Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Former Texas soldier: "Why I Went AWOL"

by Tamara Jones, posted on MSN

Kimberly Rivera spotted the little girl outside the U.S. military base in Baghdad. Just a tiny face in an agitated crowd. Saturday was "claim day," Kim explains, when Iraqi civilians would come to request compensation for things they'd lost in the bombings: Their furniture. Their jewelry. Sometimes their children. The Iraqis had to be checked by American soldiers. "We'd scan them, pat them down. Nobody ever had anything," says Kim, a former Army private.
Kim's soft Texas drawl snags in her throat as she remembers catching sight of the 2-year-old child of war with her family. The girl's dark eyes had locked on Kim. "She was just petrified," Kim says. "She was crying, but there was no sound, just tears flowing out of her eyes. She was shaking. I have no idea what had happened in her little life. All I know is I wasn't seeing her; I was seeing my own little girl. I could imagine my daughter being one of those kids throwing rocks at soldiers, because maybe someone she loved had been killed. That Iraqi girl haunts my soul."
And she changed Kim's life. The nameless child suddenly represented everything that felt wrong about being in uniform, about being in Iraq, for the 26-year-old former Wal-Mart clerk who had joined the military out of economic hardship, hoping to build a better future.
Kim had two children and a husband waiting for her back home in Mesquite, TX.
Not long after that day at the Baghdad claims line in late 2006, Kim was on a two-week home leave. But even in the welcoming embrace of her small family, she couldn't let go of the pent-up tensions of the war zone. "I was so crazy, like a roller-coaster car that goes off its tracks and crashes," she says. "Sometimes I'd be pacing or paranoid or a little panicked. Other times, it would be just extreme depression."
Kim's thoughts constantly turned to her kids. "It was incredibly emotional. I kept thinking, What if something happened to them? What if there was some emergency and they were hurt? I wouldn't be there for them," she says. "I'd be over in Iraq, just waiting to die."The possibility of running away didn't occur to Kim at that point. But it did to her husband, Mario. He retreated to his computer, his usual hideout in times of stress. This wasn't the shy, sweet Kim he had known as a teenager; they couldn't go on like this.
So Mario began researching antiwar groups and stumbled across the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada. He sent an e-mail asking if anyone there could help. A former Vietnam War deserter named Lee Zaslofsky responded: Yes.
"The first time Mario told me, I dismissed it," Kim says. "What were we going to do in Canada?" She remembers Mario pleading with her, "What options do we have?""We don't have any options," Kim snapped. "Well, this is an option," he pressed. "It's better than none."
Kim was due to report to her base in a few days to travel back to Baghdad. With the deadline approaching, she and Mario piled the kids and everything else they could fit into the family's blue Geo Prizm, uncertain when they pulled out of the driveway whether they were heading for the base — or for the border.Kim was a wreck.
They drove in a huge multistate circle for days, zigzagging west to east, north to south, debating and crying. "I could not make up my mind," Kim says. "And I was getting paranoid. We only used cash. Some hotels wouldn't take cash, so we'd have to find ones that did. I kept thinking that the police were going to break down our door in the middle of the night and find me."
Kim thought about her life in the Army before Iraq, when she worked a simple 9-to-5 day, driving supplies from one place to another, packing up trucks, and unloading equipment from train boxcars. Now every time she heard a car door slam, she says, "it sounded like a faraway mortar."She and Mario finally pointed the car north. On February 18, 2007, they crossed the border.
America disappeared fast in the mist of the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls. Kim was too numb, too angry, to look back. One minute she was Private Kimberly Rivera, a soldier, an Iraq War veteran, and an avowed patriot.
But when she left the country that winter day, unnoticeable in the crush of honeymooners and sightseers, Kim became something else: a deserter. One of more than 16,000 American soldiers who have gone into hiding rather than fight since the U.S. invasion of Iraq five years ago, Kim belongs to a small but growing movement of deserters seeking refuge in Canada, hoping to be granted citizenship the way American draft dodgers were during the Vietnam era.

But this war is different. Soldiers aren't drafted like they were for Vietnam, and Canada no longer has the open-door policy it had for that generation's protesters. Kim and an estimated 200 fellow deserters who fled north now live in uncertain exile, unable to return to their old lives or to begin anew; they're wanted on a fugitive warrant from the U.S. military and not openly welcomed by the Canadian government. They have been able to stay in Canada while they work their way through the court system — seeking political asylum or permission to immigrate — but so far, the courts have ruled against them. At press time, one soldier, Robin Long, had been deported to the U.S. and sentenced to 15 months in jail. Others are expected to follow.
As for Kim, she has been denied refugee status and is now appealing. Separately, she is also asking to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds. Final rulings are expected by year's end. When we meet in her subsidized apartment in a working-class Toronto neighborhood, Kim shyly opens the door to reveal a bare living room with a used dining-room set. She and Mario share the only bedroom with their kids, 6-year-old Christian and 4-year-old Rebecca.
"It's cozy to be able to reach out and touch them and feel safe," Kim says. Kim used to speak to her family daily from the war zone. Soldiers were allowed free phone calls in 15-minute turns, but Kim would go back when everyone else was sleeping to talk to Mario. One night, she returned from such a call to find an inch-long piece of shrapnel on her bunk. That could have hit me in the head and killed me, she thought.

Kim doesn't mind her spartan life in Toronto; poverty is something she has always known. "I never had any money growing up," she says of her childhood in Mesquite. Kim met Mario as a teen at the Wal-Mart, where they both worked. They'd dreamed of a future with educations and real careers, but Kim became pregnant at 20, and another baby quickly followed.
She and Mario lived with Kim's parents, whose dislike of Mario made the situation unbearable. Kim and Mario got married, and she saw the military as her only option. Becoming a soldier would mean a steady income, benefits, a roof over their heads. "Mario wanted to go instead of me," she says, but both were overweight, and Kim thought she would be able to shed the necessary pounds more quickly.
In January 2006, Kim joined the Army, and the family was posted to Colorado, where Kim was trained as a truck driver. The $8,000 signing bonus seemed like a fortune. Kim bought a tan sofa and chair ("microfiber suede," she says proudly), plus a TV and toys for the kids. Then her orders came for Iraq. "When they told me I'd be carrying a 20-pound semiautomatic weapon, it hit home," she says. "I felt like they were telling me I wasn't coming back."
Kim shipped out October 3, 2006, to a base in Baghdad. Meanwhile, her husband and kids moved back to Mesquite. In Iraq, Kim's main job was to guard the front gate of her base, inspecting vehicles and military convoys. There was an old supermarket across the street. "I was always afraid of that building," she says, "because there were these narrow windows throughout, and it would be completely easy for a sniper to hide there." By the time Kim had deployed, the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction was long over, and her purpose, she believed, was to help the Iraqis rebuild and to deliver America's promise of freedom and democracy. Once there, however, Kim could see nothing but lies. "I felt like my government had betrayed me," she says.
After the Riveras crossed the border, Kim turned on her cell phone to find her voice mail filled with stern warnings from her commanding officers. However, Army spokesmen say the military doesn't actively pursue deserters; only 897 deserters have been prosecuted since the Iraq War began, and about half have pleaded guilty to AWOL rather than face trial. While desertion carries a five-year prison term, punishment for going AWOL is a maximum of 18 months. Both charges can include less-than-honorable discharges, or "rehabilitation" back at the unit.

Today in Toronto, Kim, who is due to give birth this month to her third child, works a night shift in a bakery, thanks to a temporary work permit. Mario works at a McDonald's during the day. Kim misses Mesquite, as well as her parents, who don't support her decision. During my visit, Kim kisses Mario, a lumbering teddy bear of a guy, three times before leaving the apartment for an hour. Then she smiles and tells me, "He's my euphoria." Later, she hurries down the street on her way to a favorite doughnut shop that reminds her of one back home in Texas. A homeless woman approaches and asks for change."Sorry, dear," Kim apologizes, offering directions to a government-run food pantry instead.
It's been a while since Kim has had to get groceries at the pantry herself, but when she heard the local government was about to close it down, she joined the campaign to save it. Becoming a war resister has awakened the activist in her. She still keeps her fatigues, which she wears sometimes for antiwar rallies, and dreams of doing "something humanitarian" someday.
That evening over a take-out dinner, Kim's kindergartner, Christian, suddenly puts down his pizza to announce, "My mommy was a soldier. She had to make a choice: Go home or die."
Kim freezes midbite, her eyes widening. Christian prattles on. "She chose to come home to her family. She didn't want to die. Her job was guarding the gate. Now someone else does it."
Kim is still sitting at the dinner table a half-hour later, wondering how her son had absorbed so much, when there's a sharp knock at the door. A man's voice rings out: "Kimberly Rivera!" Kim and Mario exchange frantic looks. Is this it? Is she going to be led away in handcuffs? Mario tentatively opens the door. The stranger hands him a boxful of donated toys for the kids — gifts from a local charity. Flooded with relief, Kim simply says, "Thank you. Thank you so much."

