As the White House approaches an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, a major troop build-up is on the horizon. Yet community-based efforts are underway to keep young people from being drawn into the country’s military aggression. While organizations like American Friends Service Committee have been doing grassroots counter-recruitment work in targeted communities for years, new initiatives against recruiting in schools and neighborhoods take a more structural approach.
In two small cities in California, activists with the Stop Recruiting Kids Campaign are rallying behind the Youth Protection Act, a local ordinance barring any government employee engaging in job activity that would “recruit, initiate contact with for the purpose of recruiting, or promote the future enlistment of any person under the age of eighteen into any branch of the United States Armed Forces.” The law is destined to run into legal hurdles, however, including federal preemption issues.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Rep. Dennis Kucinich is spearheading a top-down effort to stem the marketing of the military to youth via the virtual world.
The politics of military recruiting fold deeply into issues of racial equity. Many civil rights activists view the military as exploiting the vulnerabilities of youth in poor communities of color. As the demographics of the military make clear, the call to service consistently attracts young men and women of color, typically in search of career or educational opportunities, often coming from communities where other, less lethal routes to upward mobility are out of reach.
The climate for military recruiting is also changing, as the economic strains and unemployment may compel more people to enlist. The Globe reports that recruiting yields are rising across the armed forces, in contrast to previous years—perhaps reflecting of a sense of lessened danger now that the Iraq War appears to be cooling.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the country’s youth hinges not just on countering military salesmanship, but on empowering young people in targeted communities with real choice in determining their futures.
Image: High school student activists confront military recruiters at the 2008 Taste of Chicago food fair about their deceptive tactics. Photo by AFSC Chicago.