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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Court Statements Katherine Brown
Katherine Brown PDF Print E-mail
Thich Nhat Hanh visited Providence on my first night there last August. Having long admired how his writings, actions, and demeanor embody the principles of ?engaged Buddhism,? I felt his welcome was auspicious. My move to Providence signaled a coming back into the world after two years basically on retreat in northern California. My hope was that in making my new home in this vibrant inner-city I could somehow weave my practice, the lessons from skillful teachers over the past two years, and my previous work in the university and community into a life of more direct activism.

As I told Judge Faircloth when I took the stand, the combination of several factors led to my decision to ?cross the line? last November. Although my comments were unwritten, and I don?t recall them verbatim, the following is the gist of what I hope I said (except crediting friends by name, of course).

I have known of the SOA?s insidious teachings for decades. After college, I spent a year in Central and South America. That was long ago-- even before Panama kicked the SOA out of their country. One night at a rural Mexican fiesta my French friend Michel and I were interrogated by a drunken police chief. To my shame the guy proudly boasted that he?d learned his techniques from the US army. He was just playing with us, like a cat with mice, and he was too drunk to do much harm. Besides, we may have looked like hippies, but we weren?t stupid enough to be carrying anything that could be construed as incriminating. We left town the next day.

Later on that same trip I passed through Guatemala where I first heard inklings of the US involvement in the beginnings of what would later become an on-going massive and cruel assault on highland villagers. A month after my return to the US, Allende?s government in Chile was overthrown with the obvious support of the US. I remember writing a critical letter to our president at the time. But that was pretty much the extent of any attempt to express my distress about our nation?s policies towards our neighbors to the south.

I was at Creighton when the Jesuits and their co-workers were assassinated in El Salvador. Also while at Creighton I was invited to Columbia to meet with nurses from all over South America. I remember the shock of learning the horrible fact that gun shot is the #1 killer in that country. More people?including children?die from gun shot than for any other reason. Talking this over with our hosts, we noted the role of the US military in arming and training Columbian soldiers, and condoning violence against civilians and the destruction of farmlands and natural habitat in the name of drug control. Around this time, colleagues at Creighton began to attend the SOAWatch?s annual funereal march at Fort Benning Georgia to commemorate the people who had been killed or disappeared at the hands of SOA graduates. But I didn?t join them.

Until this past fall. When?I felt sick with 1) the country?s increasingly militarized and arrogant responses to uncertainty, in particular our obsession with threatening war in the Mid East as a purported antidote to terrorism, and 2) the sense that it was increasingly dangerous in terms of our own civil liberties, to say nothing of futile, to speak out against these policies. For months I?d been writing letters to Congress and just weeks earlier I?d walked in Seattle?s peace march.

Also, significantly, ?I had the time and spiritual readiness to go to Georgia. What better way to combine activism with my practice than to join this on-going faith-based non-violent action commemorating the victims of military violence?

I hadn?t planned on being arrested. But during the orientation session prior to the rally and memorial I understood that the SOAWatch is a mature organization, with enough spiritual grounding, political and legal savvy, and staying power to close the SOA. Maybe not this year, but very, very soon. They?d done their homework and come close, within a few votes in the House several years ago.

At the SOAWatch orientation in November I was deeply inspired by the courage of the people who spoke about their witness, and their willingness to stand in solidarity ?in prison if need be?with people in Latin America. The speakers weren?t strident or angry or righteous. Their patience, humor, simplicity, and intelligence made me feel welcome to join them at whatever level of involvement I felt comfortable doing. When we stood and read aloud the vow to non-violence at the end of the orientation, I was pretty sure I would risk arrest to bring attention to the need to close that SOA/WHISC?s and hold the school accountable for past deeds. I returned to my motel room alone to meditate. In the morning I knew that after the funereal march I would be following the blue banner with the dove and a broken sword to trespass into Fort Benning.

What I couldn?t have foretold was that just as I was to enter the Fort through a gap in a perimeter fence, I stopped for a second to reconsider. In that instant before me appeared what in Tibetan traditions might be thought of as a holy emanation?it felt that way to me. Smiling at me with tears in his eyes was a young man I recognized from the rally the day before when he spoke from the sound stage. A Columbian, he is a member of Hijos, a support organization for children whose parents have been killed or disappeared. I smiled back at him, and he said simply, ?Thank you.?

In that instant I understood what was being asked of me. The surface political act of trespassing transformed into the more nuanced spiritual act of offering. I understood from this young man?s gratitude that in offering myself to the officers on the other side of the fence, I could live fully for a moment in the very serious Bodhisattva vows I?d taken months before: this was a chance to benefit all beings. Who could pass up such an opportunity? Who would want to?

That?s why I was delighted to learn that the law allows one to plead not guilty while stipulating to the facts. No question that I stepped through the gap in the fence; no question that I heard the loudspeakers announce the charge of trespassing. I take full responsibility, gladly?joyfully! But, I don?t feel guilty of trespassing. I was offering myself, not trespassing.

In our engaging, even pleasant, interchange Judge Faircloth asked if I was aware of the consequences of my actions. I responded that I knew the possible consequences, but not the consequences. I assured him that I would accept whatever he determined the consequences would be, because I should be held accountable. I was grateful to be in a country, unlike many of the countries where SOA/WHISC graduates live, that cherishes the rule of law which holds people accountable for their actions. And further, when I learned of my sentence and fine, I felt only gratitude (at least in that instant!). As I told the judge, many many people were praying that my sentence bring about the most good for the greatest number of beings. And I trust this to be so.


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