Tamara Jones is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Open Letter to President-elect Obama

End military recruitment in our public schools

by Fernando Suárez del Solar

One day, when we still lived in Tijuana, Mexico, and my son was only 13 years old, a Marine recruiter told him that if my son enlisted someday he could become an agent in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
My son had grown up in Tijuana and seen how drugs destroy the lives of innocent children and he wanted to become a policeman.
The recruiter who exploited my son's idealism promised that he would spend one year in the Marines and then transfer to the DEA despite the fact that he was not a U.S. citizen. We learned too late that none of this was true, but we accepted that in fact he would have to spend eight years in the Marines.
Then September 11 changed the history of the world. We were proud that our beloved son would be part of the armed forces that would protect us from terrorism.
Unfortunately, President Bush began to tell a series of lies about WMD and the connection between 9/11 and Iraq.
My son was deployed to the Kuwaiti border in February of 2003 and although I opposed the war because I believe violence is never the proper response to international conflict I thought the government of my adopted country would follow the lead of the Congress and the United Nations.
But unfortunately Mr. Bush led us into war with false reasons, a war against an innocent people that even today no one understands.
The carnage began on March 20, 2003, and seven days later on March 27 my son died and my life changed forever. The Marine official handed me an official Pentagon document that said he had been shot in the head by enemy fire, but the reality as I later learned from an embedded TV reporter who was present was that my son had stepped on a U.S. cluster bomb. As of today, I have never received a response to my inquiries to the government about the facts of my son's death.

Since 2003 I have dedicated my life to telling my story, denouncing the lies of the Bush administration, and advocating for peace. I traveled to Iraq in December of 2003 to see with my own eyes where my son had died at the hands of our own incompetent government, and while there I learned that thousands of Iraqi children die every day from a lack of medicine. One year later, I returned with $650,000.00 in donated medical aid for the Iraqi people.

I have also devoted myself to speaking out against military recruiters who lie to our young people in order to meet their quotas.And so, because I know that you opposed the war in Iraq, I have taken the audacious step of writing to you directly.
Today, our schools are in great financial trouble. In minority and working-class communities, school districts lack the necessary resources, many schools have closed, many teachers have lost their jobs. But the military recruiters have become better funded and so they visit the schools whenever they like, hunting for young people who only want to get an education.
And so I must ask: "What is our priority ­ education or the militarization of our youth?

Mr. President-elect, I ask, no I implore, you to put an end to military recruitment in our public schools. Let us put the billions of dollars used to fund recruitment and JROTC back into the educational mission of our schools. Let the American Dream be realized not with false promises and weapons training but rather with books, decent classrooms, well paid teachers, and a pedagogy of hope.

Si se puede Sr. Obama! Yes we can.

Fernando Suárez del Solar
Founder & Director
Guerrero Azteca Peace Project
PO Box 300221, Escondido, CA 92030-0221

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Conscientious Objectors in Israel

Good article here, re-posted from The Rag Blog, about young people refusing military service in Israel:

'These are young adults, just out of high school, who have managed to break through all the myths that they have been immersed in and figured out for themselves what the Army actually does.'

By Rebecca Vilkomerson

December 19, 2008

It is hard to convey, and impossible to overstate, just how completely saturated Israeli culture is by the heroic image of the Israeli Army. In school, advertisements, marketing campaigns,store discounts, discussions with neighbors, every way you can imagine, the Army is portrayed as the ultimate form of service to the country. When I took my daughter, who is five, to the doctor recently, the doctor began her explanation of how vaccines worked in this way: "you know how Israel has an Army that protects us? Well the vaccines are your body's army…"It is simply everywhere.

That is what makes the shministim all the more remarkable. These are young adults, just out of high school, who have managed to break through all the myths that they have been immersed in and figured out for themselves what the Army actually does. Having reached the conclusion that being in the Army would force them to commit immoral actions, they have taken the next obvious---but in no way easy---step of taking action by refusing to serve. All in the face of family pressure, peer pressure and societal pressure that is absolutely intense. They are willing to pay the price, which can and does include jail time, for standing up for what they know is right.

As far as I am concerned, as a mother who is raising two Israeli daughters, they could not be better role models.

So I invited my daughter to join me at the December 18th Day of Action in Solidarity with the Shministim, and I was thrilled that she even agreed to leave her sister's Chanukah party early to accompany me.

The Day of Action had already attracted welcome attention: a front page article this morning in Haaretz, a moving statement of solidarity from U.S. Army war resisters, and a strongly worded statement of support from Amnesty International.

When we arrived, the first thing we saw was box after box after box after box lined up on the street. These were the letters and postcards that had been generated by the international campaign, over 20,000 in total.We were arrayed across the street from the imposing kiriya, the Army headquarters. This was as close as the police would allow us to get.

We were a small group, about two hundred people, and this reminded me just how brave and still isolated the refusenik movement in Israel is, and therefore how much the international support really means.The spirited crowd chanted and yelled support as some of the shministim--Omer Goldman, Sahar Vardi, Raz Bar-David Varon--and the relatives of Yuval Ophir-Auron and Sahar Vardi, took turns bringing the boxes of letters to the locked gates of the kiriya, where eventually two men in suits agreed to take them all inside. They make a nice group, indicative of how a refusenik can come from any part of Israeli society, as Omer's father made his career high up in the Mossad and Sahar's family are relentlessly dedicated left-wing activists.

There is a traditional belief in Yiddish culture, which comes from the Jewish mystical tradition, about the lamedvavniks, the thirty six righteous and humble people for whom God saves the world. The shministim are our lamedvavniks-our voice of conscience, our tiny flickering hope of building a society that does not willingly participate in controlling, terrorizing, and killing the Palestinian people-enforcing the checkpoints, demolishing homes, destroying ancient olive groves, building the Wall, confiscating land, enforcing siege and all the other immoral and illegal actions of the occupation.

In the last minutes of the demonstration, I talked briefly with one of the organizers. She said, "you know, there's a lot more we can do with these letters. We can hand them out on the streets of Tel Aviv. There are all sorts of things we can do." She was clearly buoyed and excited about building on the movement the Day of Action had generated. And as we got back on our bike to ride home in the still-warm December air, my daughter said to me, "Mama, I never want to be in the Army."

This is how it can begin. Because what if instead of six, or ten or sixty, six hundred refused? What if 6000 refused? The occupation would be over.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Austin Chronicle comes through

Check out the Austin Chronicle story in the current (December 19, 2008) issue:

"Stop the Loss: Austin veterans turn away from Iraq and war"

by Richard Whittaker

The article focuses on three local veterans who are active with Iraq Veterans Against the War, including Nonmilitary Options' own Hart Viges.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Schools and patriotism; guns and kids

Here's a good letter to the editor published in the Austin American-Statesman today (11-17-08). The letter was written in response to a large photograph published on the front page of the metro section of the AAS on Nov. 8 that showed a veteran in uniform, carrying a gun and ammunition belt, speaking to an assembly at Metz Elementary School in Austin as part of a "bring a vet to school" program.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Culture of violence

Re: Nov. 8 photo "Vets show and tell."

Metz Elementary School's decision to invite an armed representative of the military into the school is, unfortunately, illustrative of the culture of militarism that permeates our society. This culture embraces violence, so long as it is associated with a uniform and a flag.

If we are ever to live in a society that values humanity, and places human needs above those of domination and conquest, we must reject the notion that government-sponsored killing is acceptable. If we are ever to live in a peaceful world, the insidious indoctrination of our children into the military culture must end.

