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July 2000

Community Opposition Sends Marine JROTC Unit Into Retreat

by John Amidon 1 | 2

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In February 2000, a short news article announced that a Marine Corps JROTC program was scheduled to begin at Albany (NY) High School in September 2000. According to the article, the program would cost the school district about $25,000, using money from a budget transfer. The program needed only the approval of the school board. It appeared certain that Albany High School was the next to become militarized by the JROTC program.

Several groups, including Veterans for Peace, Albany Friends Meeting (Quakers), Albany Catholic Workers, and high school students, were dismayed at this turn of events. By the end of May, working as individuals and groups in loose affiliation, we generated enough political pressure to have the proposal rescinded by the district superintendent. With hard work and collective political pressure, we were successful in blocking JROTC, at least this time. (After the proposal was withdrawn, two students presented the school board with 150 signatures in favor of JROTC. Previously, fewer than a dozen students had signed up for the program, when the goal written in the contract was 125. It is unclear if the school board or the Marine Corps will reconsider.)

I hope that our experiences, outlined below, will help other communities block the growing militarization of our high schools and our youth and the further erosion of quality public education.

Stopping JROTC: What Worked in Albany

1. Obtain strong student involvement in opposing JROTC.

Student involvement was key in Albany. By attending public JROTC presentations, Veterans For Peace contacted students who opposed the program. The students became a powerful coalition against JROTC. They organized a petition drive which collected more than 300 signatures against JROTC, educated many other students about the negative aspects of this training, helped increase parental involvement, and wrote letters to the school board. Student leaders also organized a protest rally near the superintendentís office and leafleted the high school. The rally was transformed into a small victory celebration when the superintendent withdrew the proposal for JROTC on the morning the rally was to take place.

2. Examine the JROTC curriculum and release information about its problems.

We used examples of racial stereotyping found in Army JROTC manuals. (See curriculum review by AFSC.) Many people commented that this stereotyping was racist. It is unacceptable academically and is not beneficial to the healthy development of our young and the education of good citizens. We sent these curriculum pages to every group we thought would be offended by racial stereotyping, including the aldermen and women of our city, particularly people of color, the Jewish community, and the Black and Hispanic Caucus of the New York State Assembly.

3. Ask if the administration or the school board has seen the curriculum.

In Albany, no one has yet seen the curriculum. If this is the case, ask how the board and the administration can possibly make a responsible decision about the program without knowing what is in it. JROTC is most often not college preparatory material. In any case, insist on being given a copy of the curriculum.

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