Humanity And Dignity Under The Gun


As a federal political action committee, mainly focused on electing progressive candidates to federal offices, Progressive Democrats of America has generally not weighed in on gun violence issues. That changes today. We have always held that an injury to one is an injury to all. Today, even as we grieve about the tragedy at the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, we are expressing our deep commitment to doing all that we can to end the severe and nearly constant level of gun violence in our nation.

Fifty people are dead in Orlando.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, more than 60 people were shot in Chicago. Unless we stand together to break this cycle of gun violence, tomorrow we will await the next breaking news story about the latest gun tragedy. While we have not yet formulated our specific position on gun control, we will be engaging our leadership, our chapters, and our base in this process. We simply cannot and will not accept a society in which mass shootings have become so commonplace.

As the horrendous massacre in Florida demonstrates, intolerance and hate as well as too-easy access to weapons of mass murder make a deadly combination. No other major nation on earth suffers from the unrelenting onslaught of mass murder by gunfire. Nations most-similar to ours–such as England, Canada, and Australia–have taken necessary steps to prevent mass-shooting tragedies as well as rampant gun violence. Only the United States has refused to act.

Our elected officials have failed to act, largely because of powerful special interests including gun and ammunition manufacturers. PDA calls upon these industries and their political operatives to stand down. In the name of common sense and human decency, stand down and let rational, thoughtful people address the epidemic of gun violence.

While, fortunately, horrendous hate crimes of this magnitude are relatively rare, abuse and crimes of hate occur daily. PDA calls upon the President, the Congress, and all state and local officials to finally treat this national emergency with seriousness and effectiveness. We also call upon all civil society leaders to condemn hate crimes and bigotry of any kind.

Together, we must defend ourselves against all forms of hate. From the bullying a gay or non-gender conforming child suffers, to Swastikas painted on the doors of a synagogue. From anti-Muslim words and even physical attacks, to the centuries of racism against people of color. From the virulent sexism targeting women to the nativism and xenophobia oppressing immigrants. All these acts of hate strike at the very heart of the American Dream.

Today we stand with all who value peace. We stand with all who value justice. We stand with all who support equality. We grieve for Orlando today as we have grieved for so many communities in the past, and we commit ourselves to ending the stranglehold the gun lobby has on American society and our democracy.

In solidarity,

Donna, Mike H, Judy, Mike F, Janis, Deb, Kim, and Conor
PDA’s National Team


Tell The U.S. Senate: Reject The China Bilateral Investment Treaty

Excerpt from: CREDO Action

Have you heard of the China Bilateral Investment Treaty (China BIT)? If you’re like most people, you haven’t. And there’s a reason for that.

Described by one trade expert as “more secretive than the TPP,” the China BIT is the latest in a series of corporate-sponsored, closed-door-negotiations trade deals that threaten to essentially give veto power over our own domestic laws and protections to foreign corporations, while exporting American jobs overseas.1

This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) all over again – a trade deal that’s come under major fire for giving away America’s jobs and consumer and worker protections – but negotiated directly with a country that’s perhaps the most notorious in the world for its own human rights violations, repression of free speech, and anti-democratic crackdowns.

The activism of CREDO members, along with our friends in the labor and progressive community, over the past year has put enormous pressure on TPP, and its passage through Congress is in question. We can help generate the same pushback against the China BIT, but only if we speak out and lay the groundwork right now. While the Obama administration continues its secretive, behind-the-scenes negotiations, we need to make a very public statement to the U.S. Senate that this deal must be dead on arrival.

Despite the tortured arguments we’ll hear from its supporters about why the China BIT should be ratified, treaties like the China BIT are gifts to multinational corporations, hedge funds, and private equity firms, and they have little to do with stimulating the economy for average Americans.

In fact, the China BIT would have the opposite effect. America’s judicial and regulatory systems and our respect for the rule of law are powerful incentives for keeping American companies, and American jobs, here at home. But with treaties like the China BIT and TPP, corporations would be allowed to challenge laws or settle legal matters in foreign countries through extra-judicial tribunals.2

With that power, corporations would have the freedom to freely move jobs and operations to countries with much lower wages, and fewer worker protections and regulations, with much less risk to their profits. And what do we get in return? The ability for foreign corporations –many of them state-owned in the case of China – the ability to challenge our own laws, protections, and regulations through those very same tribunals.

