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Protesting Dirty Military Recruiting Tactics and An OpedNews Photographer Unfairly Arrested

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Most of you probably don't know this, but the US military (using well over 15 million of your hard-earned dollars) has recently opened up a center for teenagers to have "the army experience" by playing video games and going through "simulations" of Humvees and "operation centers." It's called The Army Experience Center (AEC), and it's a 14,500 square foot recruiting tool located in the Franklin Mills Mall in northeast Philadelphia. It's something that the military industrial complex - excuse me, I mean the army - wants to replicate across the country. Today I went to a protest in front of the AEC that was meant to shut it down for the day and hopefully lead to it shutting down for good. Go below the fold to see what happened, how I might be on national television, and some pictures.


Crossposted to,, and

The AEC is just what it sounds like - a rather disgusting military recruiting tool that exists to deceive kids into thinking that war is nothing more than a video game. I'm 16, and I can see how something like this would appeal to friends of mine. If it was just an arcade, I could have a fun time in there. But it's not just an arcade - it is a huge piece of propaganda that doesn't acknowledge the harsh realities of war. Like giving recruiters VIP access to high schools isn't enough, here is yet another attempt by the minions of the military industrial complex to militarize our culture and the nation's youth.

The protest was organized largely by World Can't Wait, but was also supported by:

  1. Student Peace Action Network (SPAN)
  1. Peace Action Montgomery (MD)
  1. Next Left Notes
  1. American Friends Service Committee -- Youth & Militarism Program
  1. Movement for a Democratic Society, Staten Island Chapter (MDS/SI)
  1. Gray Panthers, NYC Network
  1. The Granny Peace Brigade, New York City Chapter
  1. The Granny Peace Brigade, Philadelphia Chapter
  1. Pacem in Terris, Delaware
  1. Brandywine Peace Community
  1. War Resisters League, Delaware Chapter
  1. War Resisters League, Philadelphia Chapter
  1. The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR)
  1. Long Island Military Counter-Recruiting Committee of the Suffolk Peace Network
  1. Citizens for Legitimate Government
  1. After Downing
  1. Buxmont Coalition for Peace Action
  1. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Bloomington, IN
  1. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Philadelphia Branch
  1. Delaware Valley Veterans for America
  1. Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern
  1. Suffolk Peace Network
  1. Woodstock Veterans for Peace
  1. Veterans for Peace -- Thomas Paine Chapter #152
  1. Chester County Peace Movement
  1. Veterans for Peace -- Long Island Chapter
  1. Pax Christi, Long Island
  1. Veterans for Peace -- Chapter 31
  1. Veterans for Peace -- Chapter 96, South Jersey
  1. North Country Peace Group (Long Island)
  1. Northwest Greens, Pennsylvania
  1. New Hampshire Veterans for Peace

When I got there (about twenty minutes after it started), there were a few hundred people standing inside the mall, in front of the entrance to the AEC, chanting things like, "War is not a game," and "Shut it down." There were several press photographers (including one from OpEdNews who got arrested) and one videographer and reporter from Frontline. But more about them later.

There were a few of the organizers of the protest standing at the front of the crowd with their backs to the center, leading the chants. This included Debra Sweet, a leader of World Can't Wait, who was talking into a megaphone and leading some of the chants. A small crowd also formed within the mall and the AEC to chant "USA" against us, although half of them were just some local kids who were doing it to get a reaction. After about twenty minutes, one of the policemen who was standing slightly behind Debra told everyone that this was our first warning, and they were about to start making arrests.

Now, let me explain something to you. Probably three quarters of this crowd was over sixty years old. They posed no physical threat to anyone in the mall, everyone could get around us perfectly fine, and the crowd wasn't violent at all. The only thing we were threatening was the mall's profits and the perception of the AEC.

After the second warning, the cops arrested a few people - including the photographer mentioned earlier and Debra Sweet - and the rest of us were pushed outside by perhaps thirty police officers. By now, most people had left (afraid they were going to go to jail) and there was probably one police officer for every two or three protesters. It was basically a bunch of cops pushing senior citizens out of a mall.

PBS Frontline was there filming and since I was the youngest person there by my own free will, they decided to interview me. The reporter asked me a few questions (my name, why I was there, what my friends would think of the AEC), and she also interviewed my mom, who had driven there with me. Look for us on Frontline this Tuesday at 9PM - I'm the teenager wearing a water polo shirt (and check this website out, it's supposedly what the reporter was doing a story for)!

During the interview my mom pointed out that the AEC is coincidentally located across the hall from a skateboard park and skateboarding store. This just happens to be where a large amount of teenagers (read: potential soldiers) hang out.

I'd say the protest was a success. The Center got shut down for a few hours, it got some pretty bad press, and it got the local anti-war movement a bit active. It was neat going to a protest and standing up for something I believe in (although I guess this was standing up against something I don't believe in).

Luckily, it looks like the AEC might have to face economic reality:

The Army is spending less on marketing because the recession buoyed enlistment, said Maj. Larry Dillard, the center's program director. He doesn't think the military will be building any similar facilities in the near future.

"The recruiting environment has changed pretty significantly as unemployment has risen," Dillard said.

The center, which is in the Franklin Mills Mall in Northeast Philadelphia and costs about $4 million a year to run, looks like a huge, high-tech retail store. It features interactive video exhibits, nearly 80 gaming stations, a central seating area with armchairs and couches, a replica command-and-control center, conference rooms, and helicopter and Humvee combat simulators.

At its opening in August 2008, officials took pains to explain that the facility would handle enlistment but would also serve to teach the public about modern Army life; any mall shopper could wander in and talk with staff or look at the exhibits. Yet the Army also closed five Philadelphia-area recruiting offices when the center opened.

Local enlistment contracts are up 7 percent over last year, according to Dillard. And, reflecting a national trend, there was a 49 percent increase in the number of "high quality" contracts -- those with high scores on the placement exam, Dillard said. The Army recently raised enlistment standards, he noted.

It's unfortunate that more people will be sent into two senseless wars and that thousands more will be sent around the world to unnecessary bases, but in a way it's better than them being deceived into thinking that they'll simply be having fun shooting at "bad guys" for a few years, just like they did when they went to The Army Experience Center.

The police head back to the mall after a hard afternoon's work.

UPDATE: Author and activist David Swanson comments (on OpEdNews):

for godsake we're shutting the place down thanks to your work, and you quote their nonsense about an economic motive???

as if they didn't knwo the cost all along??

as if they don't want more recruits??

CLAIM VICTORY. It is nothing else. They will not announce our victories for us.


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Ross Levin a young activist who also writes for,, He first became active in politics in the 2008 presidential campaign through Mike Gravel's quixotic run for the Democratic (more...)
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