Saturday, September 21, 2019

Austin Climate Strike!

Great turnout for the Austin Climate Strike yesterday at the TX State Capitol -- organized by students! Millions rallied and marched worldwide in defense of the planet.  We can't have a healthy planet without stopping war and militarism. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Let the students climate strike!

from Common Dreams today:

Amnesty International Chief's Plea to 30,000+ Schools Worldwide: Let the Students Climate Strike!

"Children should not be punished for speaking out about the great injustices of our age."
Kumi Naidoo
Kumi Naidoo, then-executive director of Greenpeace International, attended the World Economic Forum in 2013.  (Photo: World Economic Forum/Flickr/cc)
In a personal plea sent to tens of thousands of schools around the world Wednesday, Amnesty International secretary general Kumi Naidoo called on educators and administrators to allow students to join global climate strikes later this month.
"The climate emergency is the defining human rights issue for this generation of children."
—Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International
"I believe that the cause for which these children are fighting is of such historic significance that I am writing to you today with a request to neither prevent nor punish your pupils from taking part in the global days of strikes planned for September 20 and 27," wrote Naidoo, whose letter has been sent to school officials in Canada, Hungary, Spain, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Inspired by the Fridays for Future school strikes that launched last year—for which students worldwide have taken to the streets to demand that governments pursue more ambitious climate policies—campaigners of all ages have registered thousands of events across the globe that coincide with an upcoming United Nations climate summit in New York City. The week of action will be bookended by the strikes Naidoo mentioned in his letter.
"The climate emergency is the defining human rights issue for this generation of children," wrote the leader of the world's largest human rights group. "Its consequences will shape their lives in almost every way imaginable. The failure of most governments to act in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is arguably the biggest inter-generational human rights violation in history."
"By taking part in these protests, children are exercising their human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and to have a say in decisions and matters that affect their lives," he continued. "In doing so, they are teaching us all a valuable lesson: the importance of coming together to campaign for a better future."
Naidoo has long history of campaigning for social justice issues. He became the head of Amnesty in December of 2017, after serving as executive director of the global environmental organization Greenpeace International. In his letter to schools, Naidoo recalled his experience being expelled at age 15 for organizing an anti-apartheid protest at his school in Durban, South Africa.
This setback redoubled my commitment to learning, and thankfully I was able to complete my studies and ultimately take up the role I have the honor of holding today. But I also had something that children of this generation do not have: the chance to imagine a future that is not overshadowed by the prospect of a climate emergency.
My experience also informed my strong belief that children should not be punished for speaking out about the great injustices of our age. In fact, when it has fallen on young people to show the leadership that many adults who hold great positions of power have failed to, it is not young people's behavior we should be questioning. It is ours.
Naidoo returned to his home country this week to attend Financing the Future, a historic divest-invest summit in Cape Town that began Tuesday—which came after Amnesty's Global Assembly voted last month to divest from the dirty energy industry.
"Every person facing deeper levels of drought, stronger hurricanes, or conflict has been wronged by these fossil fuel companies," Naidoo said Monday. "Their rights to health, water, food, housing, and even life have been harmed, which is why Amnesty International has decided to divest from fossil fuel companies."
Like the climate strikes, the global divestment movement began with young people. A report released Monday by and DivestInvest detailing divestment commitments worldwide noted that "what began as a moral call to action by students is now a mainstream financial response to growing climate risk to portfolios, the people, and the planet."

Monday, August 26, 2019

Reminder: AISD policy limiting access to students by military recruiters

The 2019 - 2020 school year is beginning, and we remind all AISD teachers, staff, students, parents and military recruiters that AISD has a policy that places limits on access to students by military recruiters.  Please note especially that recruiters are not allowed to ask students directly for their contact information (point 8, below).  If recruiters want to hand a student their card, fine, but they should not ask students to write down their phone numbers.  If school staff or students see recruiters getting phone numbers from students or violating any of the other guidelines in the policy, this should be reported to the school principal.

Here is the AISD policy that applies to all military recruiters in Austin's public schools:

GKC (Local) AISD Policy regarding military recruiters on AISD campuses:

The following guidelines shall apply to recruiters on District campuses:

1. All recruiters shall first report to the campus main office to obtain a visitor’s badge each time they visit school property.

2. The principal shall designate specific areas on each campus for recruiting purposes. Recruiting may not occur at school athletic events or other school-sponsored events, unless specifically authorized by the principal.