Supporters of the agreement argue that the China BIT would promote more foreign investment in America, but that ignores the fact that America already attracts more foreign investment than any other country in the world3 – much of it from countries who have no special ability to challenge and overturn American laws and regulations. Furthermore, the China BIT itself undercuts one of the main arguments for passing TPP: That it’s a necessary and strategic counterweight to China’s growing economic influence.

It’s clear that the arguments for passing deals like TPP and the China BIT are just a cover for what we know they’re really about: Giving corporations and investment firms increasing power to pump up their profits at the expense of American workers, the economy, and the regulations and protections that keep us safe.

Once the administration agrees on a deal, it’s up to the U.S. Senate to ratify it. But we can step in and put the Senate on notice right now that, just like with the TPP, a major fight awaits anyone willing to give a pass to secretive, pro-corporate deals like the China BIT.

  • Tell the U.S. Senate:
    “Reject the China Bilateral Investment Treaty. Say no to corporate trade deals that kill American jobs and give corporations veto power over domestic laws.”
  • Go to the below to sign the petition:

Thank you for your activism.

Murshed Zaheed, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

David Dayen, “The Job-Killing Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of: The China Bilateral Investment Treaty,” The American Prospect, March 18, 2016.
Elizabeth Warren, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose,” The Washington Post, February 25, 2015.
“List of countries by received FDI,” Wikipedia.

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.

Tell President Obama: Block The Biggest GMO-Chemical Merger In History

Excerpt from: CREDO Action

If you thought Monsanto was bad, this could be even worse: Chinese chemical giant ChemChina has begun a $43 billion merger with Swiss-based seed and pesticide company Syngenta to create one of the largest chemical and GMO seed companies in the world.

This proposed merger could have huge ramifications in the U.S. and across the entire global food system, where only six companies now control 75 percent of the world’s seed and agricultural chemical business.1 Further consolidation would put our food production system in the hands of even fewer multinational corporations, with the potential of unchecked use of more toxic chemicals and GMOs in our food supply.

A bipartisan group of members of Congress is calling on the Obama administration to more aggressively scrutinize the merger, with the potential of stopping it from moving forward.2 We must act now to pressure the Obama administration to stop this dangerous merger before it’s too late.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which is made up of 16 separate agencies from across the Treasury, Homeland Security, and Defense Departments, is preparing to review this proposed mega-merger for potential risks to national security. A group of lawmakers has voiced their concerns that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have been left out of the oversight process. It makes little sense to exclude from this vital investigation these agencies tasked with overseeing our food system.

The slow, yet persistent takeover of the U.S. food system presents a huge risk to food security and food safety, as many Chinese food companies are government-owned and operate with fewer safety guidelines than American companies. Just in 2014, a Chinese company bought the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Farms, in a massive $4.7 billion deal – the largest acquisition by a Chinese company of a U.S. corporation in history. The ChemChina-Syngenta merger is a further consolidation of the corporate stranglehold on our food chain.3

The risks to the American food system are far too great, and that’s why the Obama administration must do whatever it can to prevent this merger from going through and threatening our fragile food system any further.

Tell President Obama: Stop the ChemChina-Syngenta merger.

  • The petition to President Obama reads:
    “The unprecedented merger of ChemChina and Syngenta will put much of American and global food production in the hands of a single major multinational corporation. Block this proposed merger and protect our food system.”
  • Go to the link below to sign the petition:

Thanks for all you do.

Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets


“Sino-Genta?” ETC Group, February 4, 2016
Jacob Bunge, Lawmakers Raise Concerns About ChemChina’s Purchase of Syngenta,” Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2016.
“Who’s behind the Chinese takeover of world’s biggest pork producer?” PBS Newshour, September 12, 2014.

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.

