Pacifists for War

How the fractured counterrecruitment movement includes those hoping to bring the draft back

April Owen says activism is in her blood.

She went to her first anti-war protest with her mother when she was 9 years old. "I was in pigtails chanting, 'I won't die for Texaco,'" she says.

At a more recent protest, Owen and 250 of her fellow activists gathered on the corner of 16th and Mission streets to support the newest offshoot of the modern anti-war movement -- counterrecruitment.

Anti-war paraphernalia was strewn over tables at a 
recent counterrecruitment conference.
Paolo Vescia
Anti-war paraphernalia was strewn over tables at a recent counterrecruitment conference.
Sgt. 1st Class Victor Farrier.
Paolo Vescia
Sgt. 1st Class Victor Farrier.

Thousands of Americans who are growing more adamant in their opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have tied their hopes of ending the warfare to counterrecruitment. In San Francisco, it has emerged as a mixed bag of both direct action and symbolic legislation.

Amidst a sea of black-and-white signs that read "College Not Combat: Yes on Prop I," people amassed on a Saturday morning in September to support the nation's first citywide initiative to fall under the banner of counterrecruitment.

Owen stood on the outskirts of the crowd, next to a large green sign that read "Don't Die for Recruiter's Lies." She wore gigantic sunglasses that hid most of her small face, and her long blond hair was shoved into a messy ponytail. She was linking arms with a friend, who wore a dark green T-shirt that read "Yes to rain forests" on the front and "No to capitalism" on the back.

Owen says she hates both Democrats and Republicans. "This is a time for new ideas," she says. And she thinks America would be better off without a military. The American people, she says, need to spark a new revolution. Owen's ideas for attaining revolution, however, are unconventional. And her reasons for being involved in counterrecruitment can only be described as counterintuitive.

"We need something to happen," she says. "[Counterrecruitment] is about action, forcing action."

Like many who have recently come to call themselves counterrecruiters, Owen has very specific opinions about what the growing movement should aim to do.

"We've got to stop them from taking our poor and our minorities off to war," she begins. "Then we've got to chop our military off where it lives, in the lies and manipulations that get people to join in the first place. When the soldiers are really hurting because there are no new recruits, then we're getting somewhere."

Pausing to add the caveat, "I mean, I support the troops, but ...," she continues to outline the plan that some of the supporters of Proposition I and counterrecruitment have come to believe in. "We need outrage and power, like in Vietnam. Basically, we need the draft."

With another pause, she adds, "When rich white kids are being sent over there and their moms and dads are angry that they are dying, then this war will finally end."


Owen's paradoxical opinion of using war to bring peace leaves her in the minority among counterrecruiters in San Francisco. But the concept of liberals in the anti-war movement conspiring to bring the draft back has become increasingly common over the last two years.

Owen's views, which are both praised and emphatically dismissed by other anti-war activists, also highlight the growing divide within the counterrecruitment movement. Nationwide, it has become a fractured and feuding effort. In San Francisco, a quiet dispute has emerged between the counterrecruiters who say they are working for concrete change and those who have spent the last 10 months preparing a symbolic, nonbinding resolution for the Nov. 8 election.

Arguments are erupting, in part, because counterrecruitment is not easy to define.

Many say they are using counterrecruitment as a means to bring a swift end to the war in Iraq. Others have been labeled counterrecruiters because of their efforts to protect student privacy from a government database that has been collecting names, addresses, and telephone numbers of high school students for recruiting purposes.

For the dozens of college students who have participated in direct-action campaigns that have shut down military recruiting events on campuses in San Francisco and Santa Cruz already this year, counterrecruitment is about both ending the war and ending discrimination.

Still others have been calling themselves counterrecruiters for decades. They are slowly working to rid schools of military programs, like the JROTC.

In San Francisco, Proposition I is the legislative effort of the local campaign.

Prop. I is a nonbinding ballot initiative that asks the San Francisco Unified School District to consider changing the policy that allows military recruiters on campuses. It also asks city officials to come up with more alternatives for college scholarships and job training to keep low-income kids from succumbing to the "economic draft." The group responsible for the initiative, College Not Combat, gathered 15,000 signatures to land Prop. I on the November ballot.

Members of every sect of the new movement are represented in the Prop. I effort. Aimee Allison, of the College Not Combat steering committee and a member of the Green Party, focuses on privacy and students' rights. Prop. I Campaign Director Ragina Johnson says her focus is on bringing an end to the war in Iraq by starving the Army of troops.

"If they don't have enough people to fight the war, then they can't fight it," reasons Jeremy Tully, 24, who represents the International Socialist Organization on the College Not Combat steering committee.

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