Thursday, September 15, 2005

Grassroots Action to Demilitarize Schools
Arlene Inouye, CAMS

I’ve always believed that grassroots organizing is effective and the way to go, but I had never personally experienced its powerful impact and encouraging results until this past year. In our work in Los Angeles to demilitarize schools and present alternatives, we can testify to the power of grassroots organizing to limit recruiter access on the 53 high school campuses of the mammoth Los Angeles Unified School District. Just this past week, we had a major victory when district officials changed their position from military recruiter access as a local school decision to developing parameters regarding military recruitment for the entire school district. We had gone before the Board of Education with our concerns as students, parents and teachers from throughout the city, and with concrete resolutions to address the unbalanced and aggressive military recruiter tactics in Los Angeles schools. I would like to share with you my reflections on how this came about and what we have learned.

Organize a base- We started with the Human Rights Committee of the United Teachers Los Angeles Teachers Union, which was supportive of this cause. But we quickly grew and became a separate but connected organization- CAMS (Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools). We held Teach-Ins, workshops, tabled at events, and were given public radio spots which all helped to spread the word among the activist community in Los Angeles.
Collect data and personal contact info- If it works for the military, it can work for us too. A data base of supporters that includes identifiable fields or categories for each person (such as parent/student/teacher/community, and geographical area) has helped us to link people together at schools. Also, we documented personal experiences so that we can inform the school and district officials about very specific abuses and concerns occurring on our high school campuses. Our web page which has had 12,000 hits a month, is an invaluable communication tool. We have also continued to collect resource persons who support this work, and students who are willing to share their personal accounts
Find out which schools have effectively limited military recruitment and use their policies as models. I had the good fortune to be at a school in which the Assistant Principal had developed a policy restricting military recruitment access, because she felt that the military had more access than college and career recruiters. She felt that this had a negative impact on academic achievement. This proposal was passed by the leadership council and is stated below. It has dramatically changed the climate of the school. This model was submitted to the School Board as something fair and workable that is happening now. We also submitted the Seattle School Board new district wide policy restricting military recruiter access on high school campuses.
Work at every level possible, including the local school, regional geographical areas, and at the district level to restrict recruiter access. It is a lot easier (and more efficient) to have the district set parameters for the entire school district rather than develop individual school policies.
Provide leadership, and a base from which all segments of the community are embraced and model a collaborative way of sharing information and resources. I feel that we in the peace and justice community and education community need to make human relations a priority in our joint work together. We need to encourage each other to find our unique and special place in this work. We also seek to draw on the talents and resources from the community, to have stimulating, informative trainings and educational workshops. We have found that the school community will get involved when this work has personal meaning and importance to them.
Now I know that in Los Angeles we are blessed with a diversity of people and sophistication in organizing from years of experience. We have activities and events all the time, which make our connections and networking easier than many from isolated parts of the country. It may be difficult, but I believe there are more people out there who want to and will join us if they know about who we are.
I believe that limiting recruiter access is a job for everyone who is concerned about the future of our youth and the future of our planet. Policies are just pieces of paper, it’s up to all of us, to make them work for our students. With the grassroots organizing we can monitor what really happens at the local school level, and have a mechanism to feedback to the district regarding the implementation of limiting military recruiter access.
As each of us become more informed and educated about militarism in our schools, we add to a dynamic that keeps snowballing and expanding.