Tell Congress: Audit The Pentagon

Over $1 trillion for a fighter jet that’s been in production for over a decade that has yet to see the light of day, and $150 million spent on private villas in Afghanistan for a “handful of staff and visitors” — those are just two examples of the waste, fraud, and abuse that led a story from U.S. News and World Report to call this the “Golden Age of Pentagon Waste.”1

The Department of Defense (DOD) receives more than half of the country’s entire discretionary budget — an astounding $500 billion in taxpayer money per year. But unlike other government agencies, the DOD is the only government agency that cannot be audited, and it has never produced a financial statement that can pass an independent audit.

In the wake of the recent and tragic terrorist attacks in Turkey, Belgium, Pakistan, and Afghanistan it’s more important than ever for elected officials in Washington to realize that the security of Americans can’t be bought with billions in unaccountable taxpayer dollars being thrown at defense contractors and weapons programs that can’t be justified. And when they do that, it comes at the cost of the strategic priorities and programs that will actually keep us safe.

With almost 60 cents of every taxpayer dollar going toward defense spending, it’s a situation that’s ripe for waste and fraud. The Pentagon’s spending deserves the same careful scrutiny as other government programs, and it’s time to do something about it. Fortunately, progressive champion Rep. Barbara Lee has been spearheading legislation in the House of Representatives to audit the Pentagon and impose a fee on any unit that remains unauditable. The Audit the Pentagon Act would cut by 5 percent the budget of any federal agency that does not produce a financial statement for the previous year that can be audited by an independent auditor.

Auditing the Pentagon already has bipartisan support. When Rep. Barbara Lee introduced her Audit the Pentagon Act of 2015, she had several Republican co-sponsors. And when Rep. Lee introduced the bill in 2014, even Grover Norquist, the conservative founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, was there to voice his support.2

In 2013, the Pentagon’s own Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction revealed that the Defense Department had “lost” at least $8 billion in Iraq and that it was impossible to track how a large portion of the $53 billion the U.S. spent rebuilding the country.3

It is outrageous for the Pentagon to evade the same standards we apply to other programs. This double standard contributes to the Pentagon’s out-of-control budget and culture of waste by sending the clear message that the Department of Defense department won’t be held accountable for its wasteful spending. It’s time for that to end.

  • Stand with Rep. Barbara Lee: Tell Rep. Mark E. Amodei to co-sponsor the Audit the Pentagon Act.
  • Tell your member of Congress:
    “Co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Lee’s Audit the Pentagon Act. Defense and military spending deserve the same scrutiny as other government programs.”

Go to CREDO Action to sign the petition.

Thank you for your activism.

Murshed Zaheed, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

William D. Hartung, “A Golden Age for Pentagon Waste,” U.S. News & World Report, February 3, 2016.
“Bipartisan Coalition Introduces Bill to Bring Greater Transparency and Accountability to Pentagon Spending,” Rep. Barbara Lee.
Neil Gordon, “SIGIR Says “At Least” $8 Billion Lost in Iraq,” Project on Government Oversight, March 8, 2013.

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.

Six Years Ago A BP Oil Rig Began Spewing Oil Into The Gulf –  Act Now To Stop New Gulf Drilling!

Excerpt from: Greenpeace

Keep It In The Ground

Make a public comment to tell the Obama Administration to stop new offshore drilling in the Gulf and all of our coasts.

It’s been six years since BP’s offshore oil rig exploded on the water, creating a massive leak that spilled 210 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico and took 87 days to plug up.

It was the worst oil disaster in US history and for residents of the Gulf, it’s STILL not over. There are still tar balls washing up on beaches, dolphins dying, fishermen without jobs, and communities changed forever.

We can’t afford to forget the consequences of offshore drilling. Take action today to stop new drilling off our coasts!

Despite the lessons learned in the BP disaster and the growing threat of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels, the Obama Administration is STILL considering allowing new drilling off the Gulf Coast. Communities along the Gulf Coast are still cleaning up the mess BP made six years ago and new drilling would be disastrous for Gulf communities and our climate.

