Encouraging Critical Thinking at the 2016 Memorial Day Parade

It was a typical Memorial Day parade in Chicago. Sun shining, people smiling, flags waving, bands marching and 6,000 youth dressed in military uniforms . . . . 6,000 youth in military uniforms???

Yes, that’s Chicago – the most violent city in the U.S. and the most militarized public school system in the U.S. What should be a somber memorial for those killed in wars has become a recruitment parade for Chicago’s youth.

With over $600 million of our tax dollars being spent to promote the military, and the country being mesmerized by jet fly overs and “heroes”, who could possibly object to a parade filled with youth? We can. We’re the Chicago Chapter of Veterans For Peace and for the past several years we have been at the parade giving an alternative message – Education Not Militarization. We stress the need for critical thinking about militarism and its effects on youth, this city and this country.

This year we became more visible. For three months prior to the parade we had billboards across the city with the message “No military in Chicago Public Schools. Education, Not Militarization” and the web site NoMilitaryCPS.org.

Six of our members attended the parade this year – Eric Lobo, Kevin Merwin, Eldon Grossman, Rob Lamont, Jesus Cerrillo and Frank Fitzgerald. They passed out over 2,000 miniature billboard stickers and engaged the crowd.

Here are some of the comments from our members. Eric Lobo, who coordinated the event, said, “It’s very difficult to attend this event. It is so sad to see little kids in military uniforms being indoctrinated”. Eric was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune for 20 minutes, but they only gave him a few lines.

Jesus Cerrillo said, “I held the Chicago chapter VFP flag and jumped in the parade and marched along side the Marine JROTC youth cadets. I took about 20 steps before CPD escorted me off the parade. I then proceeded to walk on the sidewalk then re-entered the parade walking in the opposite direction of the parade. Once again I took about 15 steps before I was yanked by my backpack and escorted off the parade. I was amazed about how many youth where in the JROTC.”

Rob Lamont saw Rahm Emmanuel get out of his car and begin working the crowd. Rob took the opportunity to put a sticker in Rahm’s hand. Rahm said, “I don’t agree”. Rob responded, “We’re working on that”.

Kevin Merwin engaged many youth and attendees. He said many of the youth had never heard anyone disagree with the militarization process and appreciated him being there. One youth said, “you’re right”. Kevin was interview by Bob Koehler who wrote a great article for Common Dreams. Mr. Koehler says, “What’s the difference between education and obedience? If you see very little, you probably have no problem with the militarization of the American school system — or rather, the militarization of the impoverished schools . . . the ones that can’t afford new textbooks or functional plumbing, much less art supplies or band equipment.” Kevin also met Francis (Frank) Pauc. Frank is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He was an officer for six years, five of those as a helicopter pilot. He is now a pacifist. Frank wrote a book about his experiences called “A Father at War:Reflections of a father whose son fought in Iraq“.

It’s a challenge to go against a $600 million advertising budget and a culture that has been taught to glorify anything military, but nothing changes unless people take a stand. The parade was our spring focal point. Follow our social media pages for our continual challenge to the establishment’s plan for militarization.

Peace at home, Peace Abroad!

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