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September 19th, 2007 Rachel Schiff | News Stories
 

Fighting Back

Anti-military recruiters make the rounds outside Portland high schools before the Oct. 1 filing deadline.

     
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MC Pele Won drops beats to encourage Jeff students to opt out.
Loud, catchy beats bumped from the stereo of a pickup truck, brought to Jefferson High School by volunteers trying to catch teenagers’ attention at the end of the school day.

The message that Recruiter Watch PDX volunteers tried to convey to students racing out the door last Wednesday, Sept. 12: You can stop schools from releasing your contact information to the military.

It’s a message they’ll be bringing to Portland high schools for the rest of this month.

Portland Public Schools juniors and seniors who don’t want military recruiters to contact them have until Oct. 1 to file a form asking their school not to release their contact information.

That’s a response to the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires high schools to send the Pentagon the names, addresses, phone numbers and, in some cases, SAT scores and financial information of juniors and seniors unless students opt out.

Until 2002, military recruiters weren’t even allowed on high-school campuses in Portland because the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule about gays and lesbians violated PPS’s non-discrimination policy.

But No Child Left Behind pre-empted that policy, requiring that school districts give the military the same access to students on campus as colleges and job recruiters.

PPS general counsel Jollee Patterson says counterrecruiters can’t get that same access on school property because, “If we voluntarily allow some people in the schools, we are required to open up that forum to everybody.”

In practice, that policy was applied inconsistently up until the end of the last school year when Recruiter Watch could talk to students inside some schools. Patterson says that’s not allowed.

That doesn’t stop Recruiter Watch from getting the word out by standing inches outside school property.

“Our tactic is to do what the military does—entice them and engage them, but also ask them how they really feel about the military,” said Beats for Peace director Pam Phan, nearly yelling to be heard over the hip-hop beats of MC Pele Won last week outside Jeff.

In this era of overwhelming opposition to the Iraq war, that tactic has worked. Since Recruiter Watch began its campaign in 2005, the number of students opting out in Portland has increased from 24 percent in 2004 to 61 percent in 2006.

Beats for Peace is collaborating with Veterans for Peace, PDX Peace and the American Friends Service Committee to organize the Recruiter Watch campaign. The campaign, which began Sept. 10, runs until Oct. 1. Each day, organizers position five or six volunteers outside a different public high school.

About 60 students wandered past the pulsing pickup last week at Jeff. Nearly all stopped and listened to the volunteers’ pitch.

“They’re bumping some tight music,” said Scott Johnson, 18.

 
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