More drilling is the LAST thing the Gulf coast — or any of us — needs. The Gulf cannot afford another oil disaster, and a warming planet affects all of us.

Tell President Obama: Stop new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, for the sake of our coasts, communities, and climate.

Thank you for remembering the BP oil disaster today. I hope you will continue to grow our powerful movement to keep ALL fossil fuels in the ground.

Thank you,

Kelly Mitchell
Climate Campaign Director, Greenpeace USA

P.S. If you have a few extra minutes to spare, call the White House at 1-888-369-5791 and tell the operator you want the administration to stop all new drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf and Arctic. Help the #KeepItInTheGround message get heard!


702 H Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20001 | 1-800-722-6995

It’s TimeTo Permanently End Our Public Lands Coal Giveaway

Excerpt from: CREDO action

The Department of Interior has begun taking public input on its review of the federal coal leasing program. This is a crucial opportunity to speak out against one of the most egregious and environmentally destructive federal programs there is. Submit a comment now.

If we are going to stop catastrophic climate change, we have to start keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

President Obama took an enormous step forward in January when he announced a temporary stop to new coal sales on federal lands,1 and a comprehensive review of our federal coal leasing program which has been, essentially, giving away our publicly owned coal to any company who wanted to dig it up — with no regard for the climate impacts.

The Department of Interior has begun taking public input on that review process.2 This is a crucial opportunity to speak out against one of the most egregious and environmentally destructive federal programs there is.

Stopping the federal coal leasing program would be one of President Obama’s single most important achievements to crack down on global warming pollution. But this program review will likely extend into the next administration, so our comments are important as the Department of Interior considers the scope of how comprehensive this review should be.

It has been more than 30 years since any updates were made to the federal coal leasing program. In that time, the urgency of climate change has come into sharp focus. Yet until January, the federal coal leasing program compelled the Department of Interior to undermine our fight against climate change by giving away coal on our lands to coal companies for pennies on the dollar.

A recent Greenpeace report found that nearly 80 percent of the coal mined by the three largest coal companies is publicly owned.3 That is a stunning level of corporate welfare to the very companies who have been using those profits to fund their lobbying efforts against climate action.

It’s time for our federal land use policy to re-align with the public good and our urgent fight against climate change. Our public lands should be preserved or used for clean energy production — not allowed to be pillaged by coal company executives profiting off destroying land, polluting air, and dangerously heating our planet.

We must permanently stop new coal mining on public lands. Submit your comment to President Obama and the Department of Interior now.

Thanks for speaking out.

Elijah Zarlin, Director of Climate Campaigns
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Learn more about this campaign.

“Obama Ends New Coal Leases On Public Lands,” ThinkProgress, 1/15/16
“Feds start public-land coal review process,” The Hill, 3/24/16
“Corporate Welfare for Coal,” GreenPeace,

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.

This Ex–Army Ranger Goes on Missions to High Schools—but Not to Recruit

Excerpt from: The Nation

08.04.16, 17:45

Early each New Year’s Day I head for Lake Michigan with a handful of friends. We look for a quiet stretch of what, only six months earlier, was warm Chicago beach. Then we trudge through knee-deep snow in bathing suits and boots, fighting wind gusts and hangovers. Sooner or later, we arrive where the snowpack meets the shore and boot through a thick crust of lake ice, yelling and swearing as we dive into near-freezing water.

It took me a while to begin to understand why I do this every year, or for that matter why for the last decade since I left the military I’ve continued to inflict other types of pain on myself with such unnerving regularity. Most days, for instance, I lift weights at the gym to the point of crippling exhaustion. On summer nights, I sometimes swim out alone as far as I can through mats of hairy algae into the black water of Lake Michigan in search of what I can only describe as a feeling of falling.

A few years ago, I walked across the United States with 50 pounds on my back for the Pat Tillman Foundation in an obsessive attempt to rid myself of “my” war. On the weekends, I clean my house similarly obsessively. And it’s true, sometimes I drink too much.