Veterans can, I think, contribute significantly to building this peaceful world. They should be encouraged to leave their guns at home and tell the truth about war.

Frances Hanlon

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Thanks for being here"

NOY volunteers have continued to visit Austin's public high schools this semester, doing peace education outreach with the Peace Wheel of Fortune (see previous posts) and a military spending reality check with the Penny Poll. Students like the "I think for Myself" and NOY logo buttons as well as silk-screened patches made by an artist in the group. Often, students say they're glad to see us because they're tired of seeing the recruiters so much. Teachers and administrators also come by and thank us for being there.
This past month, we've visited Akins, Bowie and LBJ/LASA High Schools, and Hart (Iraq Veterans Against the War) made classroom presentations at Garza HS and McCallum HS along with Americorps members who talked about Americorps as a nonmilitary option for gaining service experience, money for college and a living stipend after high school.

We have literature tables scheduled for Reagan and Crockett high schools in the next couple of weeks. Check them out!
photo of Hart with the Penny Poll at Lanier HS

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two California cities enact ban on recruiting minors

Great news from Northern California. Can we do this in Texas?

November 5, 2008
Arcata, California
For immediate release:

On November 4, voters in two northern California cities passed ballot measures that prohibit military recruiting of anyone under the age of eighteen.
Arcata, California, home of Humboldt State University, is well known for its progressive politics and its municipal involvement in promoting peace and defending the Constitution.
Neighboring Eureka is widely perceived as a more conservative timber town and fishing port, with the habit of poking fun at the perceived political excesses of its more progressive neighbor six miles to the north.

Measure F in Arcata passed with 73% of the voters in support, and Measure J in Eureka had 56% approval.
With such large majorities in both cities favoring the measures, it is clear that people of all political persuasions want the military to stop recruiting kids.
This is in response to the fact that young teens are increasingly being targeted for enlistment in the armed forces, as manpower needs from two unpopular wars outpace willing volunteers.

The "Youth Protection Act" makes it an infraction for a military recruiter to "initiate contact" with minors, within the city limits, for the purpose of recruiting them into the military. It in no way prevents anyone from talking with a recruiter if he or she chooses to do so.
The ordinances will take effect in 30 days, and proponents will use that time to meet with city attorneys and police to work out enforcement details, and to prepare for the possibility of legal challenge by the federal government.
Supporters believe that communities have a right to protect young people under 18 from being pressured to join the military at an early and vulnerable age. They point to laws already on the books that prohibit advertising that targets youth with messages promoting drugs, alcohol, tobacco or sex.
Meanwhile, voters in both Arcata and Eureka are happy to have joined together in shouting out, "Hey recruiter, leave them kids alone!"
More information is available at:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mural by "Voices Her'd": We Are Not Government Issued

An excellent mural called "Informed, Empowered," was completed this summer in Brooklyn NY by young women under the direction of NY muralist, Katie Yamasaki.
Here's a great article about the mural by artist, Cindy Klumb of Brooklyn:
"WE ARE NOT GOVERNMENT ISSUED" was the theme of a mural and its dedication ceremony in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, on September 6.

The mural was painted by 13 young Brooklyn women: Elizabeth Marony, Annie Wu, Sophia Dan, Erica Gill, Vivian Mah, Yan Yi Chen, Yasemin Kaynas, Min Ting Liu, Ashley Hollingshead, Teresa Tang, Elizabeth Yanes and Ebony Thurman. The project was envisioned during a four-month pilot of the leadership program Voices Her'd Visionaries, and is part of the Groundswell Community Mural Project.

Voices Her’d is an after-school program where young women meet and research issues that affect women. The topics they researched were: women and health, women in the military, women and poverty, and women and incarceration. Their research included guest speakers, going over data and networking with a variety of social action organizations.

The young women chose "women in the military," with a focus on health issues that specifically affect women in the military.

In the mural, three young women are featured, armed not with weapons, but with the tools of creativity and education. The top figure in the painting holds a paintbrush from which a banner flows, reading, "We Are Not Government Issued." Another section of banner reads, "Arm Yourself with the Knowledge to Think for Yourself."

Parachutes fill the sky. The largest reads "Keep Your Illegal War Off..." along with many smaller parachutes with the words "Our Schools," "Our Families," "Our Neighborhoods," "Our Futures," "Our Bodies," "Our Humanity," "Our Morality," "Our Taxes" and "Our Dreams" that drift through the mural.

The lower section of the mural shows dog tags that honor female soldiers who have died. Also shown are soldiers landing on the ground and civilians helping them to their feet. Statistics from the group's research are hidden in the shadows—they are the shameful facts about mental health, sexual assault and other trauma that female soldiers experience.

The mural, located at the corner of 23rd Street and 3rd Avenue, is painted on the side of a building that was restored by the Fifth Avenue Committed and contains six affordable housing units. The mural can be seen from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and makes a powerful statement against the war and the targeting of low-income minorities, especially young women, by military recruiters.

Jennifer Hogg from the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) was one of the many people who came and spoke to the young women of Voices Her'd during the research phase of the project. Hogg said she got involved because she wanted to "help them see the world as something they are a part of."

Annie Wu, one of the team members, said she grew up with Groundswell, working summers through the Summer Youth Employment Program. She learned many lessons such as "how to open your eyes to trouble around you" and " care for your community." She said that she learned to "trust society...A lot changes once somebody says something."

Katia Yamasaki, the lead artist on the project, said the project brings together "dialogue and protest." It is a way to bring a voice to young women of color who wonder how they will pay for college and are approached by recruiters. At least one of the young women had considered joining. All changed their minds about the military after listening to the soldiers.

Taxpayers in Brooklyn have sent over $5.7 billion to Iraq. Katia ended by asking "What would it be like to be governed by people who actually have our interests at heart...All young people should have choices that don't come out of desperation."

Afterward, I asked one of the young women, Yasemin Kaynes, a Brooklyn College student, why she got involved in the project. She said that she started participating four years ago and keeps coming back because she "finds new things to learn."
Her first project was another mural inspired by Judy Chicago's "Dinner Table." In that mural, the young women had to depict who they would like to invite to dinner. She remembered one woman who ran a nursery that never had enough funds, but somehow always found the money to keep it going. She found it very inspirational.

As an artist myself, whose art is political, I found these courageous and talented young women inspirational and hope that their message continues to inspire others.
--Cindy Klumb, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Camilo Mejia in Austin

Iraq war veteran and conscientious objector, Camilo Mejia speaks in Austin this Thursday, sponsored by the UT student group, CAMEO (Campus Antiwar Movement to End Occupations). Here are the details:


Thursday, October 16, 7:00 PM

University of Texas at Austin, Garrison 0.102

Camilo Mejía grew up in Nicaragua and Costa Rica before moving to the United States in 1994. He joined the military at the age of nineteen, serving as an infantryman in the active-duty army for three years before transferring to the Florida National Guard.

After fighting in Iraq for five months, Mejía became the first known Iraq veteran to refuse to fight the war in Iraq, citing moral concerns about the war and occupation.
He was eventually convicted of desertion by a military court and sentenced to a year in prison.

Mejía currently serves as the chair of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and is the author of Road from ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia: An Iraq War Memoir (new edition, Haymarket Books 2008).

In Road from ar Ramadi, Mejía tells his own story, from his upbringing in Central America and his experience as a working-class immigrant in the United States to his service in Iraq - where he witnessed prisoner abuse and was deployed in the Sunni triangle - and time in prison. In this stirring book, he argues passionately for human rights and the end to an unjust war.

"The truth as I see it now is that in a war, the bad is often measured against what's worse, and that, in turn, makes a lot of deplorable things seem permissible. When that happens, the imaginary line between right and wrong starts to vanish in a heavy fog, until it disappears completely and decisions are weighed on a scale of values that is profoundly corrupt."

--Camilo Mejía, Road from ar Ramadi

Monday, October 13, 2008

Conscientious objection is a right, but inconsistently allowed by military

As More Troops Refuse to Deploy, Getting Conscientious Objector Status is an Uphill Battle
By Sarah Lazare, AlterNet. Posted October 8, 2008

Soldiers who decide to become conscientious objectors face a major struggle, but it can also be "the most liberating thing ever."

