20,000 Gather at the Gates of Fort Benning to Shut Down the SOA

November 20th, 2005 - by admin

Chris Lugo / TNOMC.ORG – 2005-11-20 23:48:40


(November 20, 2005) — On the morning after a record crowd of 16,000 (Columbus Police estimate!) attended Saturday’s rally at the gates of Ft. Benning to protest the School of the Americas’ Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, an early morning crowd waited with anticipation for an even larger turnout expected at the annual vigil and civil disobedience.

About 100 members of Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans for Peace marched in chanting an antiwar cadence to open the ceremonies. They were followed by a group from a Buddhist dojo that had been walking from Atlanta to Ft. Benning since Nov. 12.

Beginning at 8:45am the crowds began swelling as the musicians collective opened the day with a round of “No mas! No more!” welcoming the protesters, many of whom were bundled up to stay warm on a cool fall day in central Georgia. The crowd was welcomed by SOA Watch Staff and presented with a list of non-violence guidelines.

Around 10:00am the crowd was entertained by the Indigo Girls and heard the words of Iraqi war Veteran Rev. Charles McKenzia of RAINBOW/PUSH, SOA Watch Rounder Father Roy Bourgeois and former prisoner Sister Diane Pinchot.

It was announced that the crowd size was estimated to be 20,000. Also speaking was Patricia Roberts, mother of Jamaal Addison, first soldier from Georgia killed in Iraq and Sister Helen Prejean. The funeral procession is set to begin at 10:30am and direct action beginning about noon.

Later on in the morning at 10:45am, the funeral procession began that each year commemorates the martyrdom of thousands of Latin Americans at the hands of death squads and armies led by School of Americas graduates.

As each name is announced from the stage in a solemn sing-song litany the crowd chants “presente” and participants circle the assembly grounds at the gate of Ft. Benning carrying crosses marked with the names. Soon the first contingent of civil disobedience activists will begin their nonviolent trespass onto the grounds of the military base that their taxes paid for.

In the afternoon, around 12:40 pm, some 16 protesters were reported to have crossed the line onto Ft. Benning, kicking off the civil disobedience phase of the protest. Among those arrested was Sister Mary Dennis, 63 of Oak Ridge Tennessee and Donald Nelson, 62 of Summertown Tennessee.

Nelson is a retired engineer technician and faces three months in federal prison.
Dennis, a seasoned activist from the Y-12 protests and SOA has been imprisoned previously for six months for crossing the line at Ft. Benning and faces the maximum federal sentence for this year’s action.

While the protesters were slipping through a hole in the fence on the south side of the front gate, the intonement of victims’ names continued, as the puppetistas wait to begin their allegorical pageant dramatizing popular resistance to imperialism and militarism.

This year’s puppet pageant focused on the story of Prof. Carlos Mauricio, who was one of many civilians arrested and tortured by graduates of the SOA. However, Mauricio and two other Salvadoran torture survivors were able to move to the United States after their release, where they successfully sued their torturers, creating a precedent for other cases including one that ended in the conviction of two SOA graduates responsible for the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Romero.

Later on in the afternoon, at about 1:40pm, some 40 people were reported to have climbed the fence to enter the base illegally and submit to arrest, a larger number than last year. Those who trespass are no longer served with “ban and bar” orders but face serious jail time, especially second offenders.