In part, it seems, I’ve been in search of creative ways to frighten myself, apparently to relive the moments in the military I said I never wanted to go through again—or so a psychiatrist told me anyway. According to that doctor (and often I think I’d be the last to know), I’m desperately trying to recreate adrenalizing moments like the one when, as an Army Ranger, I jumped out of an airplane at night into an area I had never before seen, not sure if I was going to be shot at as I hit the ground. Or I’m trying to recreate the energy I felt leaping from a Blackhawk helicopter, night vision goggles on, and storming my way into some nameless Afghan family’s home, where I would proceed to throw a sandbag over someone’s head and lead him off to an American-controlled, Guantánamo-like prison in his own country.

This doctor says it’s common enough for my unconscious to want to relive the feeling of learning that my friend had just been blown up by a roadside bomb while on patrol at two in the morning, a time most normal people are sleeping. Somehow, at the oddest hours, my mind considers it perfectly appropriate to replay the times when rockets landed near my tent at night in a remote valley in Afghanistan. Or when I was arrested by the military after going AWOL as one of the first Army Rangers to try to say no to participation in George W. Bush’s “Global War on Terror.”

I’m aware now, as I wasn’t some years back, that my post-war urge for limits-testing is not atypical of the home-front experiences of many who went to war in Afghanistan or Iraq in these years and, for some of them, judging by the soaring suicide rates among “Global War on Terror” vets, the urge has proven so much more extreme than mine. But more than a decade after leaving the army as a conscientious objector, I can at least finally own up to and testify to the eeriness of what we all brought home from America’s 21st-century wars, even those of us who weren’t physically maimed or torn up by them.

And here’s the good news at a purely personal level: The older I get, the less I’m inclined toward such acts of masochism, of self-inflicted pain. Part of the change undoubtedly involves age —I hesitate to use the word “maturity” yet—but there’s another reason, too. I found a far better place to begin to put all that stored up, jumpy energy. I began speaking to high school students heavily propagandized by the US military on the charms, delights, and positives of war, American-style, about my own experiences and that, in turn, has been changing my life. I’d like to tell you about it.


The first time I went to speak to high school students about my life with the Rangers in Afghanistan, I was surprised to realize that the same nervous energy I felt before jumping into Lake Michigan or lacing up my gym shoes for a bone-shaking work-out was coursing through my body. But here was the strangest thing: when I had said my piece (or perhaps I really mean “my peace”) with as much honesty as I could muster, I felt the very sense of calmness and resolution that I’d been striving for with my other rituals and could never quite hang onto come over me—and it stayed with me for days.

That first time, I was one of the few white people in a deteriorating Chicago public high school on the far south side of the city. A teacher is escorting me down multiple broad, shabby hallways to the classroom where I was to speak. We pass a room decorated with a total of eight American flags, four posted on each side of its door. “The recruiting office,” the teacher says, gesturing toward it, and then asks, “Do they have recruiting offices in the suburban schools you talk to?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t spoken to any on this topic yet,” I reply. “They certainly didn’t have an obvious one at the public high school I went to, but I do know that there are 10,000 recruiters across the country working with a $700 million a year advertising budget. And I think you’re more likely to see the recruiters in schools where kids have less options after graduation.”

At that moment, we arrive at the appointed classroom and I’m greeted warmly by the social studies teacher who invited me. Photos of Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and other revolutionary black leaders hang neatly on a wall. He first heard about my desire to talk to students about my wartime experiences through Veterans for Peace, an organization I belong to. “There is no counter-narrative to what the kids are being taught by the instructors in Junior ROTC, as far as I can tell,” he says, obviously bothered, as we wait for the students to arrive. “It would be great if you could provide more of a complete picture to these kids.” He then went on to describe the frustration he felt with a Chicago school system in which schools in the poorest neighborhoods in the city were being shut down at a record pace, and yet, somehow, his school district always had the money to supplement the Pentagon’s funding of the JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training) program.

The kids are just beginning to filter in, laughing and acting like the teenagers they are. I’m not encouraged. “

Okay, everyone, settle down, we have a guest speaker today,” the teacher says. He oozes confidence of a sort I only wish I possessed. The volume in the room dies down to something approaching a hush. They clearly respect him. I only hope a little of that will spill over in my direction.

