Jean Peerenboom, Green Bay Press Gazette
Scott Dempsky is preparing to go to prison for his beliefs. He was one of 40 activists who crossed a military boundary in Georgia at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly called the School of the Americas, on Nov. 20 and was arrested. He will be in court Jan. 30.
"There have been so many people killed in Latin America," he said. "They were working for reform, for democratic values, for church groups. Our tax money shouldn't be going (to train people who do this killing). We have to pay attention to some stuff, and for me, this is what I care about."
A rally to support Dempsky, 30, of Denmark and Del Schwaller, 81, of Appleton will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Green Bay. The short film "Hidden in Plain Sight" about the School of the Americas will be shown.
Dempsky and Schwaller were arrested at the Nov. 20 demonstration at Fort Benning, Ga. On Jan. 30, they will join 32 other human rights activists who are scheduled to stand trial for nonviolent resistance actions against the school, which they believe trains soldiers for terrorist activity in South America.
On Nov. 20, 19,000 people, including a group from St. Norbert College, De Pere, stood vigil at the gates of Fort Benning, remembering those who allegedly have been silenced by School of the America violence. The military erected a triple barbwire fence at the main gate of the base to prevent people from carrying the protest into the military base. Forty activists crossed the line by climbing over and going under partly dismantled areas of the fence and were arrested by military police. Columbus, Ga., police arrested bystanders and people who lifted the fence to open the space for the activists.
Dempsky is a bit apprehensive about a prison sentence, he said. "But, it's not the death squad or anything. I could do six months or something in prison. I don't know what the sentence will be. Typically, they send you to a prison near where you live. The closest minimum-security prison is Oxford, Wisconsin. That's not guaranteed, though."
St. Norbert College's Peace and Justice Center has been sponsoring an annual bus trip for students for at least the past five years, said Sister Sally Ann Brickner, director of the Peace and Justice Center. The group travels by cars to Milwaukee where it joins people from Milwaukee and Madison for a bus caravan. "The protest draws people from every state and from other countries," she said.
The goal is to get Congress to pass pending legislation to temporarily suspend the School of Americas and investigate the work being done there. The bill has 123 co-sponsors and the local group is urging Rep. Mark Green, R-Hobart, to sign on, she said.
Brickner said her involvement in the protests is personal. "The sisters in my community (the Bay Settlement Franciscans) have worked in Central America. We're very conscious how the foreign policy of the United States affects people in Latin and Central America, most especially people in poverty. Doing this is a way of being in solidarity and being a voice for the voiceless."
The Bay Settlement community had a mission in Nicargua for more than 30 years.
Protesting "definitely has an effect," she said. "It may not change the minds and hearts of the legislators or the military, but it has a way of sustaining the minds and hearts of those committed to social justice. As a person who has convictions, this is a way of acting on those convictions."
On the other side of the issue, Leonard Campos-Moya of Green Bay talked about the time he spent at Fort Benning and the School of Americas while he was in the 101st Airborne Division. Between 1986 and 1993, he attended the school for basic training and officer training.
"It's a basic infantry school," he said. "What we teach in the Army is according to the Geneva Convention.
"I think the public has such a lack of knowledge about happens in the military that things get distorted. No one is in a hurry to enter into armed conflict," he said. "I support free speech and the right to protest, but people need to look at the consequences of their actions, too. It might be more effective to work with local legislators."