"I don't feel that it's right to take someone else's life," said 19 year-old Tony Anderson, Private in the U.S. Army, in a quiet voice on the phone. "I felt that if it came down to it, I couldn't kill someone, in Iraq or anywhere."
Anderson was speaking while under the line-of-sight supervision of his commanding officer at Ft. Carson, Colorado where he is stationed. The young soldier, who refused to deploy to Iraq in July of this year, is under close restriction by the military and has been threatened with a prison sentence for refusing to fight.
Despite these dire consequences, Anderson has decided to join the growing ranks of troops who are openly resisting service in the Iraq War.After haggling with his commander, Anderson received permission to take the rest of his call in private. It was then that he shared his story.Hailing from the small city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Anderson says that he was never very attracted to military life, but joined the service at the behest of his father, who had always regretted not joining the military himself.
Once in the ranks, Anderson realized that he had made an unfortunate decision. During basic training, he found himself ethically opposed to taking a human life in a military conflict. He was disturbed by seeing soldiers on his base return from Iraq deeply traumatized from their experience in combat. "I didn't want to mess myself up for the rest of my life doing something I didn't want to do to begin with," he says.Anderson had vague thoughts about filing for conscientious objector (C.O.) status but was discouraged from doing so by his commanding officers, who told him that it would not be possible for him to obtain, and even falsely informed him that he was "not the right religion."
Anderson was led to believe that filing a C.O. application would be futile.When he was ordered to deploy to Iraq on July 1st, Anderson decided he could not go. Just hours before boarding his flight, he went AWOL, eventually turning himself in after 22 days in hopes of diminishing the severity of his punishment.
On his return, Anderson was again ordered to deploy to Iraq immediately. This time, he simply refused, and he says, "they haven't tried to deploy me since then because they realize I'm not going to go."

Anderson is not alone: a growing number of U.S. troops are refusing to fight in the so-called "war on terror." Army soldiers are resisting service at the highest rate since 1980, with an 80 percent increase in desertions, defined as absence for more than 30 days, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the AP Press. Over 150 resisters have come out publicly against the war, and some cases, such as Lt. Ehren Watada, the first army officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq, have garnered widespread support and attention.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of active duty G.I.s have been joining Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), an organization comprised of over 1,200 U.S. veterans who have served since September 11, 2001. With 12 active duty members at Anderson's base alone, IVAW has taken a position of open support for G.I. resisters.

The rising number of troops who do not want to join the war face a challenge because conscientious objector status is difficult to obtain. C.O.s must prove that they are opposed to war in all forms, that their objection is based on "religious training and belief," which can include moral or ethical training, and that their beliefs are "sincere and deeply held."
The application process is arduous and includes written applications, a series of examinations, and a hearing with an investigative officer. A decision on an application can take up to a year, and in the interim a C.O. application cannot forestall deployment to a combat zone, although it can help ensure that applicants are assigned duties which conflict as little as possible with C.O. convictions.
Applicants face pressures to drop the issue from commanding officers, who "accidentally" lose the applications, impose informal punishments on C.O. applicants, or give false information about the process, as in the case of Anderson.

There has been no reliable study of the difficulty of obtaining C.O. status. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that between 2002 and 2006, the Marine Corps and Coast Guard approved a third of C.O. applications, Army officials approved 55 percent, the Air Force approved 62 percent, and the Navy approved 84 percent. Critics claim, however, that these figures are grossly misrepresentative, as they do not factor in the number of potential applicants who are deterred at all stages of the process: anyone who did not make it entirely through the application process was not counted by the GAO.
Elizabeth Stinson, Director of the Sonoma County Peace and Justice Center, urges potential applicants not to be deterred by the difficulty of obtaining C.O. status and counsels them to seek support from allies in the peace movement. "Applying for conscientious objector status is hard," she says. "You will be abused, hazed, systematically degraded and dehumanized whenever possible. Still, I would love to see the amount of conscientious objector applicants go up. For some, it can be the most liberating thing ever."

Read the rest of the article at

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our table at Austin HS

There was good interest from students at Austin HS last Friday, where we had a literature table with our usual materials, including the penny poll and the Peace Wheel of Fortune. Lots of students spun the wheel and could tell us about MLK -- and Flobots! John Lennon also was known by more students than at McCallum or Lanier, it seemed. A few knew about Gandhi and Cesar Chavez -- but quite a few only knew that their school stands on the street named for him. We hope we raised some awareness about Cesar Chavez and the other nonviolent freedom fighters on the wheel. See previous post for an information sheet about them.

The penny poll results indicated Health Care as number one priority once again. Environment and Education tied for second.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Our literature tables at Austin schools

Here's an update on our Nonmilitary Options activities so far this semester...

We've had literature tables at Travis HS, Lanier HS and McCallum HS and have dates planned for Austin HS, LBJ/LASA HS and Garza HS in the next two weeks.

We've done the penny poll and used the new Peace Wheel of Fortune at most of the schools so far this year.

The peace wheel generated lots of interest today at McCallum HS. Most students knew at least one or two of the peace sheroes and heroes on the wheel. Quite a few students knew about the hip-hop/rock band, Flobots (especially their hit song, Handlebars), which was great!
The idea of the wheel is that students spin it, the ticker stops on one of the peace sheroes/heroes, and if students can tell us something about that person, then they choose a prize.

Students liked the new "I think for myself!" buttons, which we used for peace wheel prizes along with Addicted to War books and the new "It's My Life!" books from the American Friends Service Committee.

We gave students who tried the peace wheel an info sheet to study up. Here it is. So, if you see us at your school, you've got an advantage!
Pursuing Justice, Peace and Freedom through Creative Nonviolence
Raul Salinas (1934 – 2008) was an Austin poet and educator who founded the Resistencia Bookstore on South First St. and shared his passion for art, writing and social justice through writing workshops in Austin schools.

Bernice Johnson Reagan is a composer, scholar, educator, performer and founder of the African American a cappella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock. As a college student, she was active in the Civil Rights Movement and was an original member of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Freedom Singers in 1962.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) is perhaps the best known of all US Civil Rights leaders. Following methods used by Gandhi and the freedom movement in India, King’s oratory, writings and personal example directed the movement in using nonviolent strategies such as mass marches, boycotts, sit-ins and direct negotiations in achieving equal rights.

John Lennon (1940 – 1980) was a member of the British rock band, The Beatles, and also had a successful solo career. He and his spouse, Yoko Ono were outspoken peace advocates who expressed their views through music and performance art.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel peace laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma who has lived under house arrest in Burma/Myanmar for some 14 years. Even though the government is ruled by a military junta, she is considered a leader by the Burmese people and continues to urge nonviolent resistance to the regime.

Cesar Chavez (1927 – 1993) led worker strikes, boycotts and marches for higher wages and better working conditions for agricultural workers in the US, including South Texas. He and Dolores Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers, led the successful California grape boycott and helped organize other labor organizations in Texas and the Midwest.

Julia Butterfly Hill is a poet, speaker and environmental activist who lived for two years on a platform 18 stories high in a 1,000 year-old redwood tree in California as a protest against clear-cutting. Her book about that experience, The Legacy of Luna, was published in 2000.

Flobots is a rock/hip-hop band based in Denver. Their lyrics promote nonviolent social change. Their current release is Fight With Tools.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948) was one of the most influential nonviolent activists in history. He helped lead India to independence from British Colonial Rule and his nonviolent methods inspired MLK and others in the US Civil Rights Movement.

Helen Keller (1880 –1968) was the first deafblind person to graduate from college. She learned to speak and became a world traveler and author who was outspoken in her advocacy for peace, women’s voting rights and labor rights.

Camilo Mejia is an Iraq war veteran who refused to return to combat because of moral objections to the war. His conscientious objector claim was denied by the US Army and he served a prison term. He is now president of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Go forth and wage peace!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What to do with the recruiter's climbing wall

Thanks to Seattle friends for sending this photo of Iraq Veterans Against the War taking it to the top on Sept. 23 at the University of Washington, where recruiters had set up a climbing wall.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ben McKenzie compelling in new film, "Johnny Got His Gun"

Following on the previous blog post, this review of the new film based on the book by Dalton Trumbo is timely. The one-actor film premiered in Austin last night to a riveted audience. Here's an excellent account of the evening and the film. Don't miss it.