I hesitate a moment and then start, and here’s a little report from memory on at least part of what I said and what happened:

“Thanks,” I begin, “for having me in today. My name is Rory Fanning and I’m here to tell you why I joined the military. I’ll also talk about what I saw while I was in that military, and why I left before my contract was up.” The silence in the classroom stretches out, which encourages me and I plunge on.

“I signed up for the Army Rangers to have my student loans paid for and to do my part to prevent another terrorist attack like 9/11… My training was sometimes difficult and usually boring… A lot of food and sleep deprivation. Mostly, I think my chain of command was training me in how to say yes to their orders. The military and critical thinking don’t mix too well…”

As I talk on about the almost indescribable poverty and desperation I witnessed in Afghanistan, a country that has known nothing but occupation and civil war for decades and that, before I arrived, I knew less than nothing about, I could feel my nervousness abating. “The buildings in Kabul,” I was telling them, “have gaping holes in them and broken-down Russian tanks and jets litter the countryside.”

I can hardly restrain my amazement. The kids are still with me. I’m now explaining how the US military handed out thousands of dollars to anyone willing to identify alleged members of the Taliban and how we would raid houses based on this information. “I later came to find out that this intelligence, if you could call it that, was rooted in a kind of desperation.” I explain why an Afghan in abject poverty, looking for ways to support his family, might be ready to finger almost anyone in return for access to the deep wells of cash the US military could call on. In a world where factories are few, and office jobs scarce indeed, people will do anything to survive. They have to.

I point out the almost unbearable alien quality of Afghan life to American military officials. Few spoke a local language. No one I ever ran into knew anything about the culture of the people we were trying to bribe. Too often we broke down doors and snatched Afghans from their homes not because of their ties with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but because a neighbor had a grudge against them.

“Most of the people we targeted had no connection to the Taliban at all. Some even pledged allegiance to the US occupation, but that didn’t matter.” They still ended up with hoods over their heads and in some godforsaken prison.

By now, I can tell that the kids are truly paying attention, so I let it all out. “The Taliban had surrendered a few months before I arrived in Afghanistan in late 2002, but that wasn’t good enough for our politicians back home and the generals giving the orders. Our job was to draw people back into the fight.”

Two or three students let out genuine soft gasps as I describe how my company of Rangers occupied a village school and our commander cancelled classes there indefinitely because it made an excellent staging point for the troops—and there wasn’t much a village headmaster in rural Afghanistan could say to dissuade history’s most technologically advanced and powerful military from doing just what it wanted to. “I remember,” I tell them, “watching two fighting-age men walk by the school we were occupying. One of them didn’t show an acceptable level of deference to my first sergeant, so we grabbed them. We threw the overly confident guy in one room and his friend in another, and the guy who didn’t smile at us properly heard a gunshot and thought, just as he was meant to, that we had just killed his friend for not telling us what we wanted to hear and that he might be next.”

“That’s like torture,” one kid half-whispers.

I then talk about why I’m more proud of leaving the military than of anything I did while in it. “I signed up to prevent another 9/11, but my two tours in Afghanistan made me realize that I was making the world less safe. We know now that a majority of the million or so people who have been killed since 9/11 have been innocent civilians, people with no stake in the game and no reason to fight until, often enough, the US military baited them into it by killing or injuring a family member who more often than not was an innocent bystander.”

“Did you know,” I continue, quoting a statistic cited from University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape, “that ‘from 1980 to 2003, there were 343 suicide attacks around the world, and at most 10 percent were anti-American inspired. Since 2004, there have been more than 2,000, over 91 percent against US and allied forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.’ I didn’t want to be part of this so I left.”


Chicago-area high school students aren’t used to hearing such talk. The public school system here has the largest number of Junior ROTC students—nearly 10,000 of them, 45 percent African American and 50 percent Latino—of any school district in the country. And maybe so many of these kids are attentive exactly because the last thing JROTC instructors are likely to be discussing is the realities of war, including, for instance, the staggering number of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans unable to assimilate back into society after their experience overseas.

