Text and Photos by Luis Alonso Pérez
After more than three years of war in Iraq, the number of soldiers injured or killed during combat has gradually increased, and recruiting has steadily dropped, leading to the creation of aggressive high-budget recruiting campaigns, aimed directly to low income high school students who can’t afford to go to college.
In the midst of these attacks, peace activists have responded by declaring 2005 as the year against drafting, and began a countrywide campaign on Monday, August 29, to inform parents about the legal options they have to keep recruiters away from their children, and the student’s right to refuse any testing and harassment from military personnel.
In San Diego, a group of peace activists, students, parents and veterans from the Vietnam and Iraq wars gathered under the Chicano Park kiosk to meet with local media and carry out a campaign called The Latino Day of Information, in order to alert Barrio Logan community members about school testing by the military like the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test) and the alternatives available to keep the student’s information away from recruiters like the Opt-Out out form. Similar campaigns took place simultaneously on Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities around the United States.
The reason this campaign began on August 30, was to honor the 35th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium and the 25,000 demonstrators that where brutally repressed as they marched through the barrios of East Los Angeles against the Vietnam War, specially Ruben Salazar, one of the most prominent and active Latin journalists of that time, and among those killed during the protest.
“Today we want to show people that the Chicano Moratorium hasn’t died said Fernando Suárez del Solar, one of the first speakers in the event and what we’re doing is a continuation of the struggle against recruiting, that even though it’s no longer mandatory, it’s tricky and immoral”
Fernando Suárez del Solar is the parent of Jesus Suárez del Solar, one of the first marines killed in Iraq, and the founder of Guerrero Azteca, a project created to raise awareness among youth that the military is not the best option to obtain a higher education. According to Suárez del Solar, the pentagon reported that over 80% of the people who have recently enrolled in the armed forces, do it so they can have enough money to go to college.
“We are here today to begin a national campaign to demilitarize our schools said Jorge Mariscal, co-founder of the YANO project because the war in Iraq will end one day, but the assault on our young people in their schools by military recruiters will continue, and it’s the militarization of our culture that will allow the next war to happen”
The YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities) project is a non-profit organization dedicated to inform young people about their alternatives to military enlistment, conformed by many veterans who believe that the armed forces are portraying a distorted picture of military service to high school students.
One of the most shocking testimonies came from Roberto Acosta, a high school drop out from Orange County that saw enlisting as his only option and was quickly sent out to Iraq. In April 2003, he lost his hand and seriously injured his leg during a hand grenade attack in Abu Grahib. “My brother is 16, he is going to be a junior this year and he’s already getting calls from recruiters who want him to take the ASVAB. I can’t stand that, he means too much for me and I won’t let him go through what I have been through and see the things I’ve seen”.
Another important testimony came from Blanca Arias, the mother of a student who was recently asked to take the ASVAB test in his high school gym, and refused to do so, since he knew he had that right through information provided by the YANO project. Since then, she has gotten informed and talked to the principal about the presence of military in her son’s school, as a result this year they are not going to do any military testing in that school.
Local students Montserrat Hernández and Joseph Romero also took their turn at the microphone to testify on what’s happening in their schools and the great need for genuine information about the military option.
After the press meeting, organizers and volunteers took the streets of Barrio Logan to hand out informative pamphlets to community members about the Opt-Out form and the ASVAB.
David Flores is an SDSU student and volunteer to hand out information. “I was motivated to do this because I see that this war is a battle of the poor, since poor people are the ones being recruited by false promises” said Flores “Take a look around, this is where they hit us up, because they know we are poor and vulnerable so they feed us lies that lead people to war and die, to die for something that isn’t real”.
This is just the beginning of a country-wide campaign that will lead up to a national mobilization on September 24 to 26, and will end with a visit to congress to demand the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and a legislation to pull the military programs and recruiters away from schools.
If you would like to know more about this situation or support the school demilitarization efforts you visit the following web sites: www.projectyano.org www.militaryfreezone.org www.guerreroazteca.org www.youthandthemilitary.org www.afsc.org/youthmil/default.htm