3. Recruiters shall not continue ongoing contact when a student makes it clear by speech or other conduct that contact with the recruiter is unwelcome. In no event may recruiters meet with a student under the age of 18 years off campus without written consent submitted to a campus administrator by the student’s parent or guardian.

4. Evidence of a parent’s or guardian’s intent to provide directory information upon request shall be respected. [See FL]

5. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test shall be administered according to the same terms and conditions as other aptitude tests administered within the District. District schools shall select “Option 8” on the ASVAB test prior to the administration of the ASVAB at the school to ensure consistency with the opt-out provisions for release of contact information to the military.

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

7. Schools shall 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.

8. Recruiters shall not solicit student contact information directly from a student or require such information as a condition to participate in an activity or to receive an award or gift.

If a visitor fails to comply with the general rules or guidelines set out in this policy, the principal or other campus administrator may deny the visitor access to the campus in accordance with law. If a military recruiter fails to comply with the guidelines set out in this policy, the principal or other campus administrator may contact the military recruiter's supervisor to report the failure to comply and request that such individual not return to the campus.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Veterans for Peace and Rock Valley FOR March Forward!

Loved seeing this video of the Veterans for Peace and Rock Valley Fellowship of Reconciliation entry, along with the Forward! Marching Band in the July 4 parade in Milton, Wisconsin.  Progressive people reside everywhere!

Monday, July 1, 2019

SOY and Truth in Recruitment featured in "In These Times" article

Thanks to journalist, Elizabeth King, for this story published in the online version of "In These Times" magazine on June 27, 2019.  The piece features SOY and also Truth in Recruitment in Santa Barbara, CA.

