Main content

Non-Military Options for Youth/Sustainable Options for Youth Records


Held at: Swarthmore College Peace Collection [Contact Us]500 College Avenue, Swarthmore 19081-1399

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

"Nonmilitary Options for Youth (NOY) was founded in 1997 by Pamela Mosley and Vera Shirley, as an outgrowth of a spiritual community they were part of called One World Family. Pamela was a mom of two young boys and was concerned about militarism, especially in schools, and Vera was a longtime member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and had been a proponent of nonviolence since August 6, 1945 as a response to the horrors of the atomic bombings of Japan, when her own first-born son was just a few days old.

Pamela and Vera gathered others who were concerned about militarism in our schools and began by collecting literature from the organizations working on these issues like the American Friends Service Committee, Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and the Project on Youth and Nonmilitary Opportunities. Pamela and others debuted NOY with a table at the Earth Day Festival in Austin in April, 1997. They contacted teachers or counselors they knew in some of our local schools and staffed literature tables and made some classroom presentations that included local veterans who were involved with the local Veterans for Peace (VFP) chapter. Everyone in the group over the years has been a volunteer, and funding has come from several grants, yard sales, donations from church groups and many individuals, including those of us active in the group. We did not seek 501c3 status.

Pamela was a good organizer and provided a firm foundation for NOY. In 1999, she felt called in other directions and asked to pass along the leadership to others. I began co-coordinating NOY at that time, and fortunately, a fellow Quaker, Kate Connell, who had recently moved to Austin, co-led the group with me. Members of VFP also were vitally involved. Kate moved away after a few years, but later formed the group, Truth in Recruitment, a counter-recruitment group in Santa Barbara, CA that is still active today.

We created literature displays for all the high schools in our public school district to place next to the recruitment information, establishing contacts with school counselors and librarians. We did some classroom presentations after sending letters to all social studies teachers offering ourselves as classroom speakers. We achieved official permission through the Legal Counsel of our district to be present in the schools in an "equal manner and location" as military recruiters.

Our group grew in size, with participation from students, parents, veterans and peace activists as 9-11 and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq heightened concerns about a possible draft and as anti-war activity increased in Austin.

In 2005, a student group called Youth Activists of Austin (YAA) formed and collaborated with us in a campaign to restrict recruiter access in our high schools. NOY continued tabling in the schools, surveyed students to get their feedback, and spoke along with YAA activists at school board meetings and directly with school officials to propose a policy of recruiter restrictions. YAA organized protests and street theatre (a "Better Well-read Than Dead" read-in at school district headquarters) to highlight the campaign. In 2006, we achieved a new policy, which created an opt-out box in student registration forms, formalized permission for counter-recruitment in schools and put some limits on how and where recruiters could contact students on school campuses.

When Kate moved away, VFP member, Thomas Heikkala, became NOY co-coordinator with me, and one of his focuses was creating packets of material explaining the process of becoming a Conscientious Objector in case a draft was reinstated. The concept of conscientious objection was not well-known among high school students, and we wanted them to know how to build their own files of documentation and to get them thinking about their own views on whether or not they could take part in war. Thomas sent out many packets of info to young adults who requested them, and The Farm, an intentional community in TN where he had once lived, kept a CO registry for anyone who wished.

I was also involved in other anti-war activity, including support for GI resisters who were beginning to speak out about their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. A GI Rights Coffee House called Under The Hood was established in Killeen, TX outside of Ft. Hood, and a number of Austinites were involved in keeping that going for several very active years.

Thomas' wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and Thomas had to withdraw from NOY work while he cared for her. About that time, Hart Viges, an Iraq War veteran who had been discharged as a Conscientious Objector, became active with us and was a mainstay in the years that followed. Tamela Minnich, a school counselor who had just retired also joined us fortuitously as co-coordinator when Hart had to move to Seattle temporarily.

