By John O’Hagan
While many New Yorkers look to August as a time to escape the city, peace activists in Washington Heights are planning an Aug. 18 march through the neighborhood to raise awareness of the Iraq War and its impact on their neighborhood. “It is a good time,” says Michele H. Showman of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). “There is sort of a vacuum of organizing during the summer, and we thought we’d fill it.”
The march starts at noon and is tentatively planned to wind its way through the predominantly Dominican neighborhood from Bennett Park at W. 184th St. to Highbridge Park at Amsterdam Ave. and W. 170th St. Besides the ISO, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Northern Manhattan Neighbors for Peace and Justice, Our Lady of Esperanza Church, St. Mary’s Church, Harlem Tenants Council and a number of other community and antiwar groups will be participating. One destination will be the military recruiting station at 560 W. 181st St. “Kids in Washington Heights are targeted for recruitment,” says José Vasquez of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who grew up in the Bronx and was recruited into the U.S. Army straight out of high school. “The words ‘kill’ or ‘die’ are never mentioned in the recruiting process.”
“[In] our neighborhood, young people are very aggressively recruited,” says Alice Sutter of Northern Manhattan Neighbors for Peace. “I know of two deaths [from the war] in my immediate neighborhood.”
Organizers of the march look to raise awareness about “opt-out” forms that high school students can fill out and submit at the beginning of the school year in September. These forms prohibit school administrators from handing over students’ personal information to military recruiters. March organizers also lament the skewed priorities that pour billions into funding the war while young people in neighborhoods like Washington Heights struggle with overcrowded publics schools and the prospects of taking on crushing debt to go to college.
According to Sutter, George Washington High School has seen substantial cuts in subjects like art and music while the school’s JROTC program has dramatically expanded. “When they have a college fair, it is required to have the military there,” she added.
The High Costs of Empire
New York’s 15th Congressional District, of which Washington Heights is a major part, will contribute $262.1 million this year alone to help pay the cost of the Iraq War, according to nationalprioritiesproject.org, a database that tracks government spending. Spent differently, that money could provide any of the following:
• Construction of 18 new elementary schools
• 3,153 elementary school teachers
• 3,662 music and art teachers
• 43,193 university scholarships
• 1,490 units of affordable housing
• 47,645 people with free health care