When I urge the students to join me in a conversation about war and their lives, I hear stories about older siblings deluged by telemarketer-style calls from recruiters. “It’s so annoying,” one says. “My brother doesn’t even know how the recruiter got his information.”

“Recruiters have contact information for every junior and senior in this school,” I say. “And that’s the law. The No Child Left Behind act, signed soon after 9/11, insists that your school hand over your information to the Department of Defense if it wants to receive federal funds.”

Soon enough, it becomes clear that these students have very little context for their encounters with the US military and its promises of an uplifting future. They know next to nothing, for instance, about our recent history in Iraq and Afghanistan, or our permanent state of war in the Greater Middle East and increasingly in Africa. When I ask why so many of them signed up for the JROTC program, they talk about “leadership” opportunities and “structure” for their lives. They are focused, as I was, on having college paid for or “seeing the world.” Some say they are in JROTC because they didn’t want to take gym class. One offers this honest assessment: “I don’t know, I just am. I haven’t given it much thought.”

As I grill them, so they grill me. “What does your family think about your leaving the military?” one asks.

“Well,” I respond, “we don’t talk about it too much. I come from a very pro-military family and they prefer not to think of what we are doing overseas as wrong. I think this is why it took me so long to speak honestly in public about my time in the military.”

“Did other factors weigh on your decision to talk openly about your military experience, or was it just fear of your family’s response?” an astute student asks.

And I answer as honestly as I can: “Even though, as far as I know, I did something no one in the Rangers had yet done in the post-9/11 era—the psychological and physical vetting process for admission to the Ranger Regiment makes the likelihood of a Ranger questioning the mission and leaving the unit early unlikely—I was intimidated. I shouldn’t have been, but my chain of command had me leaving the military looking over my shoulder. They made it seem as if they could drag me off to jail or send me back into the military to be a bullet stopper in the big Army at any time if I ever talked about my service in the Rangers. I did after all, like all Rangers, have a secret security clearance.” Heads shake. “The military and paranoia go hand in hand. So I kept quiet,” I tell the kids. “I also started reading books like Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living, a reporter’s brilliant story of our invasion of Afghanistan as told from the perspective of actual Afghans. And I began meeting veterans who had experiences similar to mine and were speaking out. This helped boost my confidence.”

“Is the military like Call of Duty?” one of the students asks, referring to a popular single-shooter video game.

“I’ve never played,” I respond. “Does it include kids who scream when their mothers and fathers are killed? Do a lot of civilians die?”

“Not really,” he says uncomfortably.

“Well, then it’s not realistic. Besides, you can turn off a video game. You can’t turn off war.”

A quiet settles over the room that even a lame joke of mine can’t break. Finally, after a silence, one of the kids suddenly says, “I’ve never heard anything like this before.”

What I feel is the other side of that response. That first experience of mine talking to America’s future cannon fodder confirms my assumption that, not surprisingly, the recruiters in our schools aren’t telling the young anything that might make them think twice about the glories of military life.  

I leave that school with an incredible sense of calm, something I haven’t felt since my time began in Afghanistan. I tell myself I want to speak to classrooms at least once a week. I realize that it took me ten years, even while writing a book on the subject, to build up the courage to talk openly about my years in the military. If only I had begun engaging these kids earlier instead of punishing myself for the experience George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their cohorts put me through. Suddenly, some of my resident paranoia seems to melt away, and the residual guilt I still felt for leaving the Rangers early and in protest—the chain of command left me believing that there was nothing more cowardly than “deserting” your Ranger buddies—seems to evaporate, too.

My thought now is full disclosure going forward. If a teenager is going to sign up to kill and die for a cause or even the promise of a better life, then the least he or she should know is the good, the bad, and the ugly about the job. I had no illusions that plenty of kids—maybe most of them, maybe all of them— wouldn’t sign up anyway, regardless of what I said. But I swear to myself: no moralism, no regrets, no judgments. That’s my credo now. Just the facts as I see them.


