Anti-military-recruitment protesters around the country who hope to copy Pittsburgh's counter-recruitment movement are headed here for a national conference -- and organizers hope the event will breed more protest actions nationwide.
"It's probably going to be the biggest gathering of people who are working on the counter-recruitment movement yet," says Bridget Colvin, who is helping to put together the April 7-9 gathering at Carnegie Mellon University as a member of Pittsburgh Organizing Group. POG has led local counter-recruitment protests for the past year, mostly in front of the Armed Forces recruitment center on Forbes Avenue, in Oakland. And in response, the group has been receiving escalating police attention (see column, page TK).
Dealing with government crackdowns on dissent is just one of the conference's workshop topics. Other subjects include: "Military Recruiting 101" and its corollary, "Counter-Recruitment 101"; information on recruiters' tools in high schools (and how to help students opt out of direct recruiting); becoming a Conscientious Objector; and how, says the conference Web site (www.organizepittsburgh.org/conference), the "Military Industrial-Academic Complex" convinces students and teachers at schools such as CMU "to research and develop technology, weapons and strategies."
The conference is drawing presenters and attendees from around the country, say POG members. Maureen Haver of the Houston Global Awareness Collective will describe its campaign against Iraq War contractor Halliburton for a "Stop the War Profiteers" class. Steve Theberge of the War Resisters' League and Not Your Soldier will talk about Not Your Soldier Action Camps - summer training grounds for students to resist recruitment.
The event will also include a sneak preview of the movie Sir, No Sir, about war resistance among Vietnam War GIs. (The film will premier in theaters elsewhere later this spring.) And, of course, there will be a protest in front of the Oakland recruiting station on Fri., April 7, beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Air Force veteran Tariq Khan, of Falls Church, Va., will also be on hand to tell about his protest and arrest at George Mason University, where he is now a junior. Starting last fall, Khan was a one-man movement at GMU, standing next to recruiters with a sign taped to his chest: "Recruiters lie, don't be deceived." On Sept. 29, he was attacked by fellow students, then arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. GMU was "shamed into dropping the charges," as Khan puts it. Now he has started a counter-recruitment organization of his own.
POG's Colvin says the group's goal is to provide protesters all over the country with new, more effective techniques for working against recruitment. Veteran activist David Solnit of Oakland, Cal., who will present a panel on street theater protests called "Culture, Art and Story vs. Recruiting, War and Empire," says the word is already out.
"A lot of us in the Bay Area look at [POG] as a national model" for its mix of approaches -- and for how much police response it has attracted, which is seen as evidence of a protest's effectiveness. Solnit believes POG's efforts are a kind of Boston Tea Party for the 21st century. "The majority of people who are against the war have exhausted the institutionalized means of stopping it," he says. "The government is not listening to us."
Solnit doesn't think protest spectacles, including the large puppets and other art that is his specialty, make the public take his messages any less seriously. "How does the U.S. keep its population complacent?" he asks. "They use images, corporate-manufactured culture to keep us down. We have to be able to tell a different story, and not just through the written word.
"Counter-recruitment is one of the most hopeful ways we can assert our power and protect our young people," he adds. As for POG and its ilk, he says, "I think history will judge them as the heroes they are."