testing for graduation. The No Child Left Behind Act has turned up an ugly card in this high stakes game of our children’s lives. The ugly card is exampled in our state as the WASL test. This is a test, like testing in most other states, that requires a student to pass an exam to graduate. After 6 years of WASL administration, we are still telling over 70% of our 4th graders, over 75% of our 7th graders and just under 70% of our 10th graders that they are sub-standard in at least one of the 4 WASL subjects. This means they would not graduate. When the children of already stressed communities are faced with this kind of threat, the drop out rate drastically raises. These communities of immigrant, color and lower economic status become a target for recruiters. The recruiters get the scores and lists of drop outs and start their Sales Pitch. The No Child Left Behind Act thus becomes a tool for the military to implement an ‘Economic Draft’ That is why students and parents must protect themselves and OPT OUTThis is how the Students and Parents “OPT OUT:” fill out a letter to OPT OUT the student or contact Carrie or I and we will send you a form that can be reprinted in English or Spanish filled out be pen for those without computer access.

Get the Truth: This involves giving the students a chance to speak with a Veteran for Peace and Get the Truth.

We give the student at least three opportunities. First, the Veterans for Peace have been great at having at least one Vet on hand at the schools for direct first contact. Secondly we try to have a general informational meeting with a Veteran for Peace the week after a school action for students and parents.

Third, we give out the GI Rights Hotline 800-394-9544 or in our area Washington Truth in Recruiting local number. The student can then speak with a veteran on the phone and Get the Truth. We also promote Career Councilors, Principals, PSTA’s and Teachers to always give an equal opportunity for a Veteran for Peace or any of the other Veterans organizations working for peace and against war to present the truth when Recruiters have access to students.

Dealing with Delayed Enlistment: Most young people enter the military through the Delayed Enlistment Program (sometimes called the Delayed Entry Program). This program allows youth to sign up with a military recruiter for one of the service branches, but receive a report date for basic training for up to a year later. When entering the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP), youth sign an enlistment agreement and take an oath of enlistment.

It is very common for young people to change their minds after enlistment in the DEP. A young person may re-evaluate their decision. It is important to realize that up until a young person actually reports for basic training, they can be released from any military obligation.

The official way to gain release is to write a letter to the commanding officer of the recruiting station, explaining one’s decision not to report to basic training.

The young person may or may not receive an official response before the date to report for basic training. Military recruiters are instructed to be understanding of these changes in plans. Nonetheless, in some cases military recruiters may and have used intimidation or threats to persuade the young person not to withdraw their commitment to serve. However, not reporting for basic training will result in release from any further obligation. (for more information http://www.objector.org/girights/)

Zeese: What made you get involved in this effort?

Coppernoll: The Peace Movement in the United States is stagnant. It seems stuck in a loop that started in the 2004 election cycle, even though we have nearly six in ten Americans saying the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq according to the June 2005 Gallup Poll. Yet the peace movement continues to not be able to generate the energy to do much.

Sadly, some of this, it seems to me, comes from rivalries between organizations that are still arguing over what position or standing in leadership of the movement they should have. Position doesn’t mean a damn to me. The last couple of years I’ve slept on couches and basement floors with other activist organizers, because the mission far outweighed the position.

I got involved because I had to. My mission; end the wars that the United States is waging against countries of the world, now. All who care, about stopping our government, that is supposed to be representing us, from conducting the Iraq War and all the other wars of oppression that it supports around the world, must do something direct and immediate. This project begins that.

Zeese: How does it work? What materials do you give to youth or parents?

Coppernoll: Kevin, it’s pretty straight forward. You get in contact with your local Veterans for Peace group. This can be just one individual in your small town or a neighboring town if you’re not in a big city. You then reach out to anyone you know. Ask them the questions “Do you think the military has the right to not tell our young people the whole truth? Do you think military recruiters have the right to our children’s school records?” Then you ask student or parent or any one concerned; “if they would committee just one hour of their time a week and a couple of dollars for printing some information, to hand out, for saving a young persons life?”

Then you schedule one meeting for one hours worth of business, that business will cover organizing, the time for the first hand out of information to the students. The best time is after school when students are going home. Tell the people and organizations that after the business part of the meeting is over they can have a discussion period. But you’ve told people that the meeting is set for an hour to actually plan and set a date for your action.

Plan the first action if you can for the first day of school this fall.

This is very important. The first week we want as many students and parents to sign an OPT OUT letter as possible. On September the 24th we will announce while the first national protest are going on all the OPT OUT letters that have been signed. We will then demand our legislators support the “Student Privacy Protection Act” that would turn current policy around, allowing the military to talk only to students whose parents approve of such contact. Instead of having the responsibility of opting out, Parents should be asked to opt-in. Critics charge that this will make it far harder for recruiters to discuss military careers with the nation’s high school students, so be it.