Johnny Got His Gun

By Alice Embree / The Rag Blog / September 23, 2008

“Johnny Got His Gun” opens in Austin September 26th at the Dobie Theatre. It is a starkly powerful film based on a 1939 antiwar novel by Dalton Trumbo. The sole actor is Austin native Ben McKenzie, best known for his role as a high school heartthrob in the television show, O.C.

See this movie. See it because Ben McKenzie is a fine actor. See it because Dalton Trumbo, one of the blacklisted Hollywood 10, writes a compelling story.

Let it stir memories of what a simply staged production can evoke. Buy a ticket because a portion of the ticket price supports the Fallen Patriot Fund for injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Johnny Got His Gun” premiered at the Paramount in Austin Monday night. The audience included friends of Ben McKenzie and his family and peace activists along with young people brought there by Ben McKenzie’s star power. I wondered what the younger contingent thought when they silenced their cell phones to see a movie with no special effects and few laugh-lines. We have become so accustomed to multi-sensory experience, so wired to on-screen movement, that the sheer simplicity of this production is shocking.

Other characters were present only through the description of Joe Bonham, a quadruple amputee with catastrophic injuries to his face. The film traps you in a small space in the same way Joe Bonham is trapped.

“It evokes the isolation of major injury,” said a GI rights counselor after the film. Cindy Thomas, Army spouse, put it more simply to the director, “It reminded me of Walter Reed.”

I asked Ben McKenzie how he came to act in this movie. He said that the director, Rowan Joseph, approached him about the project. It was a powerful script and he thought he could reach a younger generation with its message.

Dalton Trumbo wrote his award-winning novel prompted by a news story about an American soldier hit by an artillery shell during World War I. As the soldier regains consciousness, he struggles to mark time and find ways to communicate. He asks to be put on display in the halls of Congress and in front of Parliaments as a living example of the true cost of war.

Dalton Trumbo, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947, was blacklisted and spent nearly a year in prison. He wrote under pseudonyms until the 60s. In 1971, as another war raged, he directed a screen adaptation of “Johnny Got His Gun,” starring Timothy Bottoms and Jason Robards.

We live in an era of sanitized war. Unlike the Vietnam era, most of us are shielded from the experience because there is no draft. There is virtually no television coverage of the war. Peace activists struggle to break through the ether. Hopefully, with Ben McKenzie as a draw, “Johnny Got His Gun” will bring the human cost of war to a new and wider audience.[For more about Johnny Got His Gun, go here.]

Gods of metal

Gods of metal
by Steve Baggarly

Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach , Virginia , hosted its fiftieth annual air show this weekend. Oceana is home to F-18 Hornets and Super Hornets which are deployed on aircraft carriers stationed at Norfolk Naval Base. This year's show, dubbed “A Legacy of Excellence,” is one of over 200 air shows taking place across the country this year from March to November.

Air shows are the US Military's hottest community relations and recruiting tool. Many take place on military bases that are opened to the public for the occasion, others at local airports or fair grounds. At Oceana, attendees were dazzled by active duty fighters, bombers, transports, and spy planes, as well as historical and stunt aircraft, displayed both on the ground and in speed-filled, eardrum-shattering air demonstrations. Booths sponsored by defense contractors lauding the next generations of military aircraft under development offered pencils, stickers, and glossy photos of sleek futuristic war planes.

With local radio stations playing rock and country music, lines of concession stands, and picnicking areas, the show was an intentionally family affair as the endless stream of strollers attested. Also on hand were small Naval river craft crowded with kids behind the machine guns, a rack of M-4 and M-16 rifles and Army issue shotguns for visitors to handle, an opportunity for small children to lay in the grass with a sniper's rifle and peer through its sights, and a virtual Army experience in which groups of people embark on their own company-sized Army mission. But the Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team and the other military aircraft were the stars of the show.

Unmentioned anywhere was the sole purpose for the existence of all the assembled high-tech weaponry on display. Nowhere was their killing vocation acknowledged. Nowhere was the reality of the people under the bombs even whispered; the deafening explosions, the quaking earth, the fear, the chaos, the smoke and fire, the loss of homes, jobs, utilities, and resources, the burning of flesh, the spurting of blood, the pain and shock, the blinding, maiming, and crippling, the loss of limbs, the deep psychological trauma, the soul-rending howls of new orphans and widows. Nowhere was mentioned the inherently indiscriminate nature of airstrikes; that every time a bomb bay door opens or a wing launcher is fired that civilians, innocents, and children are as likely as anything to be blown to shreds. Nowhere were the photos of decapitated or blood-drenched Iraqi and Afghan children. Nowhere was posted the definition of war crimes.

Such realities would have upset what was essentially a religious event. Faith in the weapons was palpable. The aircraft were heralded as the source of freedom and security, peace and prosperity. These attributes of a deity were readily assigned to the warplanes, the airborne idols of our national religion, militarism. In the end it is our B-52's and F-18's and our stealth fighters and bombers that we believe will save us. We entrust our children to their protection, swell with pride when they join the ranks in their service, and freely give our money to create ever more lethal versions. This is the message of the air shows; life as we know it is made possible by these planes and we owe them our absolute and undying allegiance.

There are two air shows each year in Virginia 's Hampton Roads area, and several hundred thousand people attend the three-day events. This weekend at Oceana four people disturbed the good order of the show by climbing atop the B-52 bomber on display with banners reading “We Shalt Not Kill” and “Weapons of Mass Destruction are Nothing to Celebrate.” Each one of the Air Force's 66 nuclear capable B-52's can carry the equivalent of 320 Hiroshima bombs. They can also carry 70,000 pounds of conventional weapons (including cluster bombs, cruise missiles and gravity bombs) and in their 45 year history have carpet bombed Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The four banner bearers were detained along with eight observers. Eleven people were given letters banning them from Naval installations from Virginia to Maine . One member of the Norfolk Catholic Worker violated a previous banning order and will face a trespassing charge in Federal Court in Norfolk on November 3 rd that carries up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine.

Air shows are public liturgies venerating our gods of metal. They glorify our wars and they indoctrinate our children. Go to and find the air show nearest you. Then grab some friends, some signs, literature, puppets or a bullhorn, and, as Dan Berrigan said, “Don't just do something, stand there !”

Friday, September 19, 2008

Boston College students stage protest at career fair

It was great to read this report, published on Thursday, September 18, 2008 by The Heights (Massachussetts), the independent student newspaper of Boston College:

Students Protest Defense Contractors At Career Fair
by Alexi Chi

BOSTON, Mass. - A group of 20 Boston College students stood out from the throng of suited undergrads who crowded Conte Forum during Tuesday's career fair. Those students, clad in "Who Would Jesus Bomb" T-shirts and kneeling silently, were protesting the presence of weapons manufacturers at the annual BC career fair.

The protest was organized by the Global Justice Project (GJP), a non-hierarchical organization whose mission is to educate and advocate for justice and democracy at BC.

Fifteen student demonstrators knelt at the recruitment tables of military contractors Raytheon and BAE Systems.
To the side of the kneeling students, six others participated in a satirical theater demonstration, posing as recruiters from a fictitious competing weapons manufacturer, the Civil Liberties On-Line Weapons Network Services (CLOWNS). The protestors actively tried to recruit career fair attendees to work for their company, offering "frequent buyer airfare packages ... to defend and promote democracy abroad." Midway through the event, students unfurled a banner, reading "Do Jesuits support cluster bombs? Kick Raytheon and all war off campus!"

"I feel that by refusing to un-invite Raytheon, the BC administration is condoning the company's policies, which to me is clearly contradictory to the Jesuit philosophy of this institution," said Tim Dingman, a member of the GJP and A&S '11.

Student demonstrators elected not to apply for a University-issued demonstration permit, citing the administration's "frighteningly clear" pattern of censoring student groups and infringing on their right to dissent and free expression on campus. They instead issued a "student demonstration permit" to members of the University. The permit read, in part, "not only do we believe we have an obligation to peacefully demonstrate the presence of weapons manufacturers on our campus, but we believe that dialogue and freeexchange of ideas are vital to the academic setting of any university that claims to espouse the values of scholarship and higher education."
The permit said that weapons manufacturers reap financial gain from violent and deadly global conflict, and asked whether BC supports organizations that are "helping to build the Kingdom of God," or ones that "create the deadly bombs to destroy it."

