Monday, March 9, 2009

Vets explore the truth at Explore UT

This Saturday in Austin, the University of Texas held its annual open house called Explore UT. It's a great event that showcases university departments -- the arts, sciences, sports, music -- and draws families and bus-loads of high school students from all over Texas to get a look at the amazing facilities in our fair city.

However, the ROTC usually sponsors some kind of display directed to kids that doubles as a military recruitment tool. This year, it was a climbing wall and some chin-up bars. So, members of the UT student group, CAMEO (Campus Antiwar Movement to End Occupations) also had a table of literature next to the ROTC display and invited members of Iraq Veterans Against the War to join them to offer a reality check to kids drawn in by the military glamorization.

Reports from friends who were there indicated that the vets attracted a lot of interest from the kids, that teachers there with student groups encouraged their students to talk to the vets about the realities of war and that parents thanked the CAMEO group for bringing an alternative voice to the event.
Thanks to Heidi Turpin for the photos

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Students use their own power to take on the powers that be

Here's an excellent article from the San Diego Union-Tribune about the recent success of students in the Education Not Arms Coalition in San Diego, who persuaded their school board to take away the shooting ranges in their high school JROTC programs.

Pellet guns to fall silent across school district

Student activists score bull's eye in bid to oust shooting programs

By Jennifer Vigil
STAFF WRITER San Diego Union-Tribune, February 28, 2009

SAN DIEGO — Hope is the political message of the moment, courtesy of President Barack Obama.

Tell that to Lincoln High School students Jennifer Astudillo, Sakeenah Shabazz and Alex Velarde, a trio of increasingly polished political activists.

Sakeenah, 16, said hope isn't part of her political equation.

“Always go in prepared for the worst, not with your hopes up,” she said.

What they've displayed instead is persistence, as they've led a group of high school students in persuading the San Diego Unified School District board to shelve campus air-rifle marksmanship programs.

The board confirmed the decision Tuesday, although members eased off a bit and allowed the programs to continue through the end of the school year. In the initial vote Feb. 10, they declared that such programs must cease immediately.

Jennifer, Sakeenah and Alex have attended that meeting and many others since last year, although they're only high school sophomores. Trying to get the attention of elected officials and political candidates has left them seasoned, despite their ages.

Some of the lessons they would like to share:

Keep a poker face, even if someone is taunting you. Strike back and that's the clip that makes the evening news.

Don't rely on your community representative. Your interests may not align.

Politics is always a blame game.

“I learned you cannot necessarily depend on people in power,” said Alex, 15, who took a trip to Sacramento last year to talk to legislators about the state budget. “They just place the blame. It was like, 'Can you please give us an answer – what are you going to do?' ” The teens are part of a group called the Education Not Arms Coalition, which opposes marksmanship programs because its members believe allowing students any access to guns on campuses contradicts zero-tolerance policies.

The group, which has recruited students from other high schools and middle schools, also believes that allowing the programs to persist shows an insensitivity to students who have seen three peers – from Lincoln, Point Loma and Mission Bay high schools – killed in street shootings over the past two months.

Xavier McGregor, a sophomore at Lincoln High, told the board Tuesday that “the simple symbol” of guns on campus is too much for him to take.

The cause has drawn criticism from Junior ROTC supporters, who have accused opponents of trying not just to eliminate marksmanship but the entire program because of its military affiliation.

Alex, a former ROTC member, said that's not the goal. Yet he; Jennifer, 16; and Sakeenah believe San Diego high schools log more visits from military recruiters than college recruiters. Changing that may be their next campaign.

The sophomores credit one of their teachers, Eduardo Ochoa, with guiding them as they pushed to end the marksmanship program. He's their “receptionist, chauffeur, teacher, friend,” Alex said.

Sakeenah quickly added, “Educator, therapist.” Ochoa, who taught the three during a freshman social-justice class, said he has stepped out of the way as they put their lessons into practice – picking a cause, creating a plan and building constituencies. He said their poise comes from their experiences, not his instruction.
“They're working,” Ochoa said. “They're part of the democratic process.”