I’m on an operation and that feels strangely familiar. Think of it as a different way to be a Ranger in a world that will never, it seems, be truly postwar. But as with all things in one’s mind: easier said than done. The world, it turns out, is in no rush to welcome me on my new mission.

I start making calls. I create a website to advertise my talk. I send out word to teacher friends that I’m available to speak in their schools. I’m prepared for my schedule to fill up within weeks, but a month passes and no one calls. The phone just doesn’t ring. I grow increasingly frustrated. Fortunately, a friend tells me about a grant sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union and designed to expose kids to real world educational experiences they may not hear about in school. I apply, promising to speak to twelve of the forty-six schools in Chicago with JROTC programs during the 2015/2016 school year. The grant comes through in September and better yet it promises that each student I talk to will also get a free copy of my book, Worth Fighting For.

I don’t for a second doubt that this will ensure my presence in front of classrooms of kids. I have nine long months to arrange meetings with only 12 schools. I decide that I’ll even throw in some extra schools as a bonus. I create a Facebook page so that teachers and principals can learn about my talk and book me directly. Notices of both my website and that page are placed in teacher newsletters and I highlight the Chicago Teachers Union endorsement in them. I’m thinking: slam dunk! I even advertise on message boards, spend money on targeted ads on Facebook, and again reach out to all my teacher friends.

It’s now April, seven months into the school year, and only two teachers have taken me up on the offer to speak. “He was comfortable and engaging with the students and in the students’ reflections the following day he was someone that the students clearly enjoyed talking with. I will definitely ask him to come back to speak to my classes every year,” wrote Dave Stieber, one of those teachers.

It’s finally starting to dawn on me, however. In our world, life is scary and I’m not the only one heading for Lake Michigan on cold winter mornings or gloomy nights. Teachers out there in the public schools are anxious, too. It’s dark days for them. They are under attack and busy fighting back against school privatization, closures, and political assaults on their pensions. The popular JROTC program is a cash cow for their schools and they are discouraged from further rocking a boat already in choppy waters.

You’ll bring too much “tension” to our school, one teacher tells me with regret. “Most of my kids need the military if they plan on going to college,” I hear from another who says he can’t invite me to his school anyway. But most of my requests simply go out into the void unanswered. Or promises to invite me go unfulfilled. Who, after all, wants to make waves or extracurricular trouble when teachers are already under fierce attack from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his unelected school board?

I understand and yet, in a world without a draft, JROTC’s school-to-military pipeline is a lifeline for Washington’s permanent war across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. Its unending conflicts are only possible because kids like those I’ve talked to in the few classrooms I’ve visited continue to volunteer. The politicians and the school boards, time and again, claim their school systems are broke. No money for books, teacher’s salaries and pensions, healthy lunches, etc….

And yet, in 2015, the US government spent $598 billion on the military, more than half of its total discretionary budget, and nearly ten times what it spent on education. In 2015, we also learned that the Pentagon continues to pour what, it is estimated, will in the end be $1.4 trillion into a fleet of fighter planes that may never work as advertised. Imagine the school system we would have in this country if teachers were compensated as well as weapons contractors. Confronting the attacks on education in the United States should also mean, in part, trying to interrupt that school-to-military pipeline in places like Chicago. It’s hard to fight endless trillion-dollar wars if kids aren’t enlisting.

Just the other day I spoke at a college in Peoria, three hours south of Chicago. “My brother hasn’t left the house since returning home from Iraq,” one of the students told me with tears in her eyes. “What you said helped me understand his situation better. I might have more to say to him now.”

It was the sort of comment that reminded me that there is an audience for what I have to say. I just need to figure out how to get past the gatekeepers. Believe me, I’ll continue to write about, pester, and advertise my willingness to talk to soon-to- be-military-age kids in Chicago. I’m not giving up, because speaking honestly about my experiences is now my therapy. At the end of the day, I need those students as much as I think they need me.

RORY FANNING, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of The Military and Across America and co-author of the forthcoming book Long Shot: The Struggles and Triumphs of an NBA Freedom Fighter.