Counter-recruitment revisited: Students against the Draft and War challenges the school administration at Foss high school in Tacoma Washington

Today, 5 May, we ae planning to hold a teach-in against military recruitment in schools. However, under pressure from the JROTC at my school, my principal, Sharon Schauss, informed me yesterday that our meeting would be cancelled. This is a violation of our free speech rights and is effectively denying dozens of students interested in Students Against the Draft and War the right to organize. Meanwhile, military recruiters and the JROTC program have the freedom to regularly push their agenda at my school


Picture: Lui Kit Wong/The News Tribune, Tacoma, WA Eight years ago today, a contingent of socialist youth calling themselves Students against the Draft and War, challenges the school administration at Foss high school in Tacoma Washington, when told that their intention to have a meeting to organize a counter-recruitment action against military recruiters on their campus would not be permitted. Below is a re-posting of the documentation of the event, including the telling by the lead organizer, Clara Lightner, and the news stories that followed, the victory of these youth to prevail against the military recruiters in their school, and the follow-up interview with Clara.

In the age of Obama, and on the eve of another war for the United States in Syria, this seems an appropriate moment to retell this story to show the contrasts between the Bush and Obama eras, and maybe to spark another resistance against the next violation of the rights of our youth to be able to imagine their futures without violence pre-configured by foreign policy and the health risk this imposes on their futures and our democracy as a people.

Clara Lightner, Students against the Draft and War, Tacoma, US, Thursday 5 May 2005.

I am asking you to call and/or e-mail my principal and Superintendent James F. Shoemake, and urge them to respect our free speech rights and allow our meeting to go on as planned. Their contact information is listed below.

Background Story

A few months ago, I began working with local anti-war activists to start a counter-military recruitment campaign at my school. Over fifty students signed up to support or join Students Against the Draft and War. The teach-in tomorrow was going to be the first big public event for our group. We planned to show a documentary and have a counter-military recruitment organizer from Minneapolis come in to speak.

However, yesterday, Chief Allen, a JROTC instructor confronted my vice-principal and my teacher, who had offered access to his classroom for our after-school meeting. Chief Allen accused my teacher of trying to take his job away.. Also, some students in my school’s JROTC program were planning to disrupt the meeting by bursting in wearing their combat uniforms.

Then today, Principal Schauss approached my teacher and I during lunch and informed us that our meeting was being cancelled. Principal Schauss stated the reason for canceling our meeting was that we had not given her proper notice and that we were not already an approved student club. But student charters are only allowed in the fall, which prevents students from organizing around issues at any other time in the year. If a guest speaker came to talk to students starting a chess club in the Spring, the principal would not try and shut them down.

We are able to draw the conclusion that this is politically motivated. Principal Schauss even explained to me that she was only endorsing one program at our school concerning this issue, and that was the JROTC. This attitude shows the powerful influence of the military in Tacoma and of the JROTC, which has programs in every public high school in this city.

Please call today:

Principal Sharon Schauss
Tel: 001253-571-2300
Superintendent James Shoemake
Tel: 001253-571-1000  
Thank you so much for your support.
Copies of protestletters to
Clara Lightner, sophomore at Foss High School, Tacoma WA
Students Against the Draft and War
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
001 253 376-6371

Foss High School students win victory for free speech

Foss High School Principal, Sharon Schauss, finally agreed to proposals from Students Against the Draft and War (SADW) demanding our right to free speech in the High School and to be allowed to campaign against military recruitment in School grounds.
This victory for free speech was the result of the tremendous student support we got from students in Foss and also due to the phone calls to School administrators from thousands of supporters from around the country and world.

On 6 May, I had a meeting with Principal Schauss and informed her of SADW’s three key demands:

•    The right to find out two weeks before the military recruiters are scheduled to come to our school. We also want the right to put up a table next to the recruiters with alternative points of view and information.
•    The right to have weekly meetings in the school in order to build our student club.

•    Permission for having a meeting on Tuesday, 10 May (that we had originally planned for May 5), including the guest speaker, Ty Moore, of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Principal Schauss agreed to the first two demands. We are confident that she will agree to the third one after she has seen the video we are going to show, Military Myths, which I plan to bring to her on Monday 9 May. She will also talk to the school board and go through the necessary procedures to have guest speaker Ty Moore allowed in to speak.

