Last week, a friend who was recruited on his high school campus was sent off to the Persian Gulf region leaving behind his wife and newborn daughter. When he joined the army reserves he never figured he’d be going off to war and, with no other way to pay for college, signed up as a way to fund his education. This is the story of hundreds of thousands of youth across the United States who, because of a lack of affordable, quality education and options for the future, turn to the armed services as a way to make a future for themselves.
As the Bush drive for war increases, the war at home against public services, workers’ rights, and even fundamental democratic rights, has taken on new, dangerous levels. Across the nation funding for public education, day care, after-school programs, job training and apprenticeship programs is being cut severely, while Congress debates daily throwing billions of dollars more into the military budget.
In Bread and Roses High School in Harlem, New York, the school budget was cut so much that there was no paper available to print the students’ homework assignments. Ironically there was enough paper to send a letter offering $40,000 in college money for students who joined the military. Their names were made available to military recruiters because of the Republican-backed federal mandate for military recruitment, part of the cynically named “No Child Left Behind Act” which threatens to cut off federal aid to schools who do not provide recruiters with the names and contact information of eligible students.
Without shame, the Bush administration is creating and using the desperate conditions to starve our country’s youth into war. The military flaunts scholarships, promises of good employment and visions of success and prosperity in front of our young people as their only hope for a solid future. The primary targets are Black and Latino youth, the working class and poor. Under-funded education and high unemployment produce an economic draft, a poverty draft, which many young people will not be able to avoid. We call this a poverty draft because we understand that young people are not flocking to the military because of support of Bush’s war drive, but rather because of economic desperation. With the current economic crisis and constant rounds of layoffs, the military becomes one of the only viable paths for young people, who are concentrated in low-paying jobs without benefits or job security.
At the 7th National Convention of the Young Communist League (YCL) in Chicago last November, we declared, “NO! to the poverty draft and an immediate end to the targeting of black, Latino and all young workers for military service. NO! to the looting of our communities and schools to fund an unjust war.” We urge students and parents to send letters to their school administrations to withdraw their names from the contact list for military recruitment. We also join the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition in calling for a national student strike for Books Not Bombs, March 5, 2003. We stand united with youth across the country against the Bush drive for war and the poverty draft by proclaiming, “We ain’t going nowhere.”
Estevan Nembhard is a member of the YCL’s Coordinating Council and co-chair of the Uptown New York YCL club. Jessica Marshall is national co-coordinator of the YCL. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org