Over 10,000 Converge at Fort Benning Print
Columbus, GA ? Over ten thousand people gathered this weekend outside the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia in the most diverse demonstration yet of opposition to the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC), a combat-training school for Latin American soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, ?disappeared?, massacred, and forced into refuge by SOA graduates.

The gathering culminated today with a solemn ?funeral? procession. As of 5PM at least 30 people had been arrested after entering the base in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. They took this action despite knowing they likely face 3-6 months in federal prison. They are being held at the Muscogee County Jail in Columbus. Since protests against SOA/WHISC began over ten years ago, 170 people have served or are now serving prison sentences for civil disobedience.

?Prison will not deter us,? said Kathy Kelly, who was among those arrested today. ?We intend to close this school and to change the foreign policy that this school represents.? Kelly works with and helped initiate Voices in the Wilderness, a grassroots organization that campaigns to end economic and military warfare against the Iraqi people.

Yesterday the U.S. Military blasted music at high decibels from inside Ft. Benning, directed at the peaceful, permitted demonstration outside of the gates of the base. The music stopped late yesterday afternoon. Throughout the weekend Columbus Police used metal detectors to search every person attending the demonstration.

?We will not allow these blatantly unconstitutional attempts to drown out our voices,? said Bill Quigley, a professor of law at Loyola Law School, and lawyer for SOA Watch. ?These childish actions by the federal, state and local government only strengthen our resolve to stand up for our rights and all the victims of the School of the Americas.?

The Columbus convergence concludes a week of resistance to empire and corporate globalization. Thousands gathered in Miami to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and 200,000 gathered in London?during Bush?s visit?to protest the invasion and occupation of Iraq. SOA Watch organizers have been coordinating with organizers in Miami, and working in solidarity with organizers in England. Yesterday the three mobilizations released a joint statement of solidarity (see http://www.soaw.org/new/index.php?option=com_content&id=689).

?Our struggles are interconnected,? said Fr. Roy Bourgeouis, founder of SOA Watch. ?From the SOA, to FTAA, to the invasion of Iraq, our government?s foreign policy is serving the interests of a few, and making us a lot of enemies.?