For Immediate Release
Seven Arrested at Philadelphia Mall Over Military Recruiting Practices
300 Veterans, military families, religious leaders and voters rallied, marched and closed the "Army Experience Center" to decry the Army pilot program that entices teens with violent video games
PHILADELPHIA - Several hundred demonstrators from a coalition of 30 national and regional veteran, youth and peace groups, including the Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action, Student Peace Action Network, protested what they claimed were unethical military recruitment of teenagers at Franklin Mills Mall in northeast Philadelphia.
The protesters rallied at a church, then marched one mile to the Franklin Mills mall where dozens of police blocked them from entering the "Army Experience Center" (AEC). After nearly an hour of chants of "War is no game, shut down the Army Experience Center" and speeches, Bob Smith of the Brandywine Peace Community (a member of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 1,300 national and local organizations) delivered a criminal complaint (4) to a Captain at the AEC and to a representative of the mall's parent company, The Simon Property Group, Inc. After two police warnings, hundreds of protesters continued to chant and listen to speeches by Col. Wright and others, until the police arrested seven conducting civil disobedience by refusing to leave. Forced out of the mall, people continued to vigil and listen to songs by the Granny Peace Brigade outside the "red" entrance to the mall.
"The Army Experience Center is an abomination. It epitomizes the turn for the worse that the military was forced to take over the last eight years. It is misleading. It targets impressionable minors, and it propagates the glorification of war. I am utterly disgusted that the Army which I loved and in which I served so long has resorted to such a deceiving recruiting strategy," said Sergeant Jesse Hamilton, who served nine years in the Army including tours in Iraq. After receiving and honorable discharge, he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
Elaine Brower, 53, who sits on the board of Peace Action of Staten Island, was one of those taken to jail. She has been organizing against the AEC because she is the mother of a Marine who just returned from his third tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Col. Anne Wright, former State Department official of 16 years shouted, "We demand that our policy isn't militarism but diplomacy."
Critics of the AEC point out that it is not acceptable for alcohol, cigarette, pornography, gun manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to market to thirteen year olds. They claim those decisions are for adults and dying for something you believe in is also an adult decision.
One of the religious leaders present, Rev. Bob Moore, the director of the Coalition for Peace Action, preached, "War is not fun and exciting; War is hell on earth. If you're not old enough to drink you are not old enough to kill. No recruiting of our children!" He organized one hundred people to attend the protest."
With American's saying they want troops home from Iraq and becoming more concerned about our troops in Afghanistan, the military is finding it more difficult to recruit youth who disagree with U.S. foreign policy. "In its desperate approach to meet recruiting numbers, the military is teaching the wrong values to teenagers. Sugarcoating combat experience with virtual war is a dishonor to those with real war experience. That's why the Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) works with young veterans, and high school and college students across the country for truth and honor in recruiting," stated Jonathan Williams, Span's coordinator.
Police estimated over 200 participants while organizers claimed nearly 300 attended the rally at St. Luke's United Church of Christ, then marched with one lead 12' by 3' banner that said, "War is No Game, Close-down Army Experience Center" along Knights Road to the AEC where an enlarged version of the criminal complaint was handed over and stated, in part, "THAT: the Army Experience Center is therefore involved in the "Criminal Solicitation of Minors" - soliciting underage persons to act in a violent manner and thereby promoting and supporting criminal and corrupt behavior..."
The Pentagon is committed to establishing "Experience Centers" in malls across the country. The $13 Million, 14,500 square foot facility at Franklin Mills Mall boasts dozens of video game computers and X-Box video game consoles with various interactive, military-style shooting games as well as Apache helicopter and Humvee simulators that allow teens to simulate the killing of Arabs and Afghans. Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Rob Watson compares the Army Experience Center to "a heavy dose of candy cigarettes." (3) 200 packs of candy cigarettes were handed out with Watson's column at the protest.
After leaving the indoor skateboard park across from the AEC, one teenager wearing a helmet and kneepads, with skateboard in tow, quipped "skateboards are the solution," after grabbing a "War Isn't Working," Peace Action, bumper sticker.
For more information: http://shutdowntheaec.net
Founded in 1957, Peace Action (formerly SANE/Freeze), the United States' largest peace and disarmament organization, with over 100,000 paid members and nearly 100 chapters in 34 states, works to abolish nuclear weapons, promote government spending priorities that support human needs, encourage real security through international cooperation and human rights, and support nonmilitary solutions to the conflicts with Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. http://www.Peace-Action.org
Peace Action Education Fund's, Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) works with students on over 100 campuses nationwide. http://www.StudentPeaceAction.org
PeaceAction Montgomery, Coalition for Peace Action, Peace Action of Staten Island and BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action are all affiliates of Peace Action and helped organize the protest.