Public Comment

Commentary: Why We Will Regulate Military Recruiting in Berkeley

By PhoeBe Anne Sorgen
Tuesday February 05, 2008

As a mother of a teenager, I am proud that Berkeley High School was the last high school in the nation to cave in to federal pressure and give students’ contact info to the military. Though the elected school board had voted to opt out, the school had to comply eventually to preserve federal funding. Parents may opt out, as I did, but signing up for college info opted us back in, so we are receiving deceptively seductive, glossy brochures that don’t mention that enlistees are trained to harden their hearts and kill, possibly torture, and may be killed. 

I know of a case in which 17- and 18-year-old potential recruits were raped by Marine recruiters. In another case, two young fathers signed up for one year only under the “Try One” program, only to be “stop lossed.” They learned too late about the “back door draft.” The military can keep them against their will, enslaved until the year 2035. There have been many other cases of deceptive recruitment, young people who were promised that they would not be sent overseas or into combat, signing up without reading the fine print, and returning from Iraq in coffins. It is not easy, but it is never too late to declare conscientious objector status and the GI Rights Hotline will help: (800) 394-9544. 

Women in Berkeley are carrying on this city’s proud tradition of peace advocacy and standing firm to distance our young ones from deceptive recruiting that could entice them to sign away their rights and their lives. The initiative to regulate military recruiting will help shield our young ones from a culture that glorifies violence. Violent influences should be prohibited at least near places where children pass, such as schools and parks. We have taught our children, “Don’t hit. Use your words. Work it out. Be honest. Be fair.” Real patriotism means taking responsibility and volunteering to help transform our culture into a democratic and well-informed one where more people stand up for dialogue and peace and caring. Petitions for the initiative may be signed in the Code Pink office at 1248 Solano Avenue and at events in the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Hall at 1924 Cedar St. 

This is not about weakening the military. We need to solve conflicts intelligently instead of escalating violence. How about strengthening our nation’s moral standing and reputation by taking care of our vets and by abiding by our own laws and our own Constitution! When our soldiers follow orders to torture, disregarding the Geneva Conventions, the supreme law of our land, they only ensure that U.S. prisoners of war will be tortured, they obtain only false or highly unreliable info, and they injure their own psyches, often permanently since help for vets is woefully inadequate. There are 195,000 homeless vets! 

I would not mind dying in effective defense of democracy here. I intend no disrespect to courageous, well-intentioned young Americans who want to defend their country, but I particularly grieve those brave souls who enlist “to protect our freedom” but end up killing and being killed, instead, to protect Haliburton, Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Blackwater, the oil industry etc. Bring democracy to Iraq? Ha! What we have here in the U.S. is no longer democracy, but an auction, a corporatocracy. 

Yes, we still have the right to protest, and thank goodness we are exercising that right. I especially appreciate CodePINKers and other volunteers who protest for peace in front of the Marine Recruiters Station at 64 Shattuck Square day after day, and seniors who protest at Acton and University Ave every third Friday afternoon. We call on all caring people to join us in defending the core values we share such as negotiation instead of violence, objective and accurate reporting, respect for differences, responsibility as members of families and communities to protect our young ones, and security including economic security with access to education, health care and other necessities for human dignity. 

The military industrial propaganda machine is oiled by billions of our tax dollars. Imagine a future when all the taxes that are spent on military recruiting are spent instead on education and health care. Hold that vision. We are out funded, but because we have the numbers, because we are passionate and creative, and because we work for what is just, we will prevail! 


PhoeBe Anne Sorgen is a voice teacher, singer, CodePINK activist and a Berkeley Peace and Justice Commissioner.