Poverty Is the New Draft

What follows is a conversation between professor As`ad AbuKhalil and Sharmini Peries of The Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

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 option. So I would attribute that to what’s happening at the schools and why they’re also making it an access to or 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 a 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.

Jacqueline Luqman: That is really interesting, especially because it seems like we’ve gone back to that sentiment in the black community with this conflict that we are hoping is a deescalating between the United States and Iran, where, as I said at the beginning of our discussion, there were a lot of memes floating around social media, on Black Twitter, on Facebook, and on Instagram kind of making light of the fact that this war with Iran, if it was going to exist, was not black people’s war. And I’m going to venture to say that some native Americans and some Latino people and certainly some poor people express the idea that they were not willing to fight another rich man’s war. But what were your sentiments? What were you thinking when you saw some of those memes come up on your social media timeline?

Erica Caines: I mean naturally as an anti-imperialist and an antiwar organizer, I didn’t find it funny. I found it kind of disturbing in a way because I don’t think that connections or I don’t think people understood why it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t that I didn’t… The common excuse was, was that this is just something that black people traditionally do. We laugh at our pain. But I counter that with, but this isn’t our pain. We’re not the people who are going to be affected by it and are the people complicit in it. I mean regardless if we are for the war, we are for candidates that push sanctions. We are for candidates that support wars and support these actions. And to remove yourself from these things and not consider your part, it just shows this vast disconnect and the kind of black apathy that I don’t recall ever seeing or reading a text or even speaking to elders about.

There’s always been that contradiction and it’s always been that battle between black veterans and black people who served and those who didn’t. But I think now what we’re seeing is just a sort of just don’t care. I mean, we noticed that with all these uprisings going around the world. There’s no real investment in it. Not in the days of of the Civil Rights Black Power Movement where we were distinctly antiwar and pushed the antiwar movement. We were the head of it. I know now they rewrite it and they put other people there, but it was a lot of black people standing down against the draft and refusing to take part of it. That really rocked the boat. And I think that we are so far removed from that now.

Jacqueline Luqman: Now, that seems to me that that’s a function of lack of political education especially when you mentioned the issue of sanctions where people in this country, and I want to get your thoughts on this, people in this country don’t think of the economic dire straits that marginalized communities are in and that it’s manufactured. Poverty is a manufactured condition in the United States. People don’t think that way. So when they’re talking about, they meaning the US government, talking about imposing sanctions on another country full of brown people or another country full of Muslims, or another country that this government has considered the other and the enemy, most Americans don’t think that that’s so bad as long as we’re not dropping bombs on people because it’s just sanctions.

But we experience economic sanctions in this country. Marginalized people do, and we feel the pain from that. But we cannot make the connection between the imposed economic conditions that cause young people to be more likely to look at the military as a viable option for getting a college education, for getting healthcare, for getting housing. We don’t connect that pain, that economic pain that is created here in this country with the economic pain that’s created when sanctions are imposed on another country. And so it seems easier to me for marginalized young people in this country to sign up to be a part of that imperialist machine because they lack the political education to understand the connections. What are your thoughts on that?

Erica Caines: Well, that’s what I think the big part of the antiwar movement is lacking. I think a lot of the criticisms of mass protests are partly valid. I think a lot of it is criticism for criticism’s sake, but there is a point that what do we do after we mobilize? We can chant anti-war. We can chant hands off Iran, but we have to really get the people to understand why it’s important. I think that that’s part of the reason why there’s such a huge disconnect. Again, I think that happened a lot during the Obama years where it was less, I don’t think people even understand how long we’ve been in Afghanistan or how long we’ve been in that region because we haven’t had to directly go there as often or how we visualize war with people boots on the ground.