Why We Still Need a Movement to Keep Youth From Joining the Military

A scrappy counter-recruitment movement is trying to starve the military of labor.
Eighteen is the youngest age at which someone can join the U.S. military without their parents’ permission, yet the military markets itself to—which is to say recruits—children at much younger ages. This is in part accomplished by military recruiters who visit high schools around the country, recruiting children during career fairs and often setting up recruitment tables in cafeteri­as and hallways. As a result, most students in the U.S. will meet a military recruiter for the first time at just 17 years old, and children are getting exposed to military propaganda younger and younger.
The recruitment of young people to the military is as old as the military itself, and has become more and more normalized along with the general militarization of schools. According to the Urban Institute, more than two-thirds of public high school students attend schools where there are “school resource officers,” a name for school-based police. This police presences comes on top of the role of military recruiters on campuses, or at college and career fairs. 
Counter-recruitment surged in popularity during George W. Bush’s Iraq War, when the U.S. military ratcheted up recruitment for the war. But these days you don’t hear much about this movement, despite the fact that the U.S. is still engaged in brutal wars, from Yemen to Afghanistan, and the Trump administration has been threatening war with Iran. Out of the spotlight, dedicated counter-recruiters around the country are steadfast in their organizing to cut off the human supply chain to the U.S. military. U.S. wars have caused innumerable deaths, created long-term hardships in occupied nations, and cost trillions of dollars. Counter-recruitment, then, is about starving the military of the labor it needs to accomplish these destructive missions. When working with students, parents and school leadership, counter-recruiters focus on a variety of issues, including the negative personal consequences that come with being a soldier and broader problems like racism and U.S. imperialism.
Kate Connell, the director of the California counter-recruitment organization Truth in Recruitment, a parent, and a Quaker, tells In These Times that one reason counter-recruitment efforts are so overlooked these days is that U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have fallen out of the news. “I think that's kind of what got people concerned and out in the streets” in the past, she says. Though this movement doesn’t get as much attention these days, organizers and activists say that counter-recruitment efforts remain critically important.
For the most part, activists who do counter-recruitment work in schools focus on matching or exceeding military recruiters in face-time with kids. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, military recruiters are required to have the same level of access to students as college and career professionals who recruit in schools.
Hart Viges, a U.S. Army veteran who has been volunteering in counter-recruitment for around a decade and works with Sustainable Options for Youth-Austin (SOY-Austin), says his role is to educate children using interactive tabling in schools. The group brings t-shirts and a “peace wheel” the students can spin to learn more facts about the military. Children also get to discuss how they’d like taxpayer dollars spent. For example, they might discuss whether they want to spend billions on war, or allocate that money elsewhere. Viges is blunt with them about what life will be like after time spent in the military.
“I ask them, ‘Do you like fireworks?’” Viges says. When they respond yes, he explains, “you won’t like them anymore” after coming back from a war. He tells them the realities of living with post-traumatic stress disorder brought about by combat, and how it does lasting damage to veterans. Being real with children about the military has proven effective for Viges. “There's so many wins in counter recruitment I feel,” he adds. “I talk to kids who are thinking about joining and I tell them the realities of it, and you can see their minds start to change… With politicians it's like a stalemate, but counter-recruitment is like a punch in the gut that will topple the military industrial complex.” Hart also talks to children about other issues connected to the military industrial complex that concerns them, such as war in general, racism, sexism and climate change.
Youth are active in this work, too. Jenny, a 16-year-old incoming junior at Santa Maria High School in California, interns with Truth in Recruitment. She tells In These Times that she got involved with the organization after a friend told her it would be a good way to stand up for herself and her peers who are frequently visited by military recruiters at school.
When she started high school, Jenny says she noticed that the military recruiters frequented her school, but other opportunities for students post-high school were not well represented. “I thought this was a problem, especially since the majority of us are students of color and I thought that we were being disproportionately targeted because we are people of color,” she says.
Angel further notes that many students at her school are undocumented, and she noticed that military recruiters were telling her peers distorted information about the benefits of military service based on their undocumented status. She says that after speaking to military recruiters, a number of her peers have said that they were promised they would get U.S. citizenship if they served in the military. While there is some pathway for non-citizens who serve in the military to become naturalized, this is not a guaranteed benefit. In fact, the U.S. government has a history of deporting foreign nationals who were employed by the military. “I always have to correct them because I don't want them to join and not know the full truth about it,” Angel says. “We wouldn't be seeing these things at schools rich, white students attend.”
The military does, in fact, tend to recruit in poor and working class communities, especially among Black and Latinx youth. The strategy of targeting poor, working-class, and Black and Latinx people for military conscription is known as the “poverty draft.” The tactics of this strategy can be seen in military recruitment efforts at schools like Santa Maria High School where Angel attends, and is evident in studies on the socioeconomic status of people who fought in recent US wars. According to a 2016 study out of Boston University and the University of Minnesota Law School, “Today, unlike in World War II, the Americans who die or are wounded in war are disproportionately coming from poorer parts of the country.”
Connell, the Truth in Recruitment director, says that the tactics used by military recruiters on children are “very much a grooming process.” She notes that branches of the military operate social media accounts, where they will follow and communicate with students who are potentially interested in joining up. In this way, recruiters have direct, unsupervised access to young teens, who may or not be discussing recruitment efforts with trusted adults in their lives. This type of behavior, Connell says, is “inappropriate.”
Still, the presence of the military in schools has become normalized. “I feel that the idea that the military is an untouchable subject as far as criticism or cutting the budget, [makes counter-recruitment] a really tricky conversation to have, so people avoid it.” The institutional power and not to mention funding and broad support that the military has makes counter-recruitment a challenge.
But the group has seen concrete results from their organizing and advocacy. Working with students, parents, and school and district leadership in Santa Barbara in 2014, Truth in Recruitment was able to convince the district to create better resources for parents to more easily opt their students out of having their information shared with military recruiters.
Though counter-recruitment is perhaps not as prominent as it was more than a decade ago, organizers in this field are unequivocal about the need to support students by offering alternatives to the military, such as college or the workforce. As the military continues to target children, especially in low-income and Black and Latinx communities, counter-recruiters will continue to work with children and their care-takers to offer safer, more dignified options for life after high school.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Veterans and family members speak: The US Army is not healthy for children and other living things

Thanks to Chrissy Kirchhoefer of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee for this blog post about the US Army's Memorial Day tweet storm:

