Judging from my email inbox and the crowds at the March 24 meeting, the answer to that question is — evidently yes. Last night was my most difficult meeting yet, because it was the evening our resolution to reinstate JROTC hit the agenda. I knew it was coming, I knew a number of people would not be at all happy to see my name as a co-sponsor, but knowing ahead of time you are going to upset or disappoint someone –even if you believe in what you are doing — doesn’t make it any easier to see the disappointment and anger in their eyes when they confront you face to face.
Of course, last night was just the beginning – there are a number of long, angry meetings yet to come and I should get used to it. I am sorry this issue is so contentious, I’m sorry that it’s impossible to find a compromise, and yes, I’ve given up trying to find one. The only way out I see is forward — reinstating the program, calming the supporters down, and continuing to work on alternatives that will give kids who don’t care for the JROTC program and their parents a leadership training option that doesn’t have a military connection. In the end, I hope what will happen is that kids will truly have a choice.
We did make some progress on that latter front, tonight: hidden in the consent calendar resolutions we approved was a contract for $30,000 with a consultant who will write the curriculum for our new SERV program. SERV will train students as emergency responders through a partnership with the City’s Office of Emergency Management. People are pumped up about the possibilities for this program and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to show that we can build an alternative that offers kids the mixture of public service, physical activity and leadership skills that JROTC proponents value.
I also want to acknowledge that in some circles, among a number of people I respect and care about, my decision to join with Commissioner Wynns in sponsoring this resolution is unimaginable and deeply wrong. By way of explanation, I can only say — I hear you, I understand where you are coming from, and after a lot of thought and investigation I’ve chosen to make an imperfect decision that, from where I sit, helps a lot of kids while hurting none. The data points that are most meaningful to me are:
- The program is voluntary;
- No child is excluded from the program, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ability or other criteria;
- We hire our instructors according to non-discriminatory SFUSD hiring practics;
- The number of children who eventually join the military is LESS among JROTC participants than those who have never taken JROTC;
- Kids who participate say in large numbers that the program helped them gain confidence, leadership and physical abilities they wouldn’t have had otherwise;
- A large number of San Franciscans feel, because of the passage of Proposition V in November, that this issue is unresolved and should be taken up by the Board. Similarly, a large number of San Franciscans feel, because of the passage of Prop. 8 in November, that the issue of same-sex marriage is unresolved and should be taken up by the Courts. It’s not so much that “the voters have spoken,” but rather that in regard to each issue, a large group of people feel disenfranchised by a narrowly-decided, hotly-contested decision.