The Guardian 30 November, 2005

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

"We’re too young to go to war"

CHICAGO: Braving cold, grey skies on a November afternoon about two dozen parents, youth and peace activists gathered outside Lane Tech High School on this city’s North Side to greet students with "opt-out" forms. When properly filled out, the forms deny military recruiters easy and official access to students’ names, addresses and phone numbers.

Among the participants was Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose son Jesus was killed in Iraq in 2003. Suarez is now a nationally renowned peace leader. Code Pink and the American Friends Service Committee sponsored the action.

Maritza Rodriguez, 17-year-old junior at Lane Tech, was among those who stopped to fill out a form. "We need after-school programs like sports and arts activities", not the military in our communities. "Violence is not the answer", she said. Her brother also filled out an opt-out form, a formal document that the government is obliged to honour under the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.

Referring to the military recruiters, sophomore Kristin Mayslak said, "They shouldn’t have the right to contact you, to be recruiting you, because we shouldn’t be at war in the first place." Her friend Gabriella Perez added, "We’re too young to go to war. They shouldn’t be bugging us, coming to our home."

Passing motorists couldn’t miss the large, pink banner that read, "Troops out now!" Many honked their horns in support. Of the more than 2000 US soldiers that have died in Iraq, over 80 are from Illinois.

Peace leader Suarez, 49, of Escondido, California, said that the anti-war movement has an important responsibility right now, especially in building counter-military-recruitment work among youth. "We’re living in a historic time", he said. "People are realising that the war in Iraq was wrong."

His Chicago visit included stops at several schools and community centres to talk to youth, students and parents about the need to end the Iraq war. He said he is preparing to visit Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, to talk to youth there who are being recruited to fight in Iraq.

As peace activists held up anti-war signs, about 100 opt-out forms were handed out to students as they waited on the corner for their bus home. Gilad Shanan, a 21-year-old college student who leads a youth group called "Youth For Peace", helped pass out the forms. "We’re here educating students and parents about their rights, and actions like these are a good way to bring people into the movement", he said.

That movement appears to be growing. More than 40 youth and student groups held a nationally coordinated "Not Your Soldier Day" on November 17, sending a message to the Pentagon and military recruiters that young people reject the false promises that are being used to lure them into signing up for war.

The opt-out campaign is clearly having an impact. In greater Boston, 5,000 high school students in the state’s five largest school districts demanded their names be removed from the military recruitment lists. In Boston alone, 3,700 students — 19 percent of those enrolled in public high schools — had their names removed from such lists. Many of these students are non-white and come from low-income families. Because of their limited employment opportunities, they are often special targets of recruiters.

But the Pentagon’s slick advertising campaign appears to be losing its power, including in Chicago. "It’s not that I oppose the military, but I oppose the war in Iraq", said Angel Antonio Arce, a junior at Lane Tech. Military recruiters, he said, "stretch the truth to make them look better than they really are."

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