CAPITOL CAMPESINOS and PENTAGON POLICE Print
These words rang out over the speaker system on the U.S. Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. every day at noon from April 19 through the 29. Each day the "bailiff" in our street theatre would begin, "In the case of the People versus the United States Army School of the Americas and the Codefendants, the SOA trained military of..." whatever Latin American regime was on trial that day..."the charges are: War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, and Brutal Human Rights Abuses." Our "judge" would begin the proceedings as our "prosecutor" and "Uncle Sam" would present their opening statements while eight "campesinos" tied together with ropes, wearing ponchos, sombreros, and a sign around their neck indicating their country of origin, sat on the steps guarded by two "soldiers" dressed in commando camouflage and masked faces.

As the trial continued, the prosecutor would call "witnesses" to give testimony as to the torture, rape, murder, or disappearances they had personally experienced in the country on trial that day. In fact, the dramatic, shocking, oftentimes tearful testimonies were written by people who had known the witness-victims personally. Our thespians became the persona, the voice, for those who had lost theirs, and it was broadcast from the U.S. Capitol steps out over the massive asphalt mall all the way to the parks and streets where literally hundreds of tourists stood and listened in stunned silence.

So dramatic was the testimony that one day an outraged Capitol worker went home and called the commandant of the SOA at Ft. Benning. The next day she returned and interrupted our "trial" and demanded that our witness be unmasked, publicly challenged our prosecutor, and recounted the "lies" she had been told as truth the day before by the commandant. As the prosecutor presented her with the real truth, she suddenly became aware that this was not a real trial and that she was talking to actors. Her shock at this discovery in front of hundreds of people brought home to her and to us that The Truth Cannot Be Silenced ! She became a firm ally and returned every day for the rest of the vigil and lobby action.

This vigil and lobby action attracted a cadre of approximately two-hundred people daily from all over the United States who sat on the Capitol steps holding signs and banners protesting the SOA, listing hundreds of documented human rights abuses in Latin America, and handing out informational leaflets to thousands of tourists. Some activists fasted the entire ten days, some participated in street theatre, all visited and lobbied their congresspersons and senators. All 535 Representatives received a hand-delivered packet with capsulized information on the SOA, a copy of Jack Nelson-Palmeyer's book, School of Assassins, and the award-winning Maryknoll Productions video by the same name, as well as a letter encouraging them to sign on Rep. Joe Kennedy's HR 611 to close the SOA.

Among the dedicated activists who braved pouring rain, wind, and hot sun in order to give voice to truth were leaders and representatives of fourteen different peace and justice or religious organizations who had come specifