November 30, 2010

Report from Fort Benning

some of the Twin Ports contingent in sunny Georgia at the SOA protest
photo: Tom Bottolene

Over the weekend of November 19-21, 10,000 human rights activists converged at the gates of Ft Benning, Georgia to protest the US Army-sponsored "counterintelligence" training at the School of the Americas (re-branded the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001). Labor organizers, religious communities, students and human rights workers from Canada to Chile were represented. The Twin Ports contingent included members of 1st Lutheran Church and Peace Church, students and faculty at UMD and the College of St Scholastica, and NAWC steering committee members Joel Kilgour and Coly Wentzlaff.

The 3-day convergence was filled with workshops, cross-border networking sessions, music, labor and religious caucuses, and a colorful street protest. City and military police maintained a heavy presence throughout the entire weekend, filming everyone in attendance and flying surveillance helicopters over the protest as well as hotels, meeting spaces and restaurants in downtown Columbus. Undercover police infiltrated meetings and prayer gatherings. In an move that was strongly condemned by the OSCE and media rights organizations, Columbus police arrested two Russia Today journalists for covering the protest. They were both found guilty of demonstrating without a permit. Dozens of other people were arrested for moving outside a pre-designated protest zone, and UMD students were briefly detained by military police on suspicion of "unlawful political activity on a US military reservation" after their car was deliberately diverted onto Fort Benning by Columbus police.

On the bright side, the movement to close the SOA/WHINSEC and change US policy in Latin America is alive and growing. In the past few years, SOA Watch, the group that has organized 20 years of protests at Ft Benning, has solidified relationships with partner human rights groups in Latin America and expanded its campaign focus to include a new project to monitor US military bases across the hemisphere.


Labor World: Area Activists Protest Georgia's SOA (15 Dec 2010)


  1. Write to SOA Watch political prisoners. Two human rights activists, David Omondi and Fr Louis Vitale, are each serving 6-month prison sentences for walking on to Ft Benning during the protest. Two more will soon face trial. For addresses, visit SOA Watch.
  2. Write to your member of Congress. As him to follow the advice of Amnesty International by closing the School of the Americas/WHINSEC and investigating its infamous torture manuals. Below are addresses for those of you living in NE Minnesota. It's especially important to remind Chip Cravaack that his new constituents expect him to take a strong stand for human rights and to work to close the SOA/WHINSEC:
Representative-elect Chip Cravaack
508 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Senator Al Franken
515 W 1st St
Suite 104
Duluth, MN 55802

Senator Amy Klobuchar
1200 Washington Avenue South
Suite 250
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Team Duluth volunteered to collect money for SOA Watch over the weekend.
Here's Drew Valle and Tressa Erickson charming the cash off the crowd.

photo: Chris LeBlanc

Flo Matamoros and Melissa Marvin (R)
chillin' with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

photo: Chris LeBlanc

Joel Kilgour (L), Coly Wentzlaff and Linda Gokee-Rindal (2nd and 1st from R),
with some of the United Auto Workers contingent

photo: Claire Farmer-Lies

Musicians lead the crowd in song from the protest main stage
photo: Claire Farmer-Lies

Linda (L) and Coly (R) at the entrance to the protest
No marbles, squirt guns or "tools that can be used to defeat a gate."
Seriously, Columbus PD paid money for this.
photo: Claire Farmer-Lies

The unruly crowd, safely contained behind police barricades
photo: Claire Farmer-Lies

Lots more scenes from the weekend, including a big Minnesota group photo. can be found at

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