On March 9th, Students Against War at San Francisco State University, a chapter of the Campus Antiwar Network, along with other student groups, organized a demonstration against military recruiters on our campus. Two hundred students rallied in Malcolm X Plaza and then marched inside the Cesar Chavez Student Center to confront Army and Air Force recruiters. For over 3 hours, students chanted down the recruiters and then surrounded them with a peaceful teach-in. The students protested the almost 1700 dead American soldiers, the brutal murder of 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and the militaries bigoted “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy which is in blatant violation of the universities own ant-discrimination policies. The Army recruiters left within forty-five minutes. The Air Force recruiters held out longer, but ultimately gave up and left-without any new recruits.
San Francisco State is part of a burgeoning national counter recruitment movement. From Seattle to New York, students have challenged the presence of military recruiters on their campuses. In San Francisco, activists launched the College Not Combat campaign. A push to get a initiative on the November ballot stating that the city opposes military recruiters using public school facilities and that San Francisco should oppose the military’s “economic draft” by funding scholarships for college and job training to low-income students so they are not economically compelled to join the military (http://www.collegenotcombat.org/).
This is coming at a time when the military is struggling to find new recruits. The Army has missed its recruiting goals for three straight months, falling short by 42 percent in April. The Marine Corps missed its goal for signing up new recruits for four straight months and was 2 percent behind its year-to-date goal. The Pentagon has decided to postpone the release of the May figures for more than a week, leading to speculation about the dismal numbers. At the same time, the recruiters’ lies and unethical conduct are being exposed. A Colorado high school senior recorded a recruiter informing him how to fake a high school diploma and cheat on a drug test. In other nationally publicized cases, recruiters have knowingly signed people up with debilitating psychological disorders and have told potential recruits that failure to keep appointments will result in a warrant being issued for their arrest. These incidents forced the Pentagon to suspend recruitment on May 30 in order to do special training and/to emphasize the need for ethical behavior.
However, instead of defending its own anti-discrimination policy and the right of students to protest, San Francisco State University decided to launch an attack against political activists on campus.
A day after students kicked military recruiters off campus, they returned to SFSU. When two activists attempted to hand out anti-recruitment leaflets by the recruiters’ tables, eight police officers surrounded them and forcibly removed them from their own student center, pushing them and twisting one activist’s arm in blatant violation of their basic civil liberties. When the other activist asked why she was being forced to leave, she was pushed into a doorway, told she was causing a fire hazard by standing there, and then kicked out of the building.
Then on March 18, 2005 three student activists, Katrina Yeaw, Michael Hoffman and Pardis Esmaeili, received letters stating that the administration has received a complaint from the Chief of Public Safety and that each student must meet individually with Judicial Affairs. The following week the six student organizations that endorsed the March 9th demonstration received letters stating that disciplinary proceedings were going forward against them. The charges against four of the groups were eventually dropped but the university went forward with hearing against the International Socialist Organization and Students Against War.
On May 22nd, 2005 both groups were informed that they had been convicted of all charges against them in absentia. The university sanctioned the groups with both the ISO and SAW loosing their funding for the 2005-2006 academic year and the leadership of the ISO is being forced to go through training on the universities demonstration guidelines and procedures before they can have any more events. Furthermore, if either organization violates either of these sanctions or any more university policies, the groups will be suspended for a period of one year.
The National Lawyers Guild, which represents the groups and individual activists involved, has denounced the universities decision to convict them in absentia. “San Francisco State ignored communications from NLG attorneys representing these student groups and then held a hearing that denied students a proper opportunity to present their case,” said NLG attorney Mark Vermeulen. “The process did not meet basic due process requirements and was completely unprofessional.”
On the same day, the three individuals received a final notice that they must appear before Judicial Affairs. Failure to do so could compromise their student status and access to financial aid. The NLG is currently attempting to get a joint hearing for the three students for mid-June.
It is absolutely ridiculous that the university is trying to sanction students and organizations based on the grounds that they violated university procedures, considering that the university has ignored its own anti-discrimination policy by allowing the presence of military recruiters and has denied students the due process they are allotted under university guidelines. Furthermore, let’s be honest about who is actually guilty of “breaking the rules”. The Bush administration conducted a war and invasion based on lies. They have occupied another sovereign nation, killed almost 1700 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis all in violation of international law and all for its own imperialist aims.
The attack on the counter recruitment movement at San Francisco State is not an isolated incident. A similar protest at City College of New York on the same day resulted in activists being brutalized and arrested by campus security guards. The activists were charged with misdemeanor counts of assaulting an officer while two protesters suffered multiple contusions and post-concussion syndrome. All of the charges have since been dropped since they were completely baseless.
At the University of California at Santa Cruz, anti-war activists faced more police brutality. A week after a successful counter-recruitment demonstration, in which students were able to force their administration to ask Marine Corp recruiters to leave a career fair, student activists at a “Tent University” were attacked by the police. Tent University was a weeklong encampment to support the full funding of higher education and oppose the Iraq War. As students peacefully set up tents on their own campus for the night, police rioted, violently dispersing several hundred campers, arresting nearly twenty, and injuring dozens.
This string of attacks against anti-war activists on college campuses around the country has been carried out with the goal of silencing dissent against the war in Iraq. The repression faced by activists at San Francisco State has already had a chilling effect on student activism locally. On April 20th, Students on many California campuses participated in a walkout to protest budget cuts in education and support the faculty union. In the SF State campus newspaper, The Golden Gate Xpress, California Faculty Association office manager Laurie Owen stated that “many student groups feel too reluctant to risk incurring yet more wrath from the gods of SFSU to engage in yet more civil disobedience. Because so many groups pulled out of the walkout, it essentially fell apart.” (http://xpress.sfsu.edu/archives/news/003565.html)
We cannot let the scapegoating of activists be used to try to silence the counter-recruitment and anti-war movements. There is a growing level of discontent and anger around the bloody occupation of Iraq that cannot be stifled by police brutality or by a university administration. We need to build a vibrant counter-recruitment movement on every campus in the country to challenge the bigoted and brutal policies of the United States military. The defense of activists at San Francisco State University is an important part of that fight.
To find out what you can do to help, write to SFSUfreespeech@gmail.com or go to CAN’s website www.campusantiwar.net.
Katrina Yeaw and Alex Schmaus are members of Students Against War and the International Socialist Organization at San Francisco State University. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.