This is the fifth career fair protest that has taken place in the last five years, but past demonstrations have not been conducted as peaceably.
In 2005, the GJP's plans to protest the presence of Raytheon included a display that was to include faux Raytheon workers who were assembling a missile, as well as a bomb scene complete with bodies and debris. Though the organization sought and obtained permission to stage its demonstration, the University was unaware of the dramatic display the group had planned; the protest was cancelled at the last minute.

In 2004, 12 students staged a "pray-in" at the career fair at the Raytheon without University permission. Two of the demonstrators who refused to leave after the BC Police Department and the dean for student development arrived faced disciplinary action.

"As people of conscience, our faith demands that we actively work toward peace and justice," said Kathryn Bishop, a student demonstrator and A&S '10. "Today's prayer and protest is a small, but important step on the road toward nonviolence and disarmament."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

PeaceJam 2008

A post about PeaceJam, happening right about now: Sept. 11 - 13 in Los Angeles...

written by Amanda Molinaro, Irvine, CA

September 16, 2006 saw the largest gathering of Nobel Prize winners in US history. 10 Nobel Peace Laureates gathered in Denver, Colorado, and collectively challenged the world:

“Today we ask the young leaders of PeaceJam, and the youth of the entire world, to join us in a Global Call to Action. For the next ten years, we invite them to work side by side with us as we address ten fundamental issues. These ten core problems are at the root of much of the suffering in our world, and we believe that young people can mobilize to make a difference in these ten key areas. It is our hope that by launching this ten-year campaign, we can inspire people of all ages, worldwide, to work for change. Over the next ten years, we hope to inspire over a billion acts of service and peace.”

Ivan Suvanjeiff first conceived the idea for PeaceJam on the streets of Denver in 1994, where he met a Latino gang who knew of, and appreciated, Desmond Tutu’s nonviolent efforts towards change. He enlisted the help of several Nobel Peace Laureates, and PeaceJam began campaigning worldwide, teaching youths how to initiate peaceful change by addressing 10 key issues plaguing the world:

- Equal Access to Water and Other Natural Resources -Ending Racism and Hate -Halting the Spread of Global Disease -Eliminating Extreme Poverty -Social Justice and Human Rights for All -Rights for Women and Children, and their role as Leaders -Restoring Earth’s Environment -Controlling the Proliferation of Weapons -Investing in Human Security -Breaking the Cycle of Violence.

Today, PeaceJam is a leadership training program for youths which focuses on the words and works of 12 Nobel Peace Laureates: the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Oscar Arias, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Betty Williams, Jody Williams, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Jose Ramos-Horta, Sir Joseph Rotblat, and Shirin Ebadi.

These men and women have dedicated their lives to working for peace, equality, justice and a better world, and they want to teach today’s youth generation how to work to replace violence and oppression in the world today with peace and conflict resolution.

The PeaceJam Foundation is dedicated to inspiring a new generation of youths who are committed to working towards positive change in the world. The Foundation’s mission is to have Nobel Peace Laureates working side by side with today’s youths to initiate nonviolent change and spread peace. Every year, the PeaceJam Foundation holds the Global Call to Action, where six laureates gather to address youths between the ages of 14 and 25 about these 10 current issues and the steps that should be taken to rectify them.

“Since its launch in 1996, more than 600,000 youth have participated in the PeaceJam program. Over one million service projects have been created and implemented by participating youth, and over 140 PeaceJam youth events have taken place in 10 different countries throughout the world."

The next Global Call to Action will be held from September 11-13, 2008, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Shirin Ebadi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and Jody Williams will address over 3000 youths, with the goal of implementing one billion acts of peace which pertain to current, pressing issues of society.

PeaceJam believes that “it is time for youth to step up and define our future.” Help PeaceJam’s simple, but daring goal to initiate 1 billion acts of peace by its 20th anniversary in 2016, and watch a brighter future unfold.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Youth Art and Action Training

The Nonviolent Youth Collective is hosting an arts-based skills training October 16-19th, 2008 in Nyack, NY (home of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.)
The weekend will use training-for-trainers arts-based skills and creative direct action, with a focus on counter recruitment and conscientious objection, applicable to other kinds of organizing as well.

Applications are due by September 15th, and can be sent to

The training will take place from the evening of Thursday, October 16th to the evening of Sunday, October 20th, just outside of New York City in Nyack, NY.
The sliding scale will be from $75-$250 based on ability to pay, and will cover housing, food, materials and training for the weekend.

The goals of this training are:**To strengthen the Counter Recruitment and Conscientious Objector movements in the U.S. through training and skill sharing, creating imagery, visioning, and cultivating arts-based capacity for young trainers.**To network and build community among NVYC members and other young counter recruitment activists.** To continue to build a network of young artists and activists committed to nonviolent, creative action in resistance to militarism at home and abroad.
For any questions or for more information, contact Brie Phillips at 651-757-5353 or at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008



The deadline is approaching, but you still have time...

Local organizers in Austin are planning a National Assembly to Honor Freedom of Conscience
to be held October 3 - 5, 2008 in downtown Austin. Planners have sponsored an essay contest as part of the event. Here are the details:

Please write on the theme of "why freedom of conscience is important to me."

All high school students (anywhere in the world) and those recently graduated are invited and encouraged to participate. Prizes will be awarded for the top three essays, selected by supervision of the assembly working group.

Essays must be a maximum of 800 words, typed and doubled spaced on white paper with black print. In order to be considered for awards, essays must be postmarked on or before September 21, 2008.

Prizes will be distributed when the essays are read during the assembly, or mailed to the authors if they are unable to attend the event.
All essays submitted become the possession of the assembly working group who will work for their publication in various media outlets along with the authors' credits.

Please send all entries to:
Essay Contest
National Assembly
Austin Mennonite Church
5801 Westminster Dr
Austin, TX 78723

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brothers in Farms

This piece is posted on the website of Farms Not Arms:

Swords into Plowshares: One Soldier's Story
by Matthew McCue

Matthew McCue is an Iraq War vet turned farmer and member of Farms Not Arms. When he wrote this piece, he was teaching agriculture for the PeaceCorps in Niger, Africa. He now runs his own small produce farming operation outside of Sebastopol, California. Here are some recent photos of Matt selling his veggies at the Farmers’ Market.

My hoe strikes the ground every time I take a step. A local woman follows behind, tossing seeds in the holes that I dig. The West African sun beats down without mercy but I keep working. The soil is a well weathered remnant of the jungle that used to dominate the arid land that is now known as the Sahel. I am planting millet, one of the most robust crops known to man. I can not create or even fully control what will spring up from this seemingly barren field. I can only guide it.

You can cover a soldier with night vision, Kevlar, GPS tracking systems, advanced infantry weapons, put him in a Bradley fighting vehicle, and send him in to battle but without his or her personal force and motivation the equipment reveals itself for what it is: lifeless machinery. If I tell you of my experience in combat surely you will be able to read a story with more bravado, more blood, more adrenaline, and more pain. I can tell you that to kill you have to shut off a piece of your heart, and to see another soldier die will shatter what is left of it. To function you have to become immersed in the machine that is killing you and keeping you alive at the same time. You have to bring life to the machine.

Rather than thinking of Iraq as the place where my heart was broken and my mind was controlled I prefer to think of Iraq as the place where I discovered the key to my freedom. I prefer to remember the trucks full of watermelons and pomegranates that would pass through our checkpoints. I felt strangely human as I waved cars by with pomegranate seeds stuck to my Kevlar vest.

I witnessed many unforgettable things in Iraq but the aspect that changed my life more than any other was the way the farmers kept working and selling their produce through the chaos of a regime change. Farmers have a quiet power that made me realize that I could not accomplish anything good for the world with my M16 in hand. It was in Iraq eating fruit that I realized that I needed to find a new way to think. It was also in Iraq that I learned to hide how I felt.

I returned to Fort Hood, Texas a newly promoted sergeant. I spent the next seven months training kids how to kill. At night I would find myself in my room listening to anti-war music as I prepared for the next day of training.

When my time was up and I left, I had no clue what to do. As an accomplished infantryman I could become a cop, private soldier or oil rig worker. I chose to collect unemployment and climb mountains in the Pacific Northwest. Unemployment ran out and through a series of events that included a summer stint in Alaska as a commercial fisherman, I found myself in Pahoa, Hawaii. I came to volunteer on a five acre permaculture farm owned by a friend of a friend. It was there that I stopped being a soldier.

