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Peace Center Fights Back with "Counter-Recruiting"

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"They have a perfect right to do that," says Jerry Patton, a spokesman for Army recruiting. "That's called freedom of speech. That's one of the things we're fighting for."

Serving in the military is not necessarily a bad thing, says workshop leader and Quaker activist Scilla Wahrhaftig, but it's important for young people to know exactly what they're getting into. Many 18-year-olds who join the Army, she says, may not fully realize that "for eight years of your life, your life is not your own."

On the contrary, Patton says. New recruits know what their jobs and duties will entail and are able to exercise choice in deciding what career path to pursue. "If they haven't seen enough on the news to know what's going on in the world," he says, "they ought to know what they're getting into."

By law, public schools are required to provide students' personal information to military recruiters, including their addresses and phone numbers. Parents are given the option to have their children's information withheld, via a form sent to them at the beginning of the school year.

In Pittsburgh, where Wahrhaftig is project director for the local office of the American Friends Service Committee, peace activists are fighting for more. They're trying to get the school board to permit anti-recruiting tables and literature in schools, and a group passes out such literature weekly outside a local recruiting office.

"Counter-recruiting" — actively countering military recruiters' efforts with literature and messages meant to dissuade young people from signing up — is "perhaps the most energized segment of the national anti-war movement," Scharf writes.

Richmond hasn't seen much, if any, counter-recruiting effort thus far, she says, but she calls the workshop the first step "toward stirring up a counter-recruiting movement in greater Richmond."

The workshop isn't simply about dissuading young people from military service, Wahrhaftig says; it's also about teaching parents and students how to talk thoughtfully about the matter. "Unless we can really listen to each other carefully … and be willing to hear each other's point of view," she says, "we are just going to be mouthing dogmatic statements to each other."

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