November 23, 2009

15,000 people protest the SOA/WHINSEC

by Twin Ports SOA Watch

Some of the Northlanders at the protest. Photo: Margaret N.

As the mainstream media looked the other way, a major human rights gathering took place this weekend in Columbus, GA. Some 15,000 people from across the Americas converged there for three days of teach-ins, networking and a protest against the US Army's School of the Americas/WHINSEC. Resistance movement leaders and human rights activists from Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Colombia joined us -- a stark, country-by-country reminder that the US is not only taking the wrong path in Afghanistan, but in this hemisphere, too.

Dozens of people from the Twin Ports and Ashland took part in the weekend's events, including our largest ever Duluth student delegation. Rachael Kilgour represented the Northland at the main stage of the protest and at an evening benefit concert in downtown Columbus, singing some of her own songs and protest standards. In addition to official SOA Watch events, Duluth activists also joined migrant workers picketing grocery stores in Columbus for fair wages and stopped along the way in Atlanta to protest Coca-Cola's collaboration with death squads.

Despite occasional threats and harassment by Columbus and military police, the event went largely as planned. Michael Walli of Duluth was arrested on Sunday after he and three others attempted to enter Ft Benning. He refused to post bail but was released on his own recognizance on Monday pending a January trial.

Thanks to the Duluth Central Labor Body, the St Scholastica Monastery, and CSS Student Senate for making it possible for Duluth-area students to take part in this incredible event. Look for a report-back sometime in December, but in the meantime you can check out the photos after the jump.

People begin to arrive at Ft Benning's main gate. The Honduran coup and pending
US-Colombia military agreement are
at the forefront of everyone's minds.

Margaret N. from CSS stands at the main gate. Three rows of fencing and
hundreds of MPs protect the base from those dangerous college students and nuns.

Big brother was watching.

The crowds swell to the thousands. The roots of SOA Watch are in Catholic resistance movements, including many nuns and priests who served as missionaries and were themselves imprisoned and tortured under brutal right-wing regimes in Latin America. While the protest has grown more inclusive over the years, many symbols of the that early movement -- including white crosses to commemorate the dead -- remain.

This die-in along the route of the protest commemorates the 700 women, men and children massacred in El Mozote, El Salvador by SOA graduates in 1980.

CSS and UMD students collect donations to support SOA Watch.

A puppet pageant commemorated the 20th anniversary of the murder of 6 Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her 16-year old daughter at the University of Central America in El Salvador.

The weekend ended with a solemn procession to commemorate the victims of SOA graduates. As the names of thousands of victims were read aloud from the stage, activists transformed Ft Benning's main gate into a memorial.

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