Military Members Speak Out On Memorial Day

Media,National,News,Nuclear,Real Life Stories
This year at Memorial day, Veterans were sharing their stories about war, their time in the military and how the military has impacted both physical and mental health. While Memorial Day has been a holiday commemorating those killed and  forever silenced by war, Veterans who survived wars were talking about their experiences over the weekend. Many people involved in the military and those close to them were speaking publicly about the horrific experiences of war after the Army asked how the military has influenced them on Twitter
On Memorial Day, a story was released about Atomic Soldiers who spoke about their exposure to atomic weapons after 50 years.   The Atlantic shared a short documentary, The Atomic Soldiers which contains some of the interviews with 100 veterans exposed to ionizing radiation from tests conducted by the US military.  The video’s creator, Morgan Knibbe wanted to share the story of the 400,000 troops who were exposed to over 1,000 nuclear tests between 1942-1992 and the impacts upon them.  For many it was the first time that they spoke about their experiences. In the video it mentions that after the tests, the soldiers, many of whom were traumatized, were sworn to an oath of secrecy. Breaking it even to talk among themselves was considered treason, punishable by a $10,000 fine and 10 or more years in prison.
Many in the video spoke about the orders they received about never being able to speak about their experience of witnessing atomic explosions not even with each other and the fear of  a charge of treason that could lead to their execution.  The conditioning of soldiers to not speak about their experiences led many to take their stories to their grave. Much of the information around the nuclear tests remains classified including the human and environmental impacts of the testing. The ban prohibiting veterans from speaking about their experiences with radiation exposure was lifted in 1994 yet many were unaware that it was lifted.
The pattern of not speaking about military experiences hopefully has now become a thing of the past.  The social stigma associated with speaking about the personal impact of war on military members and their loved ones has been decreasing over the years for many.  We are becoming more aware of the benefits of people being able to talk about and publicly share their stories especially with more platforms available.  There are more resources for mental health services for veterans compared with 50 years ago. Yet the personal impact of war has also seemed to have increased in recent years with over 6,000 veterans who have died from suicide from 2008-2016 and close to 25% of women in the military reporting sexual assaults.  USA Today reports that only half of veterans receive Veterans Affairs benefits or services. 
After sharing a short video of one soldier of his experiences in the the military, the Army asked people to share on Twitter how the military has affected them. The response was unexpected and became for many a platform to share their heartbreaking tales of how people they loved were affected by their participation in war. It was a sober look at war.  Many of the response were brutally frank
One Soldier, Brandon Neely, stated that he knew more soldiers that had committed suicide in his unit than had died in combat. He also believed that many who were speaking on the Twitter thread had never shared their stories before.  Through social media many were able to share their stories  and those they had witnessed in real time. David Swanson with Win Without War was even calculating a win-US Army 0 and Internet 1 in his article about the twitter storm.  His article highlights some of the 10,000 tweets shared over the weekend and concludes with a questionnaire for those considering military service.
    Post by Chrissy Kirchhoefer

Thursday, May 30, 2019

US Army gets reality check from Memorial Day tweets

Stories from news outlets around the country reported on the thousands of tweeted responses from veterans and family members to the Memorial Day question asked by the US Army.  An NPR story begins this way: 

A U.S. Army Tweet Asking 'How Has Serving Impacted You?' Got An Agonizing Response
May 27, 201912:37 PM ET
The U.S. Army issued a tweet ahead of Memorial Day weekend with a question for service members and veterans: "How has serving impacted you?"
Among the thousands of responses: harrowing tales of trauma, depression and sexual assault.
Soon after the U.S. Army tweeted its question, thousands of responses began flooding in. Many people tweeted about the positive impact military service had on their lives, but others posted stories of post-traumatic stress disorder, illness and suicide brought on by experiences ranging from seeing loss of life to sexual assaults in the military.
One man responded, "How did serving impact me? Ask my family." He wrote of a "Combat Cocktail" which included "PTSD, severe depression, anxiety. Isolation. Suicide attempts. Never ending rage."

Read the rest of this story here. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

ACC adds second bachelor's degree program

A growing number of students in Austin are graduating high school with not only a high school diploma but an associate's degree as well.  These are students who have completed an Early College program while they were in high school.  Here is news from ACC that they are accepting students with associate's degrees for a new bachelor's degree program in Computer Information Technology -- a high demand field in Austin. 

From the Community Impact Newspaper:

"In the fall 2018 semester, Austin Community College launched its first bachelor’s degree program, seeking to address the nursing shortage in Central Texas by allowing local registered nurses to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Next year, the community college district will begin its second bachelor’s degree program with a similar goal——helping members of the local workforce advance their careers——albeit in a different sector of the local economy.
The Bachelor of Applied Science program in Computer Information Technology will have three specializations when the program begins at ACC in the spring semester of 2020: software development, cybersecurity and data science. ACC’s board of trustees approved the program unanimously May 6.
Mike Midgley, the vice president of instruction at ACC, said the community college identified the information technology sector as an important area to expand its academic offerings.
“We think (IT professional development) is the most important thing to do next after health sciences, given our regional economy,” Midgley said."

