Today, Zach Alexander posted on Facebook a CNN article that featured a Quaker who is working to keep military recruiters out of Wilkes County North Carolina high schools. This sentence struck me:
"The students need to know there are alternatives to the military," said Ferrell, a Quaker. "But they're not getting the other side."And it got me wondering what "other side" all the middle and owning class Quakers are offering poor and working class high school students, like Josh McGrady, 20, (also from the CNN article):
He was working at a Wal-Mart after spending parts of three years at a community college. His bills -- including student loans -- were piling up. His father worked at a window-and-door factory for 30 years, but McGrady says he didn't want that life. "You could be laid off at any moment."So I checked out Quaker House to see what they have to say about military recruiting.
Tired of struggling, he walked into the Wilkesboro Army recruiting office. His mother, an elementary school teacher, and father support his decision. But his sister, a bank supervisor, tried to talk him out of it. Three soldiers from the county have been killed in Iraq.
"She's worried I'm going to get blown up," McGrady said. He paused for a moment. "I'm a little nervous, too, but there's not much else here."
Lies, they say. Corruption too. They even explain how we can help, by running around proclaiming the truth.
As Quakers, we rely a lot on revealing The Truth as a means for change. Woolman did it, why can't we?
Because now, like then, economics is getting in our way. And I think our class privilege might be preventing us from seeing it.
McGrady needs a job that pays enough so he can live, and his options are limited. He went to public school and grew up in a working class family.
I didn't know college was an option until 10th grade. Even then, I didn't think my possibilities included most middle and upper class jobs like engineering or medicine.
The Army is telling McGrady that they'll pay for his college degree if he wants to go, take classes while he's in the army, comprehensive health care and generous time off, and generous compensation.
Does it matter that the Army is lying? That some of their recruiters are corrupt?
Sure. But what are we offering recruits other than the truth?
The Truth might be enough for middle and owning class kids, but it's not enough if you live on the edge of poverty, or you're one paycheck away from welfare or getting a good education means making it all the way through twelfth grade or getting an AA from your local community college where your mother works nights as a janitor so you get to go there for free.
And it's those folks whom the military recruiters are targeting.
What could we do, in addition to exposing the military for what it is?
Create a fund to give scholarships and job training to CO's and 18-year-olds who have to choose between poverty and military service. Help those same folks with their resumes and interview skills. Provide scholarship search assistance. Connect them with social services and help close loopholes to keep those on the borderline of poverty from falling farther. Make sure they have access to decent health care.
Finally, we have a number of fine institutions of higher learning that could provide scholarship for CO's and those young people who feel they have no other choice.
This is a lot to ask for. But I'm hoping it'll give you all something to chew on.
And I'm hoping that maybe some of you are already doing some of this work. Anyone?