A Counter-recruitment Victory: Chelsea Uniting Against the War
Bonnie J Caracciolo / Chelsea Uniting Against the War (CUAW) -
For fourteen years a dedicated group of anti-war citizens in a working-class suburb of Boston, MA, has worked to inform high school students in their community, including their own children, about the perils of military recruitment. Chelsea Uniting Against the War (CUAW) convenes within the first week of the school year to distribute counter-recruitment flyers informing students of the risks of military service. They then follow up this activity by speaking with students one-on-one during school lunch breaks while distributing forms to opt out of school releases of student information to military recruiters. These lunchtime events occurred twice each year and were always preceded by a phone call to the principal’s office to determine an appropriate date. At no time did CUAW enter the school without prior notice.
This annual routine changed in the Spring of 2019 when CUAW showed up on the appointed date and was confronted by the newly-hired principal who told the members they were not going to be allowed to continue. CUAW members left the school without incident.
In September of last year (2019) a group of nine CUAW members assembled outside of Chelsea High School during the first week of school as it had done for the previous thirteen years, for the purpose of distributing a counter-recruitment flyer and to discuss the opt out form which is included in the school’s student handbook.
Shortly thereafter, a request was made for a meeting with the school superintendent for the purpose of revisiting the ban on access to the school. Three times school officials set up a meeting, only to postpone it to a later date. Finally, a meeting was scheduled that included both the principal, the former AND new superintendents AND the city attorney for Chelsea. The meeting was confusing as none of the parties on the side of the city appeared to be in agreement and simply informed CUAW that regardless of the precedent that had been set in the past, CUAW was no longer welcome inside the school cafeteria. The former superintendent claimed that although she was aware of CUAW being inside the school she did not know why. No one else spoke except the city’s attorney, who essentially said if CUAW can find a reason why it should be allowed inside the school for the purpose of counter-recruitment, we should let her know.
Well, that was the opening CUAW needed! With the help and guidance of Rick Jahnkow, researcher and consultant with the San Diego-based Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO*), a hastily organized conference call took place between San Diego and Chelsea. During this meeting, it was decided to craft a letter from CUAW to the city attorney. It would include copies of letters from the ACLU that had helped several other counter-recruitment groups achieve equal school access. The cover letter requested that the city attorney and school superintendent review and reconsider CUAW’s request to be allowed entry into the high school.
Once the letter’s delivery had been confirmed, a CUAW member visited the city attorney’s office and was told that she was unavailable, but that a response would be forthcoming. This went on three more times when finally, on March 11, a letter from the Assistant City Attorney arrived via email, saying:
“We have reviewed your request for access to Chelsea High School and have come to the following conclusion. The Chelsea Public School District will allow Chelsea Uniting Against the War (CUAW) access to students on the same basis as that granted to military recruiters.”
The letter went on to describe the parameters to which CUAW must adhere, including activities limited to the school cafeteria during all four lunches and a restriction on posting material on walls. Otherwise, this was a victory that gave new vigor to counter-recruitment efforts at Chelsea High School.
*Project YANO has been doing youth education and school outreach since 1984.