Well-defended: A recruiting station in Flatbush, Brooklyn, got ready for the anarchists.
photo: Fred Askew
Military recruiters aren't getting much love these days.
"They're talking 'bout us lying, but look at this," complained Army
Staff Sergeant Blanco (he declined to give his first name), holding up
one of the flyers a group of anarchists was distributing Wednesday
outside the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Brooklyn. "It says we
work on commission and get paid more the more recruits we sign up. If
that was true, I'd be driving a Lexus. We'd set up a tent and be out
Billed on NYC Indymedia—as
a chance to "strike at the Achilles heal of the war machine!"—the small
street demo drew far more cops than anarchists. But for the Army and
Marine recruiters milling outside their empty offices on Flatbush
Avenue, it was yet another hurdle in a job that's getting tougher by
From San Francisco,
where voters just passed a measure aimed at kicking recruiters out of
public schools and off college campuses, to East Harlem, where about 75
people gathered on Monday to protest the opening of a new recruiting
office on East 103rd Street, recruiters are finding themselves in the
crosshairs of the anti-war movement.
Buoyed by falling enlistment rates, peace activists of all
stripes now see draining the supply of new soldiers as a more hands on
way to stop the war in Iraq.
"It's better than marching around in circles," said Brian, a
dumpster-diving squatter from Brooklyn as he pressed leaflets and
pamphlets on high school kids and other passersby in hopes of
dissuading any potential new GIs.
In the past year, Army enlistment
has fallen off target by more than 6,600 soldiers, the biggest
shortfall since 1979. Recruiting for the National Guard and Army
Reserves has been worse.
Among African Americans,
Army enlistment has dropped by 40 percent since 2000, a fact not lost
on the recruiters posted in Flatbush. "We don't have the revolving door
any more," said Army staff sergeant Arrindell, a Brooklyn native who
also declined to give his first name. "Before a lot of people were
walking in. Now you really have to go out and hustle."
Arrindell shrugged. "Nobody in New York has anything good to say about the war," he said.
"If we continue at this pace, guess what's next: a draft," an
African American sergeant sitting at the desk next to him chimed in.
"What are we going to do then as a country—are people going to Canada?
Then you've actually forced the government to do that, because you've
stopped the people who want to voluntarily serve by giving them a lot
of flak for it. What kind of democracy would we have then?"
Talk of crisis within the ranks only heartened the anarchists
demonstrating outside. "Bring it on—I would love a draft," said Wesley
Everett, a 31-year-old from Queens who helped organize the protest. "It
would expose how pathetic their war agenda really is.
"People sign up for two years' service but they can be called
up for eight under the stop-loss program—so that already is a draft.
Poverty is a draft," he continued, echoing a complaint by Harlem
Congressman Charlie Rangel, who has advocated reinstating a universal draft as a means to check the Bush Administration's militarism.
As Rangel and others have argued, the U.S. would be out of Iraq already—or might never have gone in—if children of the middle and privileged classes were forced to serve.
Of course, the thought that the military could be backed into a corner like this has alarmed war supporters, who have echoed President Bush's charge that the anti-war movement is helping the enemy.
On Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly
went so far as to suggest that al Qaeda should bomb San Francisco for
its relatively mild ballot proposition urging educators at public
schools to discourage recruitment and provide students with info on
scholarships and alternatives to the military instead.
Counter-recruitment protests have become a flashpoint in the
debate over the war in Iraq, and right now the protest crowd has the
"In the past year, there's been an explosion in this kind of
work across the country," says Steve Theberge, a youth organizer with
the War Resisters League.
"A lot of people felt really powerless after the last election. But
this is something people can grab on to. You can see concrete results,
and there's real power in not feeding the war machine. For a high
school student to say no to the military and speak out against
recruiters at their school—or an entire community to say no to
recruitment—that's very empowering."
On Thursday, students were out picketing and protesting at high
schools and colleges across the country as part of a nationwide "Not
Your Soldier" day of action called by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition
Actions were slated in more than 30 towns and cities, including
Hicksville, Long Island, where high school students staged a lunchtime
walkout to demand and end to military recruitment on campus, and
Washington, D.C., where area students planned to besiege Pentagon
employees at rush-hour with the demand of "Stop the Assault on Youth!"
