Vol. 16, No. 9    April 24 - May 7, 2003


Anti-War Groups Rally at Recruiting Station


The war in Iraq may have been mostly over, but that didn't stop anti-war protesters from taking their messages to the military recruiting station on Fordham Road. 

About 35 members of Bronx Action for Justice and Peace (BAJP) and Sistas and Brothas United -- SBU -- (a local social justice youth group) lifted placards, and their voices, against the military's presence in Iraq and the recruitment of young people into the armed services. The protest was strategically situated in front of the military's small, but prominent, recruitment office on the Grand Concourse. Timed for April 15, tax day, the rally also focused on the high costs of the war and its toll on domestic programs.

"I think the priorities of the Treasury and federal government are all off," said Arun 
Aguiar, a local BAJP member originally from India.

Seven-year-old Amrit Datar agreed. Money should be going to the arts, not war, said Amrit, proclaiming herself a member of "Ballerinas Against the War" (membership of one) with a sign indicating such. "We've been watching TV coverage with alternative viewpoints," said Siri, Amrit's mom.

Days after Congress approved an additional $80 billion for the war, the high cost of the war was a focus of the rally. "We spent billions on the military this year and it's not enough," said rally organizer Mark Van Hollebeke, a Fordham University graduate student. "Is that a good way to spend your tax money?" he asked at the top of his lungs, as the rally was denied a sound permit. 

Aguiar is not happy with the way his tax money is spent. "Compared to the rest of the world, our resources are great," he said. "But we are using our resources for fighting the rest of the world rather than leading the rest of the world."

Mackey Brown, a Manhattan resident who was using his resources to shop on Fordham Road, also wondered about the country's economic priorities. "How can we have a billion-dollar deficit but still enough money to fight a war?" he asked.

Folk singer Stephan Smith, who played at the rally the day after finishing a 50-day tour, also faults Bush Administration priorities. "I feel it's important that the American public is aware of where their money is going to in an era when our children's education is highly jeopardized," said Smith, a Virginia native whose song, "The Bell," is a hit on the anti-war circuit.

The rally's reoccurring chant --"Money for schools, not for war" -- was something many passersby responded to favorably. But the event also sparked debate -- from jeerers muttering, "Get a job" to others asking, "What the heck is this?" 

Fordham resident Martha Richardson felt torn between both sides. "War is bad because people are dying," she said. "But on the other hand, people there were tortured by Hussein." Her 10-year-old daughter Kenyetta seemed more emphatically against war, eagerly accepting BAJP handouts. "She was scared by what she saw on TV," the elder Richardson noted.

Military personnel at the recruiting station reacted coolly. "They can have their opinion," said Petty Officer Angel Rivera, manning a table displaying military pens and pamphlets on a Navy tablecloth. "It doesn't affect me." 

Members of SBU, a part of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, spoke out against the war and military recruitment, which has been a big issue for the group since the federal No Child Left Behind Act passed last year. The Act authorized recruiters to access students' contact information from their schools.

"Why are they trying to recruit me?" asked Cesar Tejado, a student contacted at home by recruiters. "I haven't even finished high school yet."

Smith was encouraged by the rally, as he is by the larger anti-war movement. "A large and increasing number of Americans are part of this movement," he said. "It's the most encouraging sign of democracy in this country."

For Anita Antonetty, who came to the rally with small flags of Puerto Rico and Vieques, the war is just another example of America's undemocratic foreign policy. "Iraq has become a colony of the U.S.," said Antonetty, a Highbridge resident. "It can join Puerto Rico."

Antonetty, who heard about the rally from a flier, responded positively to the event. "I'm not a member [of BAJP]," said Antonetty, who also brought her son, Raul. "But I might be joining soon."

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