Trenton Antiwar Teach-In—“A Good First Step”

by John Leslie

This article, edited for Labor Standard, was written for Socialist Action newspaper.

On February 4, in Trenton, New Jersey, about 30 activists, students, and community members gathered for a Teach-In on the War and Counter Recruitment organized by the Trenton Antiwar Organizing Committee. The TAOC is a community-based project of the College of New Jersey Progressive Student Alliance, members of Socialist Action, Trenton ISO members, and other local activists.

The antiwar conference was conceived as a follow-up to our first action—a Veteran’s Day demo at the local recruiting station. One local organizer said, “This is a good first step in building a movement in Trenton where none existed before.” Trenton, the capital city of New Jersey, is a majority African American city with a large Latino community—both Puerto Ricans and more recent immigrants from Central America and Mexico.

The day kicked off with a greeting from the Rev. Karen Hernandez-Granzen, of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, where the event was held, who told us of the importance of counter recruitment organizing given the targeting of Latino and African American youth by the military.

The first panel consisted of Christine Gauvreau, of Connecticut United for Peace, who gave an overview of the current state of the antiwar movement, the crisis of the imperialist venture in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the tasks we face in building opposition to the war. She called for a combination of grassroots organizing around recruitment and the building of “democratic antiwar conferences based on one person, one vote where rank and file activists can vote and shape the direction of the movement.” Gauvreau also stressed the potential of the April 29 demonstration to mobilize the largest numbers since the invasion and that this presents a “challenge to all of us to hit the streets and neighborhoods” to build the largest possible turnout.

Gauvreau was joined on the panel by Ian Chinich of Rutgers Against the War (RAW) and Mike DiMolla of the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN). Both spoke at length about university activism against recruitment and the repression activists have faced from university administrations and campus cops.

One example is the attempt to suspend Iraq veteran, and Kent State student, Dave Airhart. Airhart faces disciplinary action for climbing up a military recruiters’ rock wall in October to hang a banner that read “Kent, Ohio, for peace.” DiMolla also spoke about the struggle on his campus at CCNY to defend 4 activists who were arrested for a peaceful protest against recruiters. One, a staff member, was fired and is fighting to get her job back. The other 3 are students who were suspended from the College without due process.

During the lunch break participants discussed energetically about the possibilities of building a democratic statewide coalition and a unified local action on the anniversary of the Iraq war.

The afternoon session of the conference began with a clip of the new film, “Before You Enlist,” which is still in production, and a dialogue with the filmmakers: Richard Blofson, Dan Preston, and Scott Neilson, who described the purpose of the film, not so much as antiwar propaganda, but as a tool for giving youth thinking of joining the military an idea of what being in the armed forces really means. The film includes interviews with returned Iraq vets, as well as Vietnam vets, and exposes the half-truths and falsehoods told by recruiters.

The final session of the day was a presentation by Connecticut counter recruitment activist Marela Zaccarias, of Latinos Contra La Guerra. Zaccarias gave an excellent talk focused mainly on high school counter recruitment activism with suggestions on how to gain access to the schools, how to talk to administrators, and how to reach out to the students. She spoke at length about the race and class dimensions of the military’s targeting of working class youth, especially Latinos and Blacks. Several of the participants are high schools students and we hope to support them in their efforts to organize in their schools.

Our next steps as organizers on the local level are to build better organic links with local organizations rooted in communities of color and reaching out to students and parents. Trenton Antiwar Organizing Committee also plans to mobilize locally around the anniversary of the war and to build for the April 29 demo in New York.

Socialist Action supporters from New Jersey and Connecticut set up a literature table, selling 15 newspapers and several pamphlets.