Poverty Is The New Military Draft

Many POC in the military are not necessarily patriotic, they're just out of options...Poverty is the new draft

Real News Network - January 14, 2020

Story Transcript

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jackie Luqman with The Real News Network.

Last week and this, Black Twitter was aflood with funny memes that seem to make light about how black people aren’t included in the “We’re going to war with Iran” sentiment because the push for this war wasn’t about black people or what black people wanted. But all jokes aside, are black and Latino and native and poor white people really sitting on the sidelines of America’s military actions, or are they more involved in them than they realize or would even like to be?

Here to talk about all the ways that black people, brown people, and poor people actually are the people most targeted by military recruiters, which puts them right in the cross hairs of military action, is Erica Caines. Erica is a local organizer in Baltimore and is the founder of Liberation Through Reading. You can find that on #liberationthroughreading on Twitter. Erica, thank you so much for joining.

ERICA CAINES: Thank you for having me.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So since the draft ended in 1973, militaries relied on an all voluntary service and has used strategies that target young people that include placing recruiters in schools. People don’t know where that comes from because it’s from the No Child Left Behind Act signed by President George Bush in 2002 which requires military recruiters to be granted the same access in schools that college recruiters are granted. Erica, how does this affect black and brown and indigenous and poor communities, and does it affect them differently than everybody else?

ERICA CAINES: Oh yeah. Well, as we can see, it’s a societal issue obviously. What we know is that we are, well, black and brown colonized people, are specifically targeted because they kind of corner us, squeeze us without options. I think a report just came out that said that this was the highest recruitment year specifically because they targeted student loan debt. What it is, is that the common thing that we are hearing is that black people are not necessarily patriotic. We are just out of options. So I would attribute that to what’s happening at the schools and why they’re also making it an access out of poverty the same way that colleges are used.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So Erica, what you’re saying is that the military is targeting young people who are out of financial and economic options. So what is going on is that it may not be a national draft, but it is what people called a few years ago, the phrase popped up a few years ago, a poverty draft. Is that pretty accurate?

ERICA CAINES: Yes. I would say that poverty in fact is the new draft. I think they are creating conditions, systemic and systematic conditions that are leaving poor black colonized people without choices. We’re seeing that we’re suffering from lack of healthcare. The military offers that. Lack of free education, the military offers that. Housing, the military offers that. So what’s happening is we’re kind of getting squeezed into if you don’t find yourself with the ability to go to higher education or go to college because you have been deemed not smart enough of or don’t have the money to get into colleges because higher education is not free, then the military is always the other option.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And actually the data from the Department of Defense actually backs up what you say because the 2017 population representation in the military services report indicates that nearly 20% of military members come from neighborhoods with a median household income of around $40,000 or less. Keeping in mind that in 2017 the median US household income was around $60,000, and that’s according to the United States census. So the things that military recruiters are doing, Erica, to entice kids in high schools and sometimes even from what I understand middle school to get them to sign up in the military seemed pretty nefarious. One of the things are military sponsored video game tournaments. But what are some other ways that recruiters might entice young people to join the military that their parents may not be aware of that are going on?

ERICA CAINES: I mean, I talk about this often about Girl Scouts of America, just with their partnership with Raytheon, even though that is not the military itself, it’s still an extension of the military. And I think that partnership, what it does is it normalizes that relationship or normalizes military or the US military existence. I don’t think that many people are aware that that partnership exists because a lot of the enticement with military is wrapped up in STEM or tech programs. That’s a big push. And I think that we see that push, especially during the Obama years. And I do want to say that it was especially during those years that you can see that black people, I don’t want to say became extra patriotic, but kind of gotten used to the idea of assimilating into being an American and what that meant and just that pride of America, and that all translated into acceptance of the military.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So I want to touch on really quickly what you said about black people in particular wanted to be accepted as American, especially under the Obama years. What’s the historical reference to that? Because I think there is a unique strain of the history of black people in this country that ties wanting to be accepted as American in military service. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

ERICA CAINES: I think that I try to be cautious in how I speak about military servicemen as individuals and just the function of a military because many black people do join, and we do have many black veterans. I think the difference now though is that when we speak to elders, we’re speaking to people who were drafted. We’re not necessarily talking to people who volunteered. Whereas now we have been involved in a war since I was a freshman in high school at 2001, and black people have since continuously volunteered.

And that disconnect I think is not necessarily a product of over-patriotism or the sense of pride of America, but I think that that disconnect really occurred during the Obama years where we got to see ourselves or somebody who looked like us represented this country that always denied us. And I think before we looked at, especially during the Bush years, we were incredibly anti-war because it was always looked at “this is a y’all thing, this is a us and them, this is not a black people’s war.” But then when it became a black president, there was no way to separate any conflicts. ...
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