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Worcester activists work to remove Junior ROTC from local schools

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By Nancy Jodaitis

In September of 1994, the Air Force and Navy began JROTC programs at Burncoat and North High Schools in Worcester, Massachusetts. In April of that same year, a group of Worcester residents, students and educators formed the Coalition to Stop JROTC and to continue working for the removal of these programs from Worcester high schools.

The Coalition has organized a monthly vigil in front of these two high schools, with an focus on creating dialogue with students about the role of the military in public education. In the beginning, we distributed flyers which highlighted the hypocrisies of JROTC claims, but because we were not permitted to organize activity on school property, we were only able to leaflet the small percentage of students who walk to school or take the bus.

As the school year wore on, students seemed less receptive to taking the flyers, so we began to vigil with anti-JROTC placards and set up an information table with information about nonmilitary careers and reasons for opposing military recruitment and the ROTC program. A few students took literature, others gathered it for school officials, and one or two students actually burned one of our flyers. Having the table, however, proved to be a good catalyst for conversation with students, and it provided interested students with an opportunity to read our material.

Our most popular vigil took place in December when "Santa and his elves" visited the two Worcester high schools and distributed over 300 candy canes, complete with pro-peace and anti-JROTC messages. Students smiled and waved from the buses and came from inside the school to see Santa and his elves. Also, on two occasions, we gave out lollipops with the message: "Help Us Lick JROTC." These were made for less than $20 by having a small stamp made up with the message and buying 1" white stickers which we placed on bank size lollipops at one of our regular meetings.

The Coalition to Stop JROTC also gave a street theater presentation last Spring with performers who included the Specter of Death, a military recruiter, and a group of mourners gathered around a coffin labeled "War Dead". The military recruiter hawked slogans while the Specter chuckled with glee and beckoned to the students "plenty of coffins, no waiting", "never enough war dead, more! more!". Other members passed out leaflets explaining why we had come to mourn all the victims of war. A letter was also brought to the principal explaining our action. One student in the JROTC program came to the mourners and threw down his bag and challenged the statistics in the flyers. Two school officials intervened when the incident seemed on the verge of becoming a violent confrontation.

Our other ideas for street theater included the" Wheel of Misfortune", an interactive game where a military recruiter hawks exciting prizes like "learning to kill", "wars", "homelessness" and "agent orange" among others. The game included the image of a military officer dancing a very mournful waltz with a woman in a dress resembling a flag.

The Coalition to Stop JROTC also participated (without invitation!) in the national YWCA "Week Without Violence". in October, 1995, where members held vigils at each school all week long to show the contradiction of promoting a week without violence while military training classes (JROTC) continued as usual. Our interaction with students during this one week event was the largest to date. Having members at the school for more than one day seemed to allow the students to feel more comfortable speaking with us. Because of this, our vigils during the following month took place over periods of three consecutive days.

JROTC cadets were the students who primarily engage us in conversation about the JROTC program, almost always contending that the program has no violent content, These students emphasized that JROTC is an elective course offering opportunities for students to travel and participate in competitions that they were not available to them before. Although some students did express their gratitude for our work, the vast majority seemed to remain indifferent.

Through a letter to teachers, a presentation at a parent council at one of the high schools, and individual talks with students, members of the Coalition sought invitations to speak in classrooms about counter-recruitment, peaceful resolution of conflict and alternatives to military service. Despite being unsuccessful to date, we will continue with this effort.

Another outreach strategy has been to do presentations at the Teen Center, provide counter-recruitment and pro-peace career literature to the guidance offices at each school, and sponsor community forums. Members of the Coalition have also sought to actively participate in a School Committee evaluation of the JROTC program and its curriculum. Unfortunately, attendance at School Committee meetings by community members opposing JROTC has declined, making the School Committee commitment to an unbiased evaluation of JROTC much more difficult.

As JROTC supporters speak less and less about the advantages or disadvantages of the program and focus more and more on JROTC's "patriotic" content, The Coalition to Stop JROTC will reevaluate our strategies and long term program goals. Having access to schools and communicating with students is a definite, continued priority, but it may be necessary for us to expand our focus from simply opposing the JROTC program to confronting the broader issue of the U.S. military presence in our schools.

If you have any ideas you'd like to share or would like to talk further about any of these actions, please contact

Nancy Jodaitis
Coalition to Stop JROTC
27 West Street
Worcester, MA 01609

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