by Danny Brown
Published 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 chose 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 reason's 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 Iraqi 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 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."