By Brandon Madsen and Matt Johnson, Kennedy High School, Youth Against War and Racism
Bloomington, MN – For weeks our club at Kennedy High School, Youth Against War and Racism, had planned to set up an anti-war information table at lunch on Wednesday, February 23. This was the day military recruiters were scheduled to visit the school.
But Tuesday morning our Principal, Ron Simmons, was visited by representatives from the American Legion. They threatened to withdraw financial support from our school unless we were forbidden from tabling Wednesday. District Superintendent Gary Prest, also pressured by the American Legion, called Principal Simmons and told him to shut us down.
However, we were not about to accept this flagrant violation of our right to free speech or allow the American Legion to blackmail our school.
This was not the first time Kennedy students had to battle the administration. In fact, this repression followed months of negotiations to get the right to set up a table. A school district lawyer finally confirmed that we had equal tabling rights as the recruiters.
We had set up our first counter-recruitment table last December, right next to the military recruiters. The recruiters’ table was abandoned. Meanwhile, our table was mobbed by hundreds of interested students who asked questions, signed petitions, took flyers and pamphlets, and discussed politics. By the end of the day we collected 120 signatures for the petition against recruiters being allowed to invade our school. Over 100 more signed in the following days.
We Decided to Fight Back
Our previous organization and victory meant that everyone in the group was confident enough to fight back against this new, more serious repression.
We organized an emergency meeting on Tuesday evening, and plotted our next moves. Fourteen members showed up and decided to table in violation of the administration’s decree. If they demanded that we take down our table, we would refuse, regardless of the consequences.
We drafted a flier and petition to hand out to students, asking them to support our free speech rights. We sent a solidarity appeal to progressive groups across the country asking them to call the Superintendent and Principal in protest, and we called a press conference after school in our cafeteria. We intended to show the administration that if they were going to violate the constitution, they would have do it over our resistance, and they would have to do it publicly.
When lunch period began we assembled the tables and began to sell buttons, hand-out informational leaflets, and play guitar, eliciting a very positive response.
But the Principal demanded that we remove our table. When we refused, administrators began to physically remove our materials themselves. They told us that our after-school meeting/press-conference was cancelled, and threatened us with three days’ suspension. We decided it was better to accept their offer to meet with the Superintendent, rather than stick around with no materials to pass out.
Meanwhile, the solidarity appeal was making its way around the globe via e-mail. Members of Socialist Alternative, with whom we have been working closely, compiled the press list and helped to distribute the solidarity appeal. Within hours, the appeal reached tens of thousands of inboxes, resulting in the Principal and Superintendent being swamped with calls. As Principal Simmons later let slip: “It’s been overwhelming.”
Due to all of the calls and the threat of press coverage, combined with our active resistance, our meeting with the Superintendent was of a decidedly different character than the earlier confrontation with the Principal. He presented himself as all smiles, and quickly gave in to all our demands, trying to play it off as a big misunderstanding.
Our teach-in after school was highly successful, with 30-40 students and a number of parents and community supporters attending. We received press coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, as well as several other publications and radio stations. Even Michael Moore put our story and a picture of our teach-in on his website! At the end of the day, the students left feeling elated, organized, and strong.
Spread the Campaign!
Even before our recent success, Kennedy students and Socialist Alternative were working to launch Youth Against War and Racism as a Twin Cities network for students to come together and fight to end the occupation of Iraq, to cut the bloated military budget and fund education, to end military recruitment in schools, and to oppose the government’s racist attacks on civil liberties.
It is essential that we stand up and take action against military recruiters. The U.S. war machine relies on bribing young people to join the military and carry out the imperialist policies ordered by corrupt politicians. If we build a mass movement of young people against the war that exposes the lies of Bush and the military recruiters, the military will no longer have a steady supply of youth to use as cannon fodder.
We can’t count on the government or our school administrators to stop military recruiters from spreading their lies. We must take it upon ourselves to educate and organize our fellow students, and make our schools off-limits to recruiters. If every time they show up we provide an overwhelmingly unwelcome environment, they will simply stop coming. Already at Kennedy, in stark contrast to the six to ten recruiters who usually show up, only one came this time.
We need to spread this campaign to schools across the Twin Cities and across the country.