Grannies Rageand Sing!
By Gloria Williams
The campaign to confront military recruitment in Albuquerque Public
Schools (APS) has shifted from direct confrontation to quiet
negotiations with school board members, according to Mitzi Kraft of
Military Families Speak Out.
"We've had private meetings with a couple of the school board members
who are working with us," Kraft wrote in a recent email. "And we are
trying to get together with some of the other school board members,
one at a time."
When Kraft first spoke before the Board of Education in September
2009, she was alone; several board members dismissed her with
comments supporting the military, a huge industry and one of the
largest employers in New Mexico.
Each time after that, she brought other people with her, including
young APS graduates who had served in the military and are now
members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
"The military teaches young people to kill," said Micah Shaw. "It
does not teach them life skills."
Romeo Rocca, also a member of IVAW, agrees.
"I can tell you in one word what the recruiters do," Rocca said. "Lie."
The IVAW members carry business cards with their phone numbers and
quotes aimed at prospective enlistees such as, "Call before you
enlist" and "You are not alone."
Kraft has seen the tragic consequences of militarism in her own
family. Her father, a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, flew 50
missions over Germany, including many like the notorious firebombing
of Dresden. He committed suicide. Her grandson returned from Iraq
with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Grandmothers, Vets Speak Out
In December, the day after President Obama announced plans to deploy
more troops to Afghanistan, Kraft was joined by fellow members of the
Wearing long skirts and wide-brimmed hats covered with flowers and
political buttons, the colorful group sang to the tune of "Good Night Irene":
Recruiters promise you good jobs
Good jobs that don't exist
You could end up poor and homeless
If you trust them and enlist
Before they could finish their first song, the women were cut short
and told that no further discussion about the issue would be allowed.
When they attempted to sing another song, they were again shut down
by board President Martin Esquivel, who threatened to call police.
"It seemed clear they did not want to hear our point of view," said
Marcy Matasick, one of 12 Raging Grannies who signed up to speak.
Kraft was the only person allowed to speak an entire two minutes
before the board cut off further comments on the issue of military
recruitment in the schools.
"My grandson was recruited to join the military by the ROTC
programs," said Kraft. "We want real education in our schools so our
kids can be informed and adult before they make decisions that have
Among those who had also signed up to speak were 86-year-old
Sally-Alice Thompson, a veteran of World War II and member of
Veterans for Peace; Bob Anderson, a Vietnam veteran and organizer of
Stop the War Machine; several high school students; and three members of IVAW.
Thompson noted the irony that the board begins each bi-weekly meeting
with a slide show tribute to Albuquerque Public School graduates who
recently lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Recruitment Issue Heats Up
Kraft never reads a prepared statement for the two minutes allowed
during the public forum at each meeting. Instead she speaks from the heart.
"Our children are about as safe in your schoolyards right now as a
turkey before Thanksgiving," Kraft said in November. "They're
stuffed, plucked, and served up to recruiters on a silver platter."
Her comments sparked a heated response from the community as letters
to the editor speaking against the protesters filled the editorial
pages of the Albuquerque Journal.
Board member Lorenzo Garcia noted at the November 18 board meeting
that it is poor and working-class youth who risk their lives in the
military, and said he would like to see more come and speak out about
their concerns regarding recruiters in the public schools, even if it
means the meetings would be longer.
Kraft acknowledges that at this time they do not have enough votes on
the school board to get them to change their policies regarding
recruiters in the schools and the Junior ROTC programs. The APS Board
of Education is claiming that the JROTC programs are not involved in
"Things are kind of up in the air right now," Kraft reports. "We also
went to the Gray Panthers and talked to them about collaborating with
us and trying to work on getting at least one school board member
replaced this next election year."
The Raging Grannies are part of an international network of
nonviolent activists who have fun taking their music seriously. You
can find several of them in action on YouTube. Just search for
Gloria Williams is a freelance writer and member of the War Resisters
League National Committee.