On the morning of 5 May, before school, I went to Principal Schauss’s office with a member of Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US), Jessica Pruitt, who has been helping out with the campaign. We asked Principal Schauss whether or not she was allowing the meeting to happen that afternoon. Mrs. Schauss, told us we could not hold the meeting because we had not filled out all the proper paperwork and did not have $1 million in insurance. Although we had a chartered student club willing to sponsor us, she still would not let us hold a meeting.

This is double standards because other student clubs don’t need to fill out paper work or get Principal Schauss’s approval to bring guests into our school. After not letting us explain ourselves for most of the meeting, Principal Schauss threw us out of her office. Jessica attempted to explain that she was not clear on the procedure when Principal Schauss yelled at us to exit the office. We immediately took that as another infringement on our rights as students.

That afternoon, we called a press conference. I spread the news through the entire school and passed out fliers urging students to meet in front of the school for a protest/press conference. A couple newspapers showed up, Tacoma News Tribune and the Tacoma Weekly. I was interviewed and gave a speech to the students who were there.

Principal Schauss attempted to break up the press conference in the middle of it by making an announcement over the intercom for everyone to leave. She was ignored and the meeting went on very well. We now have nearly 100 students signed up on our email list. The Tacoma News Tribune covered the event with a large article (new window).

Fighting for decent jobs and opportunities

I’ve also had a few confrontations with JROTC [the High School US military organisation] students who were quite angry with me, but I was able to explain myself. I found that most of the JROTC students are very open-minded and considerate. We are not against the JROTC students. We understand that most young people join the military because they don’t see any decent jobs or educational opportunities. We are against people being signed up to die for a war about oil and empire. We are fighting for more money for jobs and education so young people can chose an alternative to the military.

Hopefully, we will make peace with them and will be able to have meetings in the future with no problem. We are also offering the JROTC students the opportunity to come to any of our meetings to watch or to speak, if they request it.

Many people phoned and e-mailed Principal Sharon Schauss and Superintendent James Shoemake. Even the steelworkers’ national union office called me to guarantee 100 calls to my principal from their members, and more support if we needed it.

The entire school was aware of the hundreds of phone calls from all over the world.

I’d like to thank members of the local coalition for their help. I’d like to give a special thanks to Socialist Alternative, the organization I joined recently, for giving me help, support, advice, and all the resources I needed.

This has been a major success for our school and for Students’ Against the Draft and War.
Thanks to everyone who called in to support us

LOCAL NEWS: Protesting students win counter-recruitment demands at Foss HS in Tacoma

The Tacoma Weekly reports on the May 5 protest by Students Against the Draft and War, who advocate counter-recruitment information at Foss High School in Tacoma, Washington.  --  Reporter Pamela McMahan's piece concludes by noting that the protesting students, led by Clara Lightner, "were given permission to hold the cancelled teach-in, and Principal Schauss had agreed to honor the student group's two other demands.  They will be alerted two weeks before a military recruiter is scheduled to come to school so that they can put up a table in the cafeteria presenting alternative points of view.  They also won the right to have weekly meetings in the school 'in order to build our student club,' Lightner said." ...

STUDENTS HOLD PROTEST
By Pamela McMahan

** Military Recruitment Stirs up Controversy at Foss **

Tacoma Weekly
May 12, 2005

Military recruiters have sunk a firm foothold at public high schools in Tacoma, and equal access to an opposing viewpoint is difficult and discouraged.

That position formed the substance of a student protest at Foss High School held after school in the courtyard on Thursday, May 5. About 60 students and a handful of parents and other adults, some affiliated with United for Peace of Pierce County, turned out to hear arguments presented by a small group of students.

Led by sophomore Clara Lightner, the emergency session, complete with protest signs and bullhorn, focused on issues of free speech and student rights, questioning the decision of school administrators to stop an activity planned for the previous day. Lightner's group, Students Against the Draft and War, had organized an after-school student teach-in, intended to give students opposing information to what is given by military recruiters, and FHS Principal Sharon Schauss canceled that event.

Along with many Tacoma-area high schools, Foss has an active Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program for students interested in careers in the military, with about 100 students enrolled. Lightner's group felt that Schauss had favored the interests of the JROTC over their rights to learn about alternatives to the military. Wielding the bullhorn, Lightner explained her group's position.