In New York City, activists worked outside of high schools
including Washington Irving in Manhattan and Boys and Girls High School
in Brooklyn. They offered forms explaining how students can opt-out of
the recruiting lists compiled from enrollment data that schools are now
required to turn over under the Leave No Child Behind Act. And they circulated petitions in support of the Student Privacy Act , which could bar the military from getting names and contact information for students from schools without parental consent.
For Friday, the Iraq Pledge of Resistance
has put out a call for "non-violent resistance" outside recruiting
stations. So far demos have been announced in 15 cities, including New
York, where the War Resisters League
is holding a funeral march from Washington Square Park to the U.S. Navy
Recruiting station at 207 West 24th St Street at 7th Avenue.
While the New York event is intended as a solemn procession
with mock coffins, in Eugene, Oregon, and Madison, Wisconsin, and
Lakewood, Colorado, there are plans for sit-ins and blockades outside
recruiting centers. In Pittsburgh, anarchists and other anti-war
activists plan a noisy picket outside the same recruiting station where
police responded with tasers, pepper spray and police dogs at a protest-turned-melee in August.
Dubbed "National Stand Down Day," Friday's protest takes its name from the "stand down"
day called by Army brass in May. That's when recruiters were ordered to
halt their outreach and review legal and ethical guidelines after a
rash of reports of overly aggressive and abusive recruiting practices.
Among the troubling incidents, recruiters in Golden, Colorado, were caught advising a 17-year-old to lie about his high school diploma and fake a drug test in order to enlist.
As public support for the war withers (63 percent of Americans now
disapprove of the situation in Iraq, according to the latest CNN/
Gallup/ USA Today poll) the Pentagon is upping the ante with boosted sign-up bonuses, video games, and slick ads to woo parents. Recruiters are also aggressively going after poor rural and minority youth.
Counter-recruiters say the government is closing off choices for
underprivileged kids. "People see the money that would be going to
education and CUNY schools for funding and scholarships so they could
go to college is just going to the war," says Gloria Quinones, a mom
who helped organize the demo in East Harlem. "It's like they're being
backed up against the wall so they have no other options."
The House of Representatives just voted to slash student loans
by more than $14 billion; if the language stays in the final budget
bill, that would be the biggest cut in the history of the federal loan
program. Yet the Pentagon is spending $7 billion a month to maintain the Iraq occupation.
And still recruiters are scrambling to meet their quotas. The
increased pressure on young people is only provoking more resistance,
anti-war activists say. “These days it’s pretty hard to find anyone who
supports what the military is doing,” says David Tykulsker of Brooklyn Parents for Peace,
which has been hosting tables outside Brooklyn high schools to inform
students of their right to opt out of the Pentagon’s recruitment lists.
Under the Leave No Child Behind Act, schools are required to
turn over the names, phone numbers, and addresses of all
students--though students can remove their names if they request that.
Tykulsker claims that a member of the city’s Panel for
Educational Policy recently told him as many as half of New York City
students have chosen to remove their names from the lists--a number
that if true would top the 19 percent opt-out rate recently reported in
A spokesperson with New York's Department of Education said no
overall figures exist because the city is not required to keep such
Yet even as some students opt out of the lists that schools are mandated
to provide, the Pentagon has hired a direct marketing firm
to amass data on young people aged 16 to 25--including birth dates,
Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, ethnicity, religious
affiliation, grade-point averages, school interests, and other info
pulled from motor vehicle records, commercial data vendors, Armed
Services aptitude tests, and scholarship survey forms--possibly even
Unlike the student lists compiled by schools, there is no
opt-out form for the Pentagon's Joint Advertising and Market Research
Studies (JAMRS) Recruiting Database. Last month a coalition of parents,
anti-war, and privacy groups wrote to the Department of Defense
demanding that the $343 million program be dismantled.
“Initially I think people were shocked at the privacy issues
involved with turning over student records. Now I think people are more
shocked at what the military is actually doing,” Tykulsker says. “This
is a military that's engaged in serious illegal acts, ranging from torture and illegal detentions to the use of chemical warfare,”
he adds, referring to reports that the Army used white phosphorus in
the siege of Falluja. “The idea that we would be subjecting our
children to this is ludicrous.”
The recruiters whose job is to enlist new troops hear the
dissent--and argue they’re part of protecting it. "We're so quick to
voice our opinions, but why do you have the right to do that? Because
of the men and women in uniform who protect our freedom,” says the
African American Army sergeant working the desk in Flatbush. “You might
not support the reason for the war, but all of us are Americans. I've
been in the Army for 18 years--for me, this is a livelihood. This is my