Three years ago, I had to make a decision. I knew I believed in nonviolence- I knew I would rather die than fight in a war- these were conclusions that no matter how many times I challenged, I always returned to. But now I had a new sort of challenge, and one that I knew would have a direct effect on my life.
I had to decide, could I still respect my beliefs and sign up to be on a national list of potential soldiers?
Of course, my first reaction was one of repulsion. I always believed in presenting myself honestly, and never taking on a role that I couldn't fulfill.
But there were some pretty compelling reasons to question my reactions. For instance, the threat of felony. I knew it was unlikely I would be convicted for not registering (no one has since 1986,) but I had to face that possibility.
Was I ready to go to jail for up to five years over this?
More immediately, I would not be eligible for Federal Aid for college. According to federal rules submitted to colleges, I shouldn't be eligible for any financial aid. With my family's income, I knew this might rule out college altogether. This decision had the potential to drastically change my entire future.
Of course it did change my future, though not in just the ways that I'd thought.
The hardest part of my decision is not a part that I normally like to talk about. On the contrary, I'd usually rather laugh the whole thing off and say that it was no problem at all. But honestly, the hardest part was not that I could be punished, but that what I was taking action in opposition to my country.
It sounds strange for someone with a history of activism, but before I'd always been engaged in legal protests in which I was only one of a large group of like-minded people. Now I was taking illegal action, and making a statement that while peaceful and seemingly benign, was also one that I had go alone. And suddenly, it called up a whole slew of personal questions.
What does it mean to oppose a nation? Is this just fulfilling a 'rebel complex' in myself? Are my beliefs really worth violating a law? Will anybody else actually care?
Not all of these questions were useful to me, but I couldn't help but wrestle them throughout the year surrounding my 18th birthday. As much as I would like to say that this was easy, it wasn't. In the years since, I still have to take time to review my decisions, and remind myself:
I'm opposing this nation only in an effort to improve this nation- and respect myself;
Though being a rebel can seem attractive, to truly please my conscience I have to act with humility and respect;
I have to live by my own morals and ethics even before the law, though it can be a useful check;
And over and over, I talk to people who do care. It helps especially when I hear from people my age, or not yet 18, who are considering the same issues as me. I start to realize, whatever I thought, I'm not alone. Though this has felt like a personal challenge, in truth, it's shared by many others.
On the 28th of July I will file my case in Washington DC, asking for the right to register for the draft as conscientious objector to all war. For me, it's the culmination of years of wrestling with these issues, but I know it's not going to be the end.
When I'm speaking in High Schools, I know that this is the real test of my work. I only hope that what I do is going to be useful for another generation of people asking these same questions.