We continued with our school visits, mostly during lunch hours and career fairs, making our tables more interactive as time when on, experimenting with different kinds of giveaways and discussion issues. To attract students, we offered either something to eat (fortune cookies, home made peace cookies …) or something to wear (buttons, patches, t-shirts…) We saw how little students had been learning in schools about nonviolent movements like the US Civil Rights Movement, so we focused not only on warning about the realities of military life and offering nonmilitary options, but on peace education and alternatives to war. Kids were also becoming more aware of environmental issues, and we began making more connections between environmental sustainability and peace. To reflect this focus, and to also make our group name more positive, we changed it to Sustainable Options for Youth in 2010. The acronym, SOY, was also appropriate, because in Spanish, it means "I am," which dovetailed with our message, "be who YOU are in the world."

Thomas, a carpenter, had built for us a wooden Peace Wheel of Fortune, an idea that came from Project YANO in San Diego. On the wheel we put photos of various peacemakers and events, which we changed out according to what was current, and we asked students to spin the wheel and let us know what they knew about that person or event, giving them a flier with info about all the folks on the wheel. The Peace Wheel became a great student magnet at our tables.

Because the Marines brought chin-up bars to their tables in the schools, we decided to do the same, so Hart, who could physically carry the equipment and could DO pull-ups began bringing a bar along to our tables, and this also was a great student magnet. We made the point that being a peacemaker takes a certain kind of strength and courage.

Gradually, we added other activities to our tables, including art projects and a "t-shirt challenge," whereby students earned t-shirts by trying the Peace Wheel, finding a country on the globe, responding to reflection questions, looking up environmental info, and other ideas that we added over time. It seemed that the more we invited students to do, the better they liked it! We gave away hundreds of t-shirts, buttons, stickers, cloth patches, etc. in addition to the fliers and pamphlets over the years.

Another local activist, Susana Pimiento, who had been on staff with the FOR, began joining us in 2014 for our tabling, and she was a great addition, especially as she spoke Spanish fluently. There are many immigrant students in our schools for whom English is their second language.

In 2015, we began another campaign with our school board to further tighten restrictions on military recruiters after learning about 3 local military recruiters being charged in sexual assaults against students, two of whom they'd initially met during school recruiting events. I researched the cases, and our SOY group met again with school district officials to propose the added restrictions, which were passed by the board without argument. It was very discouraging to learn about these cases, especially since the issue of sexual assault in the military was one of the military realities that we stressed, and we had thought the 2006 recruiter restrictions would have helped prevent such egregious abuse.

As far as we know, SOY was one of just 3 organized counter-recruitment groups in Texas. Peaceful Vocations was active in Ft. Worth, and a group did similar outreach in Houston schools.

I wrote a number of op-eds for the Austin paper and online publications as a way to publicize our group and amplify the voices of students and GI resisters whom we met and worked with. Some students also wrote articles for their school newspapers, and our group was included in the 2007 counter-recruitment handbook, "Army of None," by Aimee Allison and David Solnit. Authors, Seth Kershner and Scott Harding also interviewed us for their book, "Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools," published in 2013.

Other forms of outreach we used: poetry contests, giving talks for other youth-oriented organizations, participating in regional and national counter-recruiting events, talking to church groups, holding fundraising yard sales, carrying our banner and tabling at other anti-war events, keeping a blog for our school visit reports, and in recent years, a Facebook page.

As NOY/SOY co-coordinator, I have felt extremely grateful for all the folks who joined our efforts over the years, especially as gaining school access and working with school officials can be daunting, and it usually involves arranging work schedules to be able to do the outreach during the middle of the day. Talking to students about the grim realities of military life and war also can be draining and triggering, especially for veterans. Confronting the huge institution of the US military can seem like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. Despite these obstacles, I feel that we served an important purpose, and our interactions with students energized us. We always learned from them, just as we hoped they learned from us. Even for students who didn't come up to our tables or talk with us, our signs, banners and ourselves - especially antiwar veterans- showed that there are people in Texas who challenge the status quo regarding the military. Above all, I believe we always showed that we cared, most importantly, about every student's welfare, wanting them to live long, healthy, creative lives, and to be themselves."

Written by Susan Van Haitsma (NOY/SOY co-coordinator, 1999-2019)

This collection is unprocessed.

Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Collection Inventory

Print, Suggest