Stand and Be Counter

By Amalia Oulahan

Illustrator: AP / Wide World Photo by John M. Harris

Photo: AP / Wide World Photo by John M. Harris
A student at Youth Empowerment School in Oakland, Calif., joins an anti-war protest opposing the presence of military recruiters in public high schools and colleges.

In the world of high school options and influences, foggy messages make navigation difficult. Trying to maintain a clear direction can be challenging, especially when it comes to dealing with recruiters. But a number of resources are available for students, parents, and teachers who want to use their moral compasses.

According to New York State Peace Action, information is the essential tool for deciphering cryptic propaganda and protesting military recruitment in schools. Students can set up their own counter-recruitment efforts, armed with fliers for their classmates explaining plans recruiters will not share and alternatives to military service. For sample brochures and facts to distribute, check out or

Students can begin now to think about their ethical opposition to war and explore the possibility of becoming official conscientious objectors. Conscientious objectors, people whose personal belief systems conflict with military service, are exempt from obligatory military involvement. In case of a draft, having a list documenting anti-war activities and beliefs in a personal file can make it easier to apply for conscientious objector status.

In many high schools where military recruiters are a big presence, conscientious objector groups are not allowed equal access to students. This inequity can be an important organizing tool for student counter-recruitment groups. For more information about conscientious objector status, see or contact the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.

Parents who want a piece of the activism can work through their school districts, school administrators, or as individuals to combat recruitment for combat. Sound off at message boards, or follow some ongoing adult counter-recruitment action.

Before recruitment at school begins, parents should submit an “opt-out” form, available at, to prevent the release of their children’s personal information to the military as per the No Child Left Behind act. They can also encourage school administrators to make opt-out forms (or information about the forms) available in packets distributed each school year.

Organized groups of community members can help protect students from the influence of mobile, interactive recruitment centers. According to, recruitment van schedules are public information, and the military is required to provide them upon request. These visits can be cancelled if schools receive enough complaints before listed dates. Students, parents, and community members can also discuss the role recruiters have at career fairs.

Search “counter-recruitment” in the “Issues” database on, and read stories of some successful past and present parent/teacher counter-recruitment mobilizations, like the Sylmar High School “delete-your-name campaign” and the Students for a Democratic Society chapter at Century High School in Santa Ana, Calif. More resources on military recruitment, counter-recruitment efforts across the country, opt-out forms, and conscientious objector status applications are available at

Taking advantage of available information and strategies on recruitment can be the difference between life and death for teenagers. Some of these resources can help make sure we don’t get lost along the way.

Amalia Oulahan is a senior at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee. She is an editorial intern at Rethinking Schools.