Bronx Antiwar Coalition chases military recruiters out of college career fair

The Bronx Antiwar Coalition successfully chased U.S. Army recruiters out of a student career fair June 11. The fair was hosted by U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat at the City University of New York in The Heights (BMCC), in the predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights. The Coalition organized the anti-recruitment demonstration because BMCC is a popular college choice for Bronx high school students, given its close proximity. (Bronx Antiwar Coalition)

Bronx Antiwar Coalition protests military recruiters at college career fairs, June 11, 2023. Credit: WW Photo

As the military recruiters approached the fair’s entrance, the demonstrators forcefully chanted, “Military recruiters out of CUNY!” and “Money for college, not for war!” They distributed pamphlets to all attendees that warned them about the physical and psychological dangers of joining the military, explicitly encouraging attendees not to talk to any military or police recruiter. 

Anti-war protesters presented resources on alternatives to military enlistments, such as obtaining scholarships to study abroad for free. Students exiting the fair reported that the military recruitment table was empty, with no one showing interest. 

Within 15-20 minutes, the military recruiters left the fair and did not return.

The protest is yet another example of how grassroots organizations like BAWC are resisting the militarization of youth and schools. This is especially important in the current political climate, where almost all politicians are advocating for increased military spending, simultaneously cutting social programs and education funding that would help students further their careers — without being forced to kill other workers abroad in racist U.S. wars. 

By protesting the inclusion of military and police recruiters at student career fairs, groups send a clear message: We do not want our youth sent abroad to kill and be killed for the purpose of enriching Wall Street and the military-industrial complex!

The demonstration highlighted the risk of sexual assault that military workers, especially women of color, face. A 2020 report by the Service Women’s Action Network found that the rate of sexual harassment experienced by Latina women in the military was 42.9%, compared to 33.9% for non-Hispanic Black women and 26.9% for white women. 

Protesters demanded justice for the families of Juan M. Alcantara, Riayan Tejeda and Ramona M. Valdez — all Dominican-American youth from Washington Heights who were killed during the imperialist war in Iraq while “serving” the U.S. empire’s pursuit of natural resources and profits.

Positive reception from CUNY community

Bronx Antiwar Coalition protests military recruiters at college career fairs, June 11, 2023. WW Photo: Sara Flounders

The protest was met with strong support from CUNY students and staff. One arts major exited the career fair dismayed, because the flyer distributed by CUNY and Rep. Espaillat had stated there would be “arts and entertainment” employers at the fair, but she did not see any representation of her field. Because military and police recruiters were prioritized over any potential job opportunities in her chosen field, this young student expressed interest in joining the BAWC and fighting back against this injustice. 

This writer, a teacher and organizer with the BAWC, said, “We must stand together with this young student in demanding better from our public schools. Shame on CUNY and Rep. Espaillat for bringing military and police recruiters to the career fair, while providing little to no opportunities for art students. This sends the message that CUNY views disadvantaged youth as nothing more than fodder for the U.S. war machine. 

“With their latest censorship of and smear campaign against CUNY law school student Fatima Mohammed — who defended the liberation of Palestine in her commencement speech — it is clear that CUNY’s alignment with U.S. and Western imperialism has made it part of the problem instead of part of the solution when it comes to creating meaningful career opportunities for oppressed youth in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan.” 

In another show of solidarity, a BMCC staff member came outside to the picket line and joined protesters. She encouraged the crowd to expand the demands to include removing corrections officer recruiters as well. Coming from a Russian family, she was particularly moved by the message on one protester’s sign, which read “Fight racism NOT Russia,” so much so that she took a picture with it.

Lenin and why we oppose military recruiters

Next January marks the centennial of Vladimir Lenin’s death. In his book, “The State and Revolution,” Lenin argues that the capitalist state is an instrument of class domination used by the ruling class to maintain its power over the working class. He contends that the state arises from the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. 

Lenin argues that a standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power and are used to enforce the will of the ruling class. We can apply this analysis to today’s military, police, prisons and corrections officers, all chief instruments of state violence. They are integral components of the broader system of state power and class domination. Their inclusion at high school and college career fairs is an example of the state using its resources to encourage young Black and Brown students to perpetuate oppression against their own communities.

In the context of U.S. domestic policy, the police have long used violence and coercion against Black communities to suppress dissent and protect the interests of the ruling class, which is predominantly composed of wealthy white men. 

Internationally, given the history of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, Asia, Africa and elsewhere, for Hispanic/Latinx youth joining the U.S. military means being pulled into a global system of oppression used to maintain U.S. imperialist interests and suppress the self-determination of other nations. Participation in the U.S. military can be seen as supporting this exploitative system and perpetuating class oppression.

A call to action

The antiwar movement’s work is not done until police, military and prison guard recruiters are no longer welcome in oppressed communities. The working class must understand that joining the U.S. military means supporting a system of global domination and oppression, rather than accessing a means of personal empowerment or social mobility, as it is sold on school campuses.

This is a pivotal moment in history. The U.S./NATO alliance is preparing for war with China, as it continues to fuel its murderous proxy war in Ukraine against Russia. The people have the power to end all U.S. wars and it starts with taking action against military and police recruiters who target our schools and communities. It’s time to fight back against these recruiters, who prey on vulnerable students by offering false promises of job security, educational opportunities or financial aid that never materializes. The government should provide for these basic needs without requiring military enrollment.

A clear message must be sent: This type of predatory behavior will not be tolerated anymore! The Bronx Antiwar Coalition is calling on all antiwar and anti-imperialist forces across the country to join us in protesting military recruitment at local schools and chasing recruiters out of our communities altogether. This is an issue we can no longer ignore — let’s show these recruiters they are not welcome here any longer!

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