If you have a group that wants to start this summer, at events that high schools students might attend. Print out an OPT OUT letter that can be filled out by pen and does not require a computer. (See earlier example or contact us.) Have some literature that you or your group has studied to hand out. If possible have a Peace Veteran at hand to speak to the students. Have a leaflet that has the next time and place a meeting is available, and where a student and their parents can speak with a Veteran. Also have on the meeting leaflets the GI Rights Hotline 800-394-9544. You have the right to stand on a public sidewalk in front of your school and hand out this information to students or any public place.

This direct contact may be out of some peoples comfort zone. However, this is the most important part. The only way to reach these students is eyeball to eyeball. You must show them that you care enough about their lives to stand there and talk with them. If they say they don’t care if they die in war you must tell them “you care for them and that’s why your there.” You don’t tell them that they can’t join the military. This is a free country and they have the right to do as they wish. These young people are smart, once you get them past the propaganda, which they are constantly bombarded with they will make the right decision.

Just ask them would they buy something important on a slick sales pitch or would they want the truth about what they are getting into before they make a life changing decision?

The week after the school action you have the meeting you called for in your leaflet you handed out. You have a Peace Veteran there. Keep it informal, this is a time the student, their parents and the veteran should have to dialogue with each other. It is important to have a sign up sheet. Ask students if they would like to start a club on campus that talks about peace and alternatives to war?

I also want to say that many groups are doing a number of things for counter-recruitment. I think it is great what they are doing. You will notice we use leaflets from other groups around the country and we support you getting material that they print and pay for it if they request it. The material we have developed is free to use.

Zeese: What has been the result of your efforts?

Coppernoll: They have been really good. We have incorporated a street theater group that come out at our campuses. They really got a buzz going with the students. It was great to see the actors and students interact. Kevin, I get goose bumps when I think of different moments I’ve had and observed between students and activists. The young people get it. They are a lot smarter than the government thinks. The government uses Slick Sales Pitches with Trained Recruiters. We use the Truth and People Who Care about Young Peoples Lives.

We started now before the fall because this time is what the Recruiters call "Christmas in July". Students are getting out of school in a dismal economy with pressures to get a job and find away to get training or go to school. The Chicken Hawk Recruiters are circling them with lies and false promises. We also started now so we could prepare for an all-out push for OPT OUT this fall.

The first day we had an organized effort at a high school we got 18 OPT OUT letters signed. That was 18 young people that the recruiters were told to keep their hands off their records.
We now have a coalition of groups like Veterans for Peace, Washington ACORN, Stand Up Seattle, The Green Alliance (national), Youth Against War and Racism (from Franklin High School an U of W) to name a few and more are coming aboard daily. Many individuals are coming forward and showing solidarity such as parents, students, teachers, councilors, school board members, and people of the community. However this is a call for more help to people that care.

Most importantly we have parents who are coming forward to work on getting a speaker to speak to their Parent Teacher Student Association about the recruiting situation. Students that are planning to set up clubs on campus around the military and peace. We are working on a packet for social studies teacher with resources so they can have debates in classes on military recruitment.

Zeese: What is the goal of your efforts?

Coppernoll: Quite simply, to have one or more activists, on every high school side walk, in every community, that has one person who cares for our youth and peace, when school starts this fall.
Some may say that it’s a huge undertaking. However, it all can happen, when we the people, who believe in peace, decide to stop war. When we the people say, I won’t let them lie to my children any more. When we the people say, I want our next generation to build a country that is a place that cares for all the people in it and doesn’t waste life subjecting others around the world for power for the few.

Zeese: Do you have any future plans you can share?

Coppernoll: Well, we are going continue our actions here in Washington State focusing not only on the cities but also on the rural and suburban areas. We are open and available for anyone or an organization that need some help in the country to get started with direct action on the counter-recruitment and OPT OUT program. We are already contacting groups that may want to help around the country. But don’t wait to be contacted, individuals and groups that want to tell our youth the truth need to start now and contact us.

We want to see students and teachers form ‘Peace Clubs.’ We want all the many organizations and individuals working around the country on counter-recruitment to come together this summer and work with each other.

We are also working toward a coalition of organizations and peace advocates who want to work now instead of waiting for the next war.

The young people that I have come in contact with and seasoned organizer are forming to build on this action. The youth of today have been given a bad rap a lot of them care and want to do something. But they need to be organized by other youth that they fell connected with. The youth need some help with training and once they get it watch out. They have the energy to make change.

Zeese: Where can people get more information?

Coppernoll: They can Email me Clint Coppernoll at coppernollcc7@hotmail.com or phone 509-964-9219 or any outstanding young activist Carrie Hathorn 206-963-4873.

KEVIN ZEESE is Director of Democracy Rising. You can read more of his interviews and columns at http://www.DemocracyRising.US.