It’s not how we’ve been doing war these last few years. We sort of turn that around with droning and sanctions. And I don’t think that people that sanctions are an act of war. I mean, when you are intentionally starving people and preventing them for the ability to get medicine, that is an act of war. When we look at what happened in Venezuela where thousands of people died, yet people were still referring to Maduro as a dictator and not look at anything wrong with America’s role and how and why people weren’t able to get food and medicine and such things in that country. The same thing with Iran. What’s happening in that nation is a lot of it is the cause of the US and we’re not understanding how war has changed, shifted more towards technology and more towards not needing to put our people in direct harm.

Jacqueline Luqman: So, Erica, the same survey that I mentioned earlier, the 2017 Population Representation in the Military Services Report from the Department of Defense says that of the young people they surveyed, 49% said that if they were to join the military, one reason for doing so would be to pay for future education. So young people who are joining the military do understand, especially marginalized young people who as you repeatedly made clear, recognize that they don’t have any options to achieve parts of the so-called American dream that they want to achieve, don’t have those options outside of the military. In that reality, how do we address this situation? How do we challenge this system of creating an environment in which young people feel they have no other choice but to join the military in order to get healthcare and a decent place to live and a college education at the same time we are challenging the imperialism of this government and at the same time that we are trying to educate a whole new generation of people into all of those things? How do we challenge this?

Erica Caines: So I think that in realizing that poor black and brown marginalized people are pushed and squeezed and kind of cornered into joining the military, I think that people say that also as a soft way of justifying why people join the military. They don’t actually say that to combat those reasons, but just to excuse it. And I think that’s another way that we kind fall complicitly in it, even if it’s not intentional. When you talk about the destruction and the devastation and all of the placement has caused, people go, “Well, it’s not the soldier’s fault.” Yeah. But in saying that we’re making this an individual issue and not actually challenging the structure and function of the US military. And I think the best way to do that is create mutual aid.

I don’t think that people understand that we’re not helpless. And I think that that’s just a fallback to make it seem that we are pretty helpless in this. So we have no choice but to join the military. And I think even in that, when we talk about why people are joining, they’re joining for individual reasons. They’re not joining for communal uplifting. It’s for an uplifting of themselves out of poverty or out of their situation or to a better way of life. But it’s not like it’s a communal effort.

And I think if more people were to join organizations that are focused on creating these avenues of mutual aid and basic community building, we can alleviate the amount of people that feel like, well the military is an option because I don’t have a house, I don’t have housing, I don’t have food, I don’t have education. And we’re helping to provide these things. Or we are seriously challenging candidates. If voting is your thing and you’re seriously challenging candidates about providing these things, then that’s one way that we can alleviate the amount of people that do join the military. But we’re not helpless.

Jacqueline Luqman: You mentioned… Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead.

Erica Caines: No, you’re good.

Jacqueline Luqman: So you mentioned joining organizations. What are some of the organizations that you can recommend for our viewers in Baltimore and even some organizations that our viewers internationally and nationally can look into?

Erica Caines: I am a member of the Black Lives for Peace, and I am in the Baltimore chapter and this is what we do. We do political education. We do disruptions. We show up at the marches. It’s not just a one facet thing. It’s a multifaceted. You have to combat at all angles. We are also linked up with Eugene with People’s Progress Party, which I am a member of that as well. And they do mutual aid in the community and in Baltimore they’re helping right now currently Douglas Homes fight to keep their housing. So there’s different organizations of people in different avenues of ways to combat this. But I fear that we’re always going to continue to fall back on. There’s nothing we do and the military is our only option. So for as long as we continue to do that and so long as we justify the strong and long arm of US imperialism, intentional or not.

Jacqueline Luqman: Well, we certainly have our work cut out for us, but we thank you so much, Erica, for coming on today and explaining why this situation with Iran really does involve black, brown, native, Latin and poor white communities, why it is their fight also, we’re just fighting it from a different perspective. So thank you so much for joining me.

Erica Caines: Thank you for having me.

Jacqueline Luqman: And thank you for watching. This is Jacquelyn Luqman with the Real News Network in Washington DC.

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