To help expose and close the School of the Americas, Rebecca Johnson, an Oberlin College student, will abstain from food from January 1 to January 31. Simultaneously, Johnson will vigil daily at the main entrance to Ft. Benning on Ft. Benning Rd. in Columbus, GA.

Ft. Benning hosts the U.S. Army's School of the Americas and its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC). The taxpayer-funded SOA is known as the School of Assassins because many of its graduates have been implicated in large-scale and widespread human rights abuse in Latin America. The WHISC is widely perceived as the SOA's clone, and is scheduled to open January 17. The "reform package" that created the clone passed in the House of Representatives by a narrow 214 - 204 vote margin. It has been called cosmetic by even the school's supporters.

Johnson's vigil fast comes in the wake of the November 19, 2000 Vigil Action at Benning's entrance sponsored by SOA Watch. She joins the struggle of over 1000 Ohioans who gathered at the gates to voice their opposition to the School of Shame. On that day over 3000 people of conscience risked arrest for "crossing the line" onto the base bearing white crosses inscribed with names of SOA victims.

Over 2000 vigilers were booked and given ban and bar letters forbidding them to return to the base. It is not known how many will be prosecuted. One protester, Josh Raisler Cohn, is to be tried in Federal Court in Columbus on Jan. 22 for rappelling down a Benning water tower and unfurling a huge anti-SOA banner on Nov. 29.

Johnson's vigil and fast recalls Fr. Roy Bourgeois' water-only fast at the same Benning gate in 1990. That fast inaugurated the School of the Americas Watch, the grassroots organization that has persistently sought the closure of the SOA.

Johnson, 21, a college senior and native of Cincinnati, OH, says, "By changing the name of the SOA, our government is trying to distance itself from past atrocities committed by SOA graduates. I am here to say that we still remember. The ‘new’ focus of the Institute is to fight the war on drugs in Latin America. We need to fight the war on drugs by teaching farmers economic alternatives to growing coca for cocaine export, not by giving their military guns and training."