"We are not here to fight anyone from the JROTC. We are here to stand up for our rights. It is required by law to have representation for both sides of this issue. We have recruiters and JROTC on the military side, and no one on the other side because Principal Schauss has stopped us."

Foss' administration claimed that it didn't violate the students' free speech rights, but, rather, the teach-in wasn't allowed because Lightner's group hadn't followed the proper procedures in getting clearance for a guest speaker. Lightner said she thought her group had followed all the school procedures correctly, and she tried to get authorization for the guest speaker from Schauss, but was dismissed from the Principal's office. There was some confusion about when and how students can form an ASB-sanctioned club, and at the end of the protest, Schauss met with the students in an attempt to further explain school district policy and her reasons for dismissing the teach-in.

Misunderstanding fulminated around several fliers that Students Against the Draft and War had circulated, Schauss said. "The fliers said things about me that were incorrect," she said. "It would have been helpful if whoever had written this had come to me and discussed it."

Chief Steven Allen, who has taught JROTC aerospace science and the history of flight for about five years at Foss, also took umbrage at the content of the protestors' fliers. His interpretation was that the fliers portrayed JROTC as being against free speech. "We've dedicated our lives to defending free speech," he said. "Our program at Foss teaches citizenship."

A number of JROTC students were present, watching the protest. "I'm just here listening to what they have to say, to find out what their points are," one student said.

Students Against the Draft and War formed their organization's name from a section of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. Under this law, the military can request the names and addresses of high school students. Some students maintain that this use of their personal information constitutes a "back-door draft."

As part of its drive to get permission for a table in the school cafeteria to present a "counter-recruitment campaign," Lightner's group wants to inform students about this "back-door draft" and steps they can take to remove their names from disclosure to the military.

Following the May 5 gathering, a group of parents, teachers and Pierce County residents issued a "Statement of Concern" regarding practices of military recruiters in Pierce County public schools. "The Students Against the Draft and War at Foss High School are demonstrating exactly the kind of civic activism our democracy is built on and our state education system is theoretically funded to cultivate," the statement reads. "The presence of increasingly aggressive military recruiters in our public schools is a matter of great concern. With large-scale U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan expected to continue for some time, a career in the military is a life and death decision for our youth."

The Statement of Concern argues that military recruiters are attempting to overcome falling enlistment rates by portraying an appealing image of military life, with inflated promises of money for college and skilled job training. "Much of this effort has been directed toward high schools in working class or minority neighborhoods. . . these students are particularly vulnerable to being pressured into enlistment by persuasive recruiters." Foss is located in an urban part of Tacoma, with a diverse ethnic population, 45% of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

Foss sophomore Alex Keane said, "I'm kind of against the war in Iraq, but what I'm really against is the falsified information recruiters are giving kids. I heard a recruiter tell a student, 'No one gets hurt in Iraq.' That's a lie." Andrew DeMaris, another sophomore, agreed. "We really shouldn't have recruiters at school," he said. "The bottom line is there is a monopoly of information the military has at this school."

At press time, Lightner said Students Against the Draft and War at Foss were given permission to hold the cancelled teach-in, and Principal Schauss had agreed to honor the student group's two other demands. They will be alerted two weeks before a military recruiter is scheduled to come to school so that they can put up a table in the cafeteria presenting alternative points of view. They also won the right to have weekly meetings in the school "in order to build our student club," Lightner said.

An Interview with Clara

Clara Lightner, a sophomore at Foss High School in Tacoma, WA, recently led a successful campaign to beat back an attempted administrative crackdown on the counter-recruitment group she helped form at her school. She talked with Left Hook co-editor M. Junaid Alam about how this victory has both been a product of and a motor force for growing anti-war sentiment among youth.

Alam: Clara, thanks for doing this interview with Left Hook. Was there a specific event that compelled you personally to take a stance against the war in Iraq? Were you against it from the outset, or was it more of an evolutionary process?

Lightner: I've grown up in a family that taught me that war was bad and that wars have always been for the profits of the rich and powerful. In high school, I started listening to punk music, like the Dead Kennedys, Aus-Rotten, Crass, and they exposed so many lies and stories that I hadn't heard before. It opened my eyes to why war was so wrong. It turned me into someone willing to stand up against the war and militarism.

Alam:When and how did your anti-war feelings translate into taking political action along with other students at your school?

