Initiative Drive Begun to Restrict Military Recruiting

January 28th, 2008 - by admin

Judith Scherr / Berkeley Daily Planet – 2008-01-28 22:28:57

(January 25, 2008) — Berkeley peace activists are gearing up to circulate a petition to place a measure on the November ballot restricting where public and private military recruiters can locate within the city.

“Most towns regulate adult-oriented businesses—the initiative is modeled on that,” said Sharon Adams, the attorney who wrote the initiative, which is signed by former Councilmembers Carole (Davis) Kennerly and Ying Lee (Kelley) and Code Pink activist PhoeBe Anne Sorgen.

While Adams said she believes the government has to follow local zoning ordinances, Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan told the Planet that “in general, the city can’t regulate the state, its entities or the federal government.”

There are times when the government will waive its rights, such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s agreement to be regulated by the city’s hazardous waste regulations, Cowan said.

The city attorney’s office does not weigh in on the legality of citizen-sponsored initiatives, Cowan added.

Major Wes Hayes, Marine Corps Recruiting Command spokesperson, responded to the Planet by e-mail: “To answer your question; the Marine Corps works closely with the Army Corps of Engineers when determining the locations for recruiting offices all around the country. The ACOE takes all lawful regulations and zoning requirements into account before recommending locations of any Marine Corps Recruiting Office.”

The impetus for the initiative is that anti-war activists were surprised one day last fall to find a Marine Recruiting Center located smack in the heart of perhaps the most anti-war city in the country. Berkeley has passed several resolutions opposing the war in Iraq and supported the impeachment of the president and vice president for their role in taking the country to war.

Led by Code Pink, individuals and various groups—including the World Can’t Wait, Grandmothers for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, the Middle East Children’s Alliance and more—have been demonstrating for about four months on most weekdays outside the recruiting center at 64 Shattuck Square.

The city can’t ban recruiters, Adams said. “Prohibition would be a restraint on the First Amendment right of speech.” But she says she believes they can restrict the recruiters to certain areas and create law where a public hearing would be mandated before permitting the recruiters to do their business.

Entitled “Initiative Petition Establishing Zoning Requirements for Military Recruitment Offices and Private Military Companies,” the measure would prohibit locating a public or private military recruiting office within 600 feet of a residential area, school, library, health clinic or a building used for religious assembly.

“The Berkeley community has spoken strongly in opposition to U.S. policy of military aggression,” said Lee, a library trustee and activist with the committee supporting Ehren Watada, the first commissioned military officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.

Keeping youth from being lured into combat “is a health and safety issue,” Lee told the Planet. “We have the right to say no to pornography stores—why can’t we say no to those who promote killing and torture?” she said.

If the initiative passes, it won’t affect the existing recruiting office.

On Jan. 30, at noon, pro-war activist Melanie Morgan of KSFO Radio and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink are planning to debate the question of the role of the military in society—the debate will be held outside the recruiting station at 64 Shattuck Square, Adams said.

Zanne Joi of Code Pink, one of the organizers of the debate, said its purpose is to keep the war “front and center.”

A frequent protester at the recruiting station, Joi said: “Our hearts are broken every time we’re there, to see people who say we’re fighting for our freedom—we need to educate and inform.”

In October Morgan organized a counter- demonstration outside the recruiting office, which attracted hundreds of pro-war demonstrators, outnumbering the anti-war protesters.

Petitioners will need to collect some 2,000 signatures to get the initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot.

On Tuesday, the City Council will address a resolution from the Peace and Justice Commission:

• Asking the city attorney to investigate what the city can do with respect to the military recruiting office, given a conflict between the military’s prohibition against recruiting homosexuals and the city’s laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

• Asking the city manager to write letters to various U.S. Marine officials, telling them “that the marine recruiting office is not welcome in our city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders.”

• Encouraging those groups that “volunteer to impede, passively or actively, by nonviolent means, the work of any military recruiting office located in the city of Berkeley.”

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