Copyright © 2008 Marc Norton
The original version of this article was published in Beyond Chron
on July 7, 2008.
Supporters of the Pentagon's JROTC program (Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corp) turned in signatures on Monday, July 7, for their initiative aimed at the November ballot.
The initiative asks San Francisco voters to overturn previous landslide votes opposing both military recruiters in our schools and the war in Iraq, and declare itself in favor of the controversial military program.
JROTC supporters have collected over 13,000 signatures, according to press reports. The campaign needs 7,200 valid signatures to qualify. JROTC cadets were heavily involved in the collection of signatures, even though nearly all of the cadets are too young to vote or legally circulate initiative petitions. (The Chronicle carried a story Tuesday quoting a 16-year-old Balboa student who "spent the past five weeks collecting signatures.") The Department of Elections will need to look carefully at these petitions during the signature verification process.
If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, the stakes will be very high for opponents of JROTC. We will either win big or lose big. If the initiative passes, it will be a huge setback for JROTC opponents. What school district in the nation will consider getting rid of JROTC if even San Francisco voters declare support for the program?
On the other hand, if we defeat this initiative, it will send a resounding message to our local school board and to the nation at large that the Pentagon can be defeated, and that a military recruitment program like JROTC does not belong in our schools. This will be a material blow to the war-makers who want to keep troops in Iraq for the next "100 years."
Opponents of JROTC have at least one potential advantage in this campaign:
we can expect a huge gay and lesbian turnout to defeat the ban on same-sex marriage. JROTC is a discriminatory program. JROTC instructors are all retired military officers, and no military officer can be openly gay or lesbian while in the service -- they must live a lie their entire military career. JROTC cadets who are openly gay or lesbian would be required to go back into the closet if they choose to join the notoriously anti-gay US military. JROTC inevitably sends a homophobic message to our school children, both those inside and outside of the program.
Staunch opponents of JROTC include Mark Sanchez, the gay President of the school board; former school board member and soon-to-be state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano; and the well-respected tenant activist Tommi Avicolli-Mecca.
Both the Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Clubs are opposed to JROTC.
But, to win this campaign, opponents of JROTC have to get very serious, and fast. After all, we are fighting the Pentagon, not some backwoods volunteer militia. We will need a real, professional campaign organization that can draw together all of the disparate forces and resources necessary to wage a winning campaign in the very short time before the November election. We will need to craft a message that resonates with San Francisco voters, and find effective ways to get that message out. We will need to get to all the political clubs and endorsing organizations, and make sure that they take the right stand on their slate cards. All of this on a very crowded ballot, where we will be competing with numerous other campaigns for the voters' attention.
To put together such a campaign organization, we will need money, the mother's milk of electoral politics, like it or not. Hopefully movement organizations and individuals, both here and around the country, will see the importance of this campaign, and the necessity of a victory.
Some in this movement think that we can dispense with a professional campaign, and rely on a volunteer committee that meets once or twice a month -- and gives an equal voice to whomever shows up at whatever meeting. Despite the good intentions of most such folks, they show very little understanding of how electoral campaigns really work.
This campaign is already in the national spotlight. Last week Fox News ran a segment on San Francisco JROTC. They scoured the city for somebody to be the object of their often-scurrilous attack show. Fortunately, retired Colonel Ann Wright, a media-savvy activist and author (Dissent: Voices of Conscience), stepped up to the plate, and more than held her own. Who knows what fires we would be trying to put out now if one of our more verbose and less media-savvy local activists had taken the bait from Fox News.
We can expect that the pro-JROTC forces will hammer away at the fact that JROTC students are overwhelmingly Asian, and try to paint JROTC opponents as somehow racist. It will help us that three out of four of the Asian school board members -- Eric Mar, Jane Kim and Norman Yee -- voted to stop giving physical education (PE) credit to JROTC cadets, in order to put the school district in conformance with state law. The only Asian member of the school board in favor of continuing to ignore state law on PE credit is Hydra Mendoza, Mayor Gavin Newsom's "Education Advisor." The work of activists like Michael Wong of Veterans for Peace will also help to counter the inflammatory and bogus charges of racial prejudice.
The proponents of JROTC will repeat over and over again that "JROTC is not a military recruitment program." The repetition of this mantra calls to mind the opening lines of Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem, The Hunting of the Snark:
Just the place for a Snark!
Just the place for a Snark!
Just the Place for a Snark!
I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.
No less an authority than Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, the highest-ranking Asian officer in the U.S. military, testified recently before Congress that "30 percent of those youngsters [in JROTC]... end up joining the Army, either enlisting or going on to ROTC and then joining the officer population." Other official estimates range upwards of 40%.
JROTC proponents, trying to distance themselves from the Pentagon's clear desire to recruit cadets, claim that only a small number of SF JROTC students join the military. Usually they claim a 2% to 5% recruitment rate. When challenged, they can never cite any actual statistics to back up this figure.
But we are now the beneficiary of
an explanation of this figure by
Daniel "Jane Kim needs to die" Chin, who wrote Beyond Chron a couple of weeks ago to lambast me for my "barrage of flame and demagoguery." He dismisses me as a "glorified bellboy." I feel so shamed.
But the important part of Chin's letter is that he actually tries to explain the allegedly small number of SF JROTC recruits. He claims that he knows of a "mere" two cadets who joined the military, out of "the 2007 JROTC graduating class of about 74." This gives him a 2.7% enlistment rate.
What Chin reveals is that this statistic is a joke. At any given time in recent years, there have been about 1,600 cadets in SF JROTC classes. Yet his 2.7% enlistment rate relies on tracking only 74 of 1,600 cadets. What happened to the other 1,500 or more cadets after they graduated?
Chin doesn't know. The military isn't saying. And neither are the proponents of JROTC.
Just the place for a Snark!