Monday, May 6, 2019

For a Climate of Peace

A new show of art at the Austin Central Public Library by Calder Kamin is a brilliant exhibition of pieces depicting animals at risk of extinction.  The pieces are constructed of pieces of trash -- plastics and other non-biodegradable materials that are part of the problem in our earth's fight for survival.  Kamin dedicates the show to the youth who are now on the forefront of the movement for immediate action on climate change.  Kids who came to the Kamin exhibit were invited to make posters to add to the display, and this is one.  Indeed, a major part of our efforts to stop harming the environment must be to stop war and militarization.  The US military is still the largest institutional polluter in the world.  What is supposed to be "defense" is really offense.  What is supposed to protect people is really hurting people.  We do need a climate of peace in order to preserve our planet. 


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Career Fair SOY tabling at newly renamed Northeast High School

Yesterday, Hart, Tami and I really appreciated participating in an all-day career fair at Reagan HS -- soon to be called Northeast HS because of the Confederate associations with the Reagan name. About 100 students came by to do some or all of the t-shirt challenge.

In response to the reflection question about which of the Supervillains they would fight and how, about half chose Racism. I am happy for the school's name change away from the Confederate Postmaster because it is clear that racism is a very present concern for students. As one student wrote, "We can fight racism by overcoming white privilege."  About 17% of students chose to fight the Sexism Supervillain because, as one student wrote, "We should all be treated equally, and the way we will fight is by using our voices." The Supervillains of War, Greed and Ecocide each were named by about 11% of students. Wrote one, "Ecocide. I mean we can try together as a society by reducing how much pollution we produce like ride a bike/walk if its somewhere close." Another wrote, "I'd go for Ecocide because without the earth, we couldn't solve any of those. We could do regular old recycling, or could waste less."  Wrote another, "Ecocide, because at the moment I feel that the ecosystem is really in trouble."

Choosing to fight against War, one student wrote, "because of all the innocent people dying for no reason or getting captured."  Another student wrote that war could be prevented by coming up "with a really good compromise for both sides."  And as another student concluded, "I would choose to fight War, because I would like to see Peace and how it would feel."

Penny Poll results from about 90 students showed a priority for Education at 29% of the vote ("for my kids," said one student), 28% for the Environment, 24% for Health Care, 10% for NASA and 9% for the Military.

Speaking of the military, there were 3 tables of military branches at the career fair: Army, Marines and Army National Guard. Northeast also has an Air Force JROTC and a number of students were wearing their insignia and helping out with the career fair. I was dismayed to see that the recruiters had sign-up sheets set out at their tables for students to write down their contact information. I showed the 3 recruiters the AISD policy that prohibits recruiters from soliciting student contact information. They responded that they weren't "soliciting" --they were just putting the sign-up sheet out there. I believe they know the intent of the policy is to not get phone numbers from students, but they are trying to circumvent the policy.

We were glad to be part of the career fair to offer some balance to the recruiters and to give students an opportunity to talk about what is important to them.  As the EMT who was set up at the table next to us said, his mission and ours were the same: to try and prevent pain and suffering.  

Army recruitment table with sign-up sheet collecting student contact information -- in violation of AISD policy regarding recruitment in schools

Marines recruitment table with sign-up sheet collecting student contact information, in violation of AISD policy regarding recruitment in schools

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Crockett Cougars fight the Super-villains

some of our literature, including a helpful flier about 8 of the local Americorps programs

Yesterday, Hart, Tami and I had a good lunch-hour visit to Crockett HS.  Students were eager to do the t-shirt challenge, and they had ideas for how to fight the Super-villains of Greed, Racism, War, Sexism and Ecocide.  Penny Poll results showed the biggest priority for Health Care, with 36.5% of the vote, followed by 26.5% for Education, 16.5% for the Environment, 12% for the Military and 8.5% for NASA.

Here are some of their responses to the Super-villains question.  Thanks, Cougars!
War because it needs to stop.  People need to agree with me -- violence is never the answer

Ecocide, I believe expansion is killing our environment

I will fight racism by showing that everyone is equal and spreading awareness

We saw this poster on a bulletin board and thought it was excellent