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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Court Statements Greg Poferl's letter to his sisters and brothers in the American Postal Workers Union
Greg Poferl's letter to his sisters and brothers in the American Postal Workers Union PDF Print E-mail
December 30, 2003

I am writing to share the story of the struggle in which I have been involved in to close the Army's School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia.

For decades, the SOA/WHISC has trained Latin American soldiers. The record evidence, including United Nations Truth Commission Reports, shows SOA graduates have committed some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America including the assassination, torture and disappearance of labor organizers, religious leaders, students, health care workers and farmers. There have been numerous articles, videos and research about the SOA in addition to legislative action. In 2000, the House of Representatives failed by just 10 votes to close the SOA and conduct Congressional investigations. For anyone wishing to get further background please visit www.soaw.org. Also, there is an excellent book by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, ?School of Assassins? which is based in part on his experiences living in Central American and makes the case for closing the SOA and critically analyzes the harsh impacts of the military and economic powers connected to globalization (e.g., NAFTA and FTAA). He currently teaches at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Since 1999, I have been active in the labor caucus of the SOA Watch (SOAW) and have participated in protests, teach-ins, church liturgies and solemn memorials for the victims of the SOA. The SOAW has been supported by the National AFL-CIO and a broad-based coalition of faith-based organizations, teachers, students, union leaders and community activists have continued the struggle. This year there were over 10,000 involved in the demonstrations, many of whom, like myself, came from the AFL-CIO sponsored fight back campaign against the FTAA in Miami, Florida where we witnessed an oppressive, police state and the dismantling of democracy right here at home! Guns, greed and globalization held common ground in Miami and Columbus.

Although not being able to attend this year, my wife and two of my daughters have accompanied me over the years to Columbus. While there, we met many courageous people who have stood up against the terrorism and have been themselves victims of the atrocities committed in their Latin American countries.

Also, I?ve had a very personal connection to postal workers from Colombia and Paraguay whom I met at the Postal Americas caucus at the Union Network International Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2000. President Biller had assigned me to represent APWU at the conference. One spoke about ?feeling alone? as she and struggling unionists were threatened with death for their organizing activities. They recounted the stories of union organizers who had been assassinated or disappeared in Latin America. They were an inspiration to all of us at the conference. I was humbled by their courage.

I share these stories and experiences with you so you might better understand the reasons why I decided to participate in this year?s direct action of civil disobedience with others in trespassing on to Fort Benning to protest. We took oaths of ?non-violence? and considered ourselves privileged to stand in the tradition of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Gandhi and all those who have gone before us in the way of non-violence. We were arrested for the petty misdemeanor of criminal federal trespass to demonstrate. In solidarity, we all will be going to trial together on or about January 26, 2004. The maximum penalty is $5,000 fine and up to six months in federal prison. Sentences may vary but we were all prepared to accept the maximum when making our decisions to cross the line. Believe me, I prayed and thought deeply about the possible consequences for my family, my work responsibilities and myself. In my heart, I believe what I did was right.

My family and friends continue to inspire me with their love and support. I am grateful to President Burrus, who is knowledgeable on the issues and very supportive. My union brothers and sisters encourage me with their offers of assistance for my family and me. And, I am blessed to have the prayers and support of so many in my St. Mark?s parish.

Lastly, I would just ask that these stories be told ? that we continue together to seek justice, the dignity of workers and our rights to organize without fear of violence. For Christmas, I received a print of Cesar Chavez with the ?first day of issue? stamp (Los Angeles April 3, 2003) from a close friend. The artwork includes a quote from Cesar from which I find guidance.

?We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children. People who make that choice will know hardship and sacrifice. But if you give yourself totally to the non-violence struggle for peace and justice you will also find that people give you their hearts and you will never go hungry and never be alone. And in giving yourself you will discover a whole life full of meaning and love.?

The struggle continues!

In peace and solidarity,

Greg Poferl
National Business Agent
 

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