I learned about the concept of sustainability and how to compost. I saw so many beautiful plants and learned so much I was almost overwhelmed. I was secretly still afraid of getting mortared or running over an IED as we would drive into Hilo. I took up bogie boarding and faced a very real and logical fear of drowning because I am a weak swimmer.

As I look back, my time in Hawaii was priceless. It was there that I applied for the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Because of my lack of experience and formal education I really had no idea if they would let me into their six-month apprentice program, but in April 2006 I found myself setting up my two-person tent on the edge of one of the fields.
It took about three seconds for me to realize that I had found a very special place. I spent the next six months with the smartest group I have ever worked with and ended up in a heated discussion about every day. My most frequent debate partners were the people I loved the most. Just about everyone knew more about horticulture than me. Everybody taught me something.

I would still go to sleep afraid of mortars but the joy of the present and anticipation of the next harvest made the past seem to loosen its grip on my life. I learned more from six months on a college farm in Santa Cruz than four years in the Military. I escaped the army without a scratch — but before learning to care for life I was caught in a slow death with nothing to watch but my own mortality and the horrifying news.

I feel like the luckiest person alive because as I work in my field in west Africa my body becomes stronger and I am no longer an observer of the quiet beauty, I am a caretaker. Having been very effectively conditioned to kill and accept death, taking care of plants has had a kind of opposite effect on my mind, heart, and soul.

Sometimes I feel that the torment that has plagued me during and after my time in Iraq was just the plowing of the field of my heart before the deep rooted seed of peace and sustainability could grow within my soul.
The quiet power of farming has overtaken me and I no longer live in fear.
Farms Not Arms is made up of farmers seeking a more peaceful world. Our Swords to Plowshares project makes our farms available to Iraq and Afghan War vets looking for employment, job training and places to heal.
In California we are forming a non-political Farmer-Veteran Coalition, bringing together the farming community with veterans, their advocates and their survivors so we can help care for the disproportionately large number of veterans that are returning to rural America, and bring new energy to our farms.
Farms Not Arms and the Farmer-Veteran Coalition will offer scholarship assistance to any returning veterans that wish to attend the Agroecology apprentice program that Matthew did at the University of California Santa Cruz.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Countering recruitment in Los Angeles

by Danny Brown
Published in the Easy Reader, South Bay's Hometown News on August 14, 2008

Paul Wicker of Manhattan Beach, with the support of local high school students and civic activists, is protesting the United States military’s recruitment of high school students.

Nearly a year ago, Wicker approached the Manhattan Beach Unified School District urging it to limit the armed forces recruitment efforts at Mira Costa High School. As part of his protest, Wicker urged the Manhattan Beach Unified School District to make it more difficult for the military to collect information on students. Previously the school had an opt-in program where students could choose to send their information to the military, but after the military complained, it changed to an opt-out form.

Wicker soon discovered there wasn’t a strong armed-forces recruitment presence in the Manhattan Beach school district. “Recruiters don’t come to the campus much on account of the economics of the area,” Wicker said. “They’re trying to coerce poorer kids into fighting a war that has so little popular support that they are having trouble finding people to sign-up for it.”

On a recent afternoon, he stood outside Manuel Arts High School in Los Angeles with a cardboard sign around his neck that read, “Resist don’t enlist,” and handed out pamphlets in both English and Spanish with a picture of a soldier dancing with a skeleton.

Wicker is a member of the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (CAMS – not to be confused with the Cal State Dominguez Hills’ California Academy of Math and Science). His son came home from fighting in the 1991 Gulf War a changed person, he said.“It makes you different,” Wicker said. “You see carnage and sometimes have to make decisions like, do you listen to your commanding officer and not stop driving a vehicle even though a 5-year-old girl is in the road, or do you swerve and risk the life of all the soldiers you’re transporting? It stays with you.”

Wicker began looking for reasons to justify his son’s exploits overseas and learned about the complex history of America’s relationship with Saddam Hussein and Iraq, leading up to Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. When the second Iraq invasion by the United States took place in 2003, he protested against the war and joined CAMS. “Students should have the right to hear both sides of a recruiter’s proposition before making a decision to commit themselves to the armed forces and put their lives on the line,” Wicker said. “The schools we go to are letting recruiters in to convince kids that they should sign up to fight, but not letting us in to convince kids to stay in school and pursue an education.”

The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 gave military recruiters access to public high schools and student information. Since then Los Angeles teachers and school officials have seen an aggressive increase in the armed forces’ effort to recruit students. On July 8, CAMS representatives addressed the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education about this situation.“They are on our campus nearly every day,” said Jefferson High School Teacher’s Assistant Tanya Selig to the board. “The military recruiters outnumber the career fair recruiters 5 to 2.”

Ulis William, the former president of Compton College and the leader of last week’s information campaign outside of Manuel Arts High School, said the armed forces recruiters prey on children attending lower income schools. “They know these kids feel they have limited options,” he said. “You won’t find many [Junior Reserved Officer Training Camp] programs in the public schools west of Fairfax.”

The economic disparity of military enlistment also includes a racial gap. According to the National Priorities Project (a nonprofit research organization that analyzes federal data) 70 percent of Black recruits, 64 percent of Hispanic recruits and 57 percent of White recruits come from neighborhoods at or below the U.S. median household income.“ The military is at our school almost every day, but I thought it was like this everywhere,” said Marisol Melgar, 17, from Manual Arts High School, who was reading over one of CAMS’ brochures last week. “They stop us between classes and at lunch and tell us we can make something of ourselves if we join.”

To level the playing field CAMS asked the LAUSD to grant them equal access to schools. Armed with a proposal adopted by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the group wants to place self-funded military counselors, veterans and community volunteers as Military Alternative Advocates at 10 to 15 high schools to present the realities of an enlistment contract and present students with alternatives.

“The teachers have been very receptive and some principals have even begun to give us access on an individual basis,” said William’s wife and fellow activist Sandra Williams. “However, many schools seem afraid that if they restrict recruiters or allow us to come in and debate them, they might jeopardize their federal funding.”

[Nonmilitary Options editor's note: Allowing representatives of groups like CAMS and Nonmilitary Options for Youth into schools does not jeopardize schools' federal funding. In fact, court cases have upheld "equal access" to those who present alternative views about military enlistment in schools. Our Austin (Texas) public school district policy, noted in the previous blog post, upholds equal access to Nonmilitary Options for Youth.]

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Reminder: Austin School District Policy re. Recruiting on Campus

The new 2008/09 school year will soon begin. Here is an important reminder:

On June 12, 2006, the board of trustees of the Austin Independent School District approved a new policy that places limits on access by military recruiters on school campuses.

1. All recruiters will check in at the school's administration office and get a visitor badge every time they go onto school property.

2. Specific areas will be designated by the principal on each campus for recruiting purposes.

3. No on-going contact shall occur when students make clear by their speech or other conduct that contact with a recruiter is unwelcome.

4. Evidence of a parent's/guardian's intent to provide directory information upon request shall be respected. [See Policy FL LEGAL] (This refers to the new opt-out provision on the SR-290 form. See below.)

5. The ASVAB test (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) shall be administered pursuant to the same terms and conditions as other aptitude tests administered within the District. (ASVAB testing is voluntary and should never be presented as compulsory. Students who have opted out of sharing directory information (Form SR-290) should be excluded from any such testing or other contact with the military in the absence of explicit written parental permission.)

6. Recruiting of any kind shall not occur in a manner, time and place that disrupts classroom instruction. Recruiting in a classroom or other designated space is acceptable only if upon the invitation of authorized school personnel and part of a school-approved program.

7. Schools will allow information regarding recruiting, including recruiting by the military, and those advocating alternatives to the military, to be made available to students in an equivalent manner and location.

NOTE: Point # 4 of the new policy refers to a clear opt-out provision for parents/guardians to withhold their directory information from military recruiters while allowing the information to be made available to college reps or other organizations that request it.
AISD officials have added a new section under "Directory Information" on the new SR-290 form that parents/guardians are asked to fill out in the fall. The wording on the new SR-290 form for 2006-07 is as follows:
There are two boxes in the Directory Information section. On the left is a box where parents can sign either "I GIVE" or "I DO NOT GIVE" "permission to release directory information."
On the right side is the same kind of box reading "I GIVE" or "I DO NOT GIVE" "permission to release student directory information to military recruiters."

