An Interview with Clara
Clara Lightner, a sophomore at Foss High School in Tacoma, WA, recently led a successful campaign to beat back an attempted administrative crackdown on the counter-recruitment group she helped form at her school. She talked with Left Hook co-editor M. Junaid Alam about how this victory has both been a product of and a motor force for growing anti-war sentiment among youth.
Alam: Clara, thanks for doing this interview with Left Hook. Was there a specific event that compelled you personally to take a stance against the war in Iraq? Were you against it from the outset, or was it more of an evolutionary process?
Lightner: I've grown up in a family that taught me that war was bad and that wars have always been for the profits of the rich and powerful. In high school, I started listening to punk music, like the Dead Kennedys, Aus-Rotten, Crass, and they exposed so many lies and stories that I hadn't heard before. It opened my eyes to why war was so wrong. It turned me into someone willing to stand up against the war and militarism.
Alam:When and how did your anti-war feelings translate into taking political action along with other students at your school?
Lightner: A few months ago I joined a group in Tacoma called Socilaist Alternative. They were working on starting a campaign to fight military recruitment in schools. That sparked my interest and I was really excited to work on making a difference at my school that could possibly impact the war machine and its power.
Alam: How did your group, Students Against the Draft and War, approach other students in making the case against the war and possibilities of a draft? How did other students receive your groups message?
Lightner:Mostly, we've passed out fliers at lunch-time and had students sign up for an email list. We've had a lot of support among students. There is a big anti-war sentiment among people my age and especially minorities who are aware of the fact that military recruiters target them for joining their wars. We've had some problems with the JROTC at my school, but mostly kids agree with our points of view and want the Iraq war to stop, don't want a draft, and want recruiters out of schools.
Alam:Youve noted in your previous solidarity appeal that things came to a head when the JROTC instructor pressured one of your teachers and the vice-principal about a counter-recruitment event your group had planned. Can you explain how the school initially justified shutting down your event?
Lightner: The school told us that we had to follow a special procedure to set up meetings and have guest speakers. This procedure was only for "controversial speakers". They said they had to clear our speaker with the school board attorneys or somebody like that before we could hold the event of have Ty Moore speak in the school. Unfortunately, speakers come in all the time for the JROTC with absolutely no problem. One of my teachers even had to risk getting fired to have [our speaker] at Foss.
Alam:Youve also noted in a follow-up announcement that, after sending out a solidarity appeal online, your group has won the right to hold the event, and has also seen several other of its demands met. Can you tell us what role you think the call for solidarity played in making the school administration change its mind, what groups helped you out in this campaign and how?
Lightner:The solidarity appeal definitely made this possible. The hundreds of phone calls to both the superintendent and my principal got their attention and made it clear that we are not a group that will back down when facing injustice. I'm not sure if it would have worked as well without the solidarity appeal. Also, Socialist Alternative has made this entire campaign possible. They started this whole thing and have helped me and given me everything I've needed during this. I've learned a lot from them about activism and have had their support and advice through the entire ordeal.
Alam:Can you detail those other demands your group had made which have now been agreed to?
Lightner: We had three key demands:
1. The right to find out 2 weeks before a military recruiter comes to my school and the right to set up a table to distribute alternative information and all the things the recruiters don't tell students.
2. The right to hold weekly meetings to establish our club, Students Against the Draft and War.
3. The right to hold our meeting with the video Military Myths and have Ty Moore speak on May 10th, to make up for the meeting they cancelled. Mrs. Schauss agreed to all three demands on Friday, May 6th. We hope she'll stick to them.
Alam:What is the general mood among the students at your school, both those who are a part of the anti-war group and those who just generally took interest in the campaign you initiated to have your meeting? Are you planning any future events?
Lightner: The students are very excited and relieved to know a campaign like this is going on at their school. Many students want to support us and become active members of Students Against the Draft and War. We are planning to have meetings to establish our club for this year, before we try to stage protests or walk-outs. The main thing we need right now is to get organized.
Alam:Todays high school students may be tricked or forced into becoming the cannon fodder for tomorrows wars. After winning a political battle to help raise anti-war consciousness among these students at your high school, do you feel optimistic about the potential for progressive politics and anti-war beliefs among the upcoming generation?
Lightner: I really hope that there are a lot of changes to the system of greed and capitalism. Many people in my generation are very aware of the lies of the government and the military. It is also a lot easier and more accepted for students to rebel and fight for their beliefs. I really think that my generation can be the one to change the way things are now, because it's not before long that the whole system will crumble. Things can't go on very much longer the way they are.
This copied from http://lefthook.org/Interviews/AlamLightner051305.html - Link broken as of Feb 2011
Clara Lightner can be reached at email@example.com. M. Junaid Alam, co-editor of the leftist youth journal Left Hook, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.