Academic journal article Social Justice

Is "Opting Out" Really an Answer? Schools, Militarism, and the Counter-Recruitment Movement in Post-September 11 United States at War

Academic journal article Social Justice

Is "Opting Out" Really an Answer? Schools, Militarism, and the Counter-Recruitment Movement in Post-September 11 United States at War

Article excerpt

Introduction: Opt Out!

AS THE UNITED STATES HEADS INTO YEAR FIVE OF ITS "WAR ON TERRORISM" and year three of its War in Iraq, one of the most visible segments of the antiwar resistance at home has been the growing "counter-recruitment movement." Many antiwar activists view counter-recruitment as a way to move beyond the "symbolic protest" of antiwar marching and demonstrating. The aim is to interfere directly and "materially" with the inner workings of U.S. military aggression, by attacking what is claimed to be the "Achilles' heel" of American Empire: the U.S. government's dependence on being able to recruit from within its domestic population sufficient "human resources" to successfully wage its wars abroad (Jahnkow, 2005). The well-publicized struggles of the U.S. military to meet recruiting goals over the past year have only added fuel to this movement.

Tactics embraced by counter-recruiters include putting up counter-recruitment information tables at school job fairs and other events where the U.S. military makes its sales pitch to the country's youth; disrupting the ability of military recruiters to make their sales pitches at these events; seeking to ban military recruiters outright from coming onto school and college campuses; and trying to block proposed expansions of high school JROTC programs around the country. No issue, however, has attracted more attention from the counter-recruitment movement than the much-hated "stealth" provision, hidden within President Bush's 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, that requires all of the nation's high schools to provide the U.S. military with personal contact information for their students, on penalty of losing federal funding. The only exemptions permitted to this requirement are for students whose parents sign a special "Opt Out" form requesting that their child's information not be handed over to the military.

In the spring of 2005, several antiwar groups came together in a broad-based Leave My Child Alone! coalition to launch a nationwide "Opt Out Campaign" that would directly challenge the No Child Left Behind Act's military recruitment policy. Other national antiwar coalitions (such as NNOMY--the National Network Opposed to Militarization of Youth) are likewise focusing strongly on opt out organizing within the broader counter-recruitment work they do. The immediate goals are to ensure that school districts live up to their legal mandate to inform students and parents of their right to opt out; to encourage students and parents to sign and submit opt out forms to their school districts; and to promote legislation (H.R. 551, the Student Privacy Protection Act of 2005) to repeal the offending section of the original No Child Left Behind Act. Success in opt out organizing is typically measured in terms of simple number counts. Students at Montclair High School in New Jersey, for example, won national attention earlier this year when a student organization managed to get 80% of the student body to sign opt out forms. Meanwhile, the Leave My Child Alone! Internet homepage keeps a running tally of opt out accomplishments across the country to date. In late July 2005, it announced that "over 9,000 kids have 'opted out'!"

"Opt out!" is becoming a distinctly recognizable slogan of the contemporary antiwar movement, and signing an opt out form is perhaps becoming this generation's moral equivalent to the Vietnam War-era protest action of burning one's draft card. Beyond the specific meaning that "opt out" has acquired within the context of the No Child Left Behind Act, this phrase characterizes the overall stance of much of the antiwar and counter-recruitment organizing in the U.S. today. Opting out, in the broadest sense of the term, is our preferred way to "oppose" and "challenge" war, militarism, and empire, in our schools and in society. We protest through refusing, or more commonly, simply through failing to become directly involved in the Bush administration's call to arms. …

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