61 arrested protesting School of Americas
William Warrick, III
January 1997

On Nov. 16 at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Ga., there was a demonstration by a number of peace groups demanding the closure of The School of the Americas (SOA), "a cold war dinosaur" as it's called by former instructor Maj. Joseph Blair, who spoke at the event.

Theme of the day, repeated in spoken word and written on signs carried by the participants, was, "Trails of tears ran from North to South. The truth shall not be silenced. We will speak for everyone."

Killing Native Americans is what the SOA is about, said Joan Staples-Baum, a Native American woman form the Tahoma Indian Center in Washington state. SOA Watch was the prime mover for the demonstration at which 61 people were arrested for walking on the base to try to place crosses bearing the names of its victims in front of the school.

I took part in the demonstration along with seventeen other members of the Gainesville chapter of Veterens for Peace (VFP) and Bruce Gagnon of the Florida Coalition for the Peace and Justice (headquartered near Gainesville). VFP chapters from Alabama, Minnesota, Michigan and other states were there along with SOA watchers from other areas of the country.

The SOA, as described by Maj. Blair "is a de facto Latin American military school that uses Latin American officers as instructors" to "teach democracy" to young officers of the military dictatorships of Central and South America. The school used to be in Panama, but back in the 1980's Manuel Noriega ejected the "school of coups" as he called it, and moved it to Ft. Benning.

The reason its graduates kill Native Americans is because the Native Americans continue to resist the holocaust brought on them by the European invaders. That is what the Sandinistas were about and the FMLN in El Salvador and now the Zapatistas in Mexico have rekindled the Flame. They continue to resist because they continue to be oppressed and the overseer and director of the oppression is the USA.

Pressure has been mounting in Congress the close the SOA and Rep. Joseph Kennedy has sponsored a bill to do just that. Although it had been rejected a couple times, Kennedy will bring it up again in the 105th Congress. It had received publicity in the national media, including Time magazine and the evening news on the major networks.

However, the event was blacked out by CNN and other networks. I know this because on of our VFP chapter members, a freelance reporter, offered a story to CNN and they turned him down. A local TV station was there when the 61 people walked on the base and they interviewed Maj. Blair, but that was the extent of the coverage.

The event was peaceful and none of the 61 trespassers was injured by the MP's that I am aware of. It took place at the front gate in front of the SOA Watch office, which is no more than 100 feet from the entrance. The exit lane from the base was closed off inside the post a mile or so from the gate, but the entrance lane was open and traffic went by unimpeded.

The expressions on the faces of the soldiers who drove by were stony, and some were hostile, but a substantial number of the African Americans gave us a smile and a thumbs-up. Blacks don't have any trouble understanding what the SOA is about. We've had lots of experience with that sort of thing before.

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