New report lists schools using ASVAB test

ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) testing is in the news. The test, which is required for military enlistees, is also administered in many high schools around the country, especially in rural areas. Sold to schools as a vocational guide to students, the test is actually a recruiting tool used to ascertain student contact information that is often used to pressure students into enlistment.

Here in Austin, the Austin Independent School District adopted a policy regarding military recruitment in the high schools that specifically states that any ASVAB testing is only to be administered as a voluntary test, and not to be presented as mandatory. The district also adopted a clear "opt-out" measure that allows parents and guardians to sign a form early in the school year that either gives or withholds permission for their contact information to be given to military recruiters. Schools risk violating student privacy if they allow the ASVAB to be administered without being sure that all students who take the ASVAB have permission for their contact information to be released to the military.

A new report allows anyone to check which schools in the country are using the ASVAB, how many students took the test in the 2006-07 school year and whether the test was mandatory. The list of Texas schools is long and is especially weighted toward rural districts. The only school in AISD that is reported as using ASVAB in 06-07 was Anderson HS. Schools listed in nearby districts were McNeil HS in Round Rock and Lake Travis HS. The number of students listed as having taken the ASVAB at Lake Travis (187) suggests the test was given as mandatory, even though it wasn't listed as such.

Because of student privacy rights issues, school districts are coming under more scrutiny from parents and others who are tired of intensive recruiting methods used in high schools. Schools in Washington DC, for example, decided in the past year to ban ASVAB testing altogether.

Because of students' privacy rights and their already heavy load of tests in the public schools, banning ASVAB is a sensible option.

Here's a notice from Pat Elder, active with the National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth.

This morning [Wednesday, August 6], the Philadelphia Inquirer published an investigative piece on the ASVAB, culminating a year-long project. The article is accompanied by a database that reporter Dan Hardy received after filing a Freedom of Information Act Request with the U.S. Military EntranceProcessing Command. The searchable database
contains a listof EVERY high school in the nation that administered the ASVAB in 2006-07 with information on how many students took the test, whether the test is mandatory, and whether the results are given to the military.

The release of the database substantiates much of the research we've done on the ASVAB, particularly the pervasive practice of mandatory testing. Please take a moment to search for your local high school. If your school shows up on the database and military recruiters have access to test results, please take a moment to send an email to your principal, superintendent, and/or school board to demand they take steps to protect student privacy. You can use the sample ASVAB letter here:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

National body of educators takes up ASVAB issue

This report comes from Arlene Inouye, who is an educator in the Los Angeles public school system and is coordinator of the Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools (CAMS -- see the "Resources" list in the column at left). She attended the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA) and submitted a New Business Item (NBI) about the use of the Armed Services Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test in high schools, which gains students' personal information for recruitment purposes.

Arlene writes:

The 87th NEA-RA gathered in Washington DC with political activism taking center stage in the fight for public education in this critical election year. The NEA Representative Assembly is the annual meeting of national delegates representing 3.2 million educators, who make decisions on the beliefs, legislation, policies, and actions of the organization, and elect its leadership. What is striking about the NEA is that it is engaged in a democratic process with 9,000 educators around the nation. It provides an opportunity for grassroots teachers and activists to bring issues of concern with recommended actions and to have an input regarding the core values of the organization.

There were 83 new business items which are calls to action in the next year. They included a variety of topics such as actions to denounce the No Child Left Behind Act, to promote health care reform, support for immigrants and English language learners, and to address social security concerns to name a few. For the past 4 years, CAMS has brought to the RA issues regarding military recruitment. We also have brought issues to the American Federation of Teachers and California Federation of Teachers the other arm of our local United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). The first time we raised Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2004, educators were stunned because they did not know that high schools gave military recruiters the personal information of juniors and seniors.

This year we brought the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (or ASVAB) to the floor of the RA and in writing. After receiving support from the California delegation the following was proposed and passed by the body of NEA. This new business item states:

NEA opposes mandatory and/or coerced participation of students in the administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam.

Rationale: The primary purpose of the exam is for admission to the Armed Forces. Schools are using this as a means of career exploration. However, the exam is only an assessment of the student’s current knowledge and is not a predictor of inclination toward specific skill sets or interests.

Many speakers came forward to speak for and against the ASVAB, but few objected to oppose its mandatory or coerced participation. One of our UTLA supporters gave a strong statement regarding the targeting of working poor and youth of color by military recruiters with their humvees and slick propaganda. He asked why don’t we see recruiters for doctors, lawyers, engineers in our schools? NEA adopted this legislative amendment.

In summary, the NEA can be an excellent forum to raise issues of military recruitment in the public schools. Many educators told me that they didn’t know about the ASVAB, and thanked me for raising the issue. But the story that touched me the most was a middle school teacher in California who I first met last year at the RA. When I told him about CAMS he told me that he was a navy veteran. He went into the military because in high school his counselor had told him THAT was his only option. Even though he was smart, he was Latino and came from a working poor family. He said that he didn’t know any better and enlisted. He was discharged after he had spoken out against the navy, went to college and became a teacher. He told me that since we met, he has been telling his middle school students about his experience in the Navy, giving them the message that it is not macho and cool to be in the military. He tells them about what it feels like to know that you have dropped bombs that injure and kill persons. His Principal has talked with him about not speaking against the military, but he is not concerned since he is the president of his Teachers’ Union . He thanked me for that initial discussion we had while waiting for a shuttle bus at the RA. It blows my mind to think of all the students that can be potentially touched because educators have been given the information about military recruitment, or have been encouraged to share their own stories.

--Arlene Inouye, CAMS Coordinator,

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Flobots Rise

Check out the new "Make our schools military free" page on the social networking site just launched in conjunction with the Flobots CD, Fight With Tools.

"Your weapons are already in hand.

Reach within you and find

the means by which to gain your freedom.

Fight with tools.

Your fate and that of everyone you know

depends on it."

-- from the piece, "We are winning" by Flobots, as read by Minnie Baldwin

Monday, July 7, 2008

Becoming a firefighter

Nice article today from the Austin American-Statesman about Austin Fire Department outreach to high school students.
For students interested in becoming a firefighter, check out this page at the AFD website.
The Fire Department also has a training program at LBJ High School that may be expanded to other schools.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

Austin Firefighters help teach teens
by Tony Plohetski
Monday, July 07, 2008

The children and teens huddled around firefighter Randall Larsen outside the Austin Fire Department training academy, watching and listening as he demonstrated nearly every piece of equipment he uses on the job.
He told them how he and other firefighters connect water hoses, and how they wear special suits to help protect them in burning buildings. Larsen also explained how the force of the water can reach the top of downtown high-rises.
"It's pretty cool," said Ray Gomez, a 15-year-old Travis High School student. "There are a lot of things to learn, like the equipment and everything they have to put on."
But this was no routine demonstration.
The group, made up of about 20 students ranging from sixth-graders to high school seniors, were part of Camp Fire USA's Teens in Action program, in which children from low-income families learn about their community and design projects to meet certain civic needs.
The kids spent the day last month learning how the Fire Department responds to certain emergencies and preparing to create a project using that information, said Cori Stennett, a Camp Fire USA program director.
The students probably are going to design emergency preparedness kits for those who might not be able to afford items such as battery-operated radios, first aid kits and nonperishable food, Stennett said.
This is the first year Camp Fire USA has asked the department to help in its projects. The department is conducting another session this month for another group of students.
Dawn Clopton, an acting assistant chief for the department, said that when Camp Fire USA officials asked for their help this year, department officials saw an opportunity to spread the message of fire prevention and to deliver a pitch to older students about firefighting careers.
"We want to be good and responsible members of the community, and there was no reason to say no," Clopton said.
During their day with the firefighters, the students toured the city's communication center, where 911 operators take emergency calls, and listened to reasons why they might want to become Austin firefighters.
They also learned about the importance of being ready for emergencies.
"It's been really interesting," said Jalal Goggins, a 14-year-old student at Austin High School. "We need to all know this stuff for actual emergencies and how we can help ourselves and other people."