Signature Waste of Time

An initiative that seeks to ban military recruiters from high schools is toothless. In fact, enforcing the sentiments of I-86 would actually be illegal.

Remember City of Seattle Advisory Measure 1? No? Think harder. It’s only been five months.

In case you’ve forgotten, Measure 1 was on November’s ballot. Its purpose was to “advise the mayor and City Council that every person in the United States should have an equal right to quality health care, and that Congress should implement that right.” Passage of the measure also was intended to advise the city “to take steps to secure that right, including: requesting legislation, supporting education and advocacy, publishing a report on local health-care access, and convening an expert panel to advise the city and private employers on improving insurance coverage for Seattle residents.”

Of course, Congress could not care less what a bunch of Seattle Bolshies think about “an equal right to quality health care.” But to absolutely nobody’s surprise, the measure passed easily, with 122,129 “yes” votes and only 53,506 “no” votes— about 70 percent approval.

Five months later, there are still approximately 45 million Americans without health insurance. No word so far on that report, or the expert panel.

Which brings us to Initiative 86, the newly announced citywide initiative campaign by a group calling itself College Not Combat. I-86 aims to discourage the military from recruiting in the Seattle Public Schools. The initiative’s backers, who will hold a kickoff rally Thursday, April 13, at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC), need to collect 17,000 signatures by the end of July to qualify I-86 for November’s ballot.

When you tilt at windmills, you support renewable energy. Symbolically, of course.

The problem with I-86 is not only the fact that it is strictly an advisory affair and therefore toothless. It’s a little worse than that. Enforcing the sentiments of I-86 would actually be illegal, as specified by the No Child Left Behind Act and as recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Legally, disapproving students, schools, PTSAs, and school boards can do absolutely nothing to keep military recruiters off the campus of any school whose district receives federal funding. Which, of course, includes Seattle and every other public school district in our state.

I-86, in other words, is meaningless. It’s another example of a recurrent phenomenon in Seattle politics: the symbolic liberal ballot measure that’s sure to pass but which will have no impact whatsoever and is therefore wasting everyone’s time.

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer article last week characterized organizers as hoping to “revive the anti-war movement in Seattle and make it tougher for recruiters to get access to students.” It won’t do the former and can’t do the latter. And while sponsors of such feel-good measures invariably want to use them to educate the choir—er, public—and draw attention to their issue, not only do most people already know that there’s a war in Iraq, and that it’s going rather poorly, but there’s already, both locally and nationally, a vibrant student-led counter-recruitment movement. SCCC is, in fact, the symbolic local home of that movement, after the notorious 2005 incident in which student protesters chased military recruiters from a campus Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.

So I-86 is actually worse than a waste of time. It draws time, energy, and money away from doing something better and more concrete to address the issue. Nationally, the military continues to fall significantly short of recruiting goals. The unpopularity of the war in Iraq is surely the major reason, but student hostility to the well-publicized patterns of lies and deceptions frequently used by military recruiters doubtless has a bit to do with it, too.

Instead of pounding sidewalks getting signatures from adults, why not research information on scholarships and other college funding alternatives and vocational training, and go into the high schools and the counseling centers and career days right alongside the recruiters and present that information to high-school students? Instead of generating PR, why not present youth with options? Facts? Counter-recruitment groups are forever in need of more people to help with this sort of unflashy, unglorious, but potentially life-changing work. Why not help them?

Nah. A ballot measure is easier. Bet it passes.