Lightner: A few months ago I joined a group in Tacoma called Socilaist Alternative. They were working on starting a campaign to fight military recruitment in schools. That sparked my interest and I was really excited to work on making a difference at my school that could possibly impact the war machine and its power.

Alam: How did your group, Students Against the Draft and War, approach other students in making the case against the war and possibilities of a draft? How did other students receive your group’s message?

Lightner:Mostly, we've passed out fliers at lunch-time and had students sign up for an email list. We've had a lot of support among students. There is a big anti-war sentiment among people my age and especially minorities who are aware of the fact that military recruiters target them for joining their wars. We've had some problems with the JROTC at my school, but mostly kids agree with our points of view and want the Iraq war to stop, don't want a draft, and want recruiters out of schools.

Alam:You’ve noted in your previous solidarity appeal that things came to a head when the JROTC instructor pressured one of your teachers and the vice-principal about a counter-recruitment event your group had planned. Can you explain how the school initially justified shutting down your event?

Lightner: The school told us that we had to follow a special procedure to set up meetings and have guest speakers. This procedure was only for "controversial speakers". They said they had to clear our speaker with the school board attorneys or somebody like that before we could hold the event of have Ty Moore speak in the school. Unfortunately, speakers come in all the time for the JROTC with absolutely no problem. One of my teachers even had to risk getting fired to have [our speaker] at Foss.

Alam:You’ve also noted in a follow-up announcement that, after sending out a solidarity appeal online, your group has won the right to hold the event, and has also seen several other of its demands met. Can you tell us what role you think the call for solidarity played in making the school administration change its mind, what groups helped you out in this campaign and how?

Lightner:The solidarity appeal definitely made this possible. The hundreds of phone calls to both the superintendent and my principal got their attention and made it clear that we are not a group that will back down when facing injustice. I'm not sure if it would have worked as well without the solidarity appeal. Also, Socialist Alternative has made this entire campaign possible. They started this whole thing and have helped me and given me everything I've needed during this. I've learned a lot from them about activism and have had their support and advice through the entire ordeal.

Alam:Can you detail those other demands your group had made which have now been agreed to?

Lightner: We had three key demands:

1. The right to find out 2 weeks before a military recruiter comes to my school and the right to set up a table to distribute alternative information and all the things the recruiters don't tell students.

2. The right to hold weekly meetings to establish our club, Students Against the Draft and War.

3. The right to hold our meeting with the video Military Myths and have Ty Moore speak on May 10th, to make up for the meeting they cancelled. Mrs. Schauss agreed to all three demands on Friday, May 6th. We hope she'll stick to them.

Alam:What is the general mood among the students at your school, both those who are a part of the anti-war group and those who just generally took interest in the campaign you initiated to have your meeting? Are you planning any future events?

Lightner: The students are very excited and relieved to know a campaign like this is going on at their school. Many students want to support us and become active members of Students Against the Draft and War. We are planning to have meetings to establish our club for this year, before we try to stage protests or walk-outs. The main thing we need right now is to get organized.

Alam:Today’s high school students may be tricked or forced into becoming the cannon fodder for tomorrow’s wars. After winning a political battle to help raise anti-war consciousness among these students at your high school, do you feel optimistic about the potential for progressive politics and anti-war beliefs among the upcoming generation?

Lightner: I really hope that there are a lot of changes to the system of greed and capitalism. Many people in my generation are very aware of the lies of the government and the military. It is also a lot easier and more accepted for students to rebel and fight for their beliefs. I really think that my generation can be the one to change the way things are now, because it's not before long that the whole system will crumble. Things can't go on very much longer the way they are.

This copied from http://lefthook.org/Interviews/AlamLightner051305.html - Link broken as of Feb 2011

Sources:

  1. us: solidarity appeal | socialistworld.net
  2. US: Foss High School students win victory for free speech | socialistworld.net
  3. LOCAL NEWS: Protesting students win counter-recruitment demands at Foss HS in Tacoma
  4. LOCAL NEWS: Foss HS students claim counter-recruitment victory
  5. Clara Lightner Interview with Left Hook
  6. A Leftist Youth Journal Based in the U.S.
  7. Socialism Today - Jamming the US military machine
  8. Students Against the Draft and War
  9. Youth Against War and Racism
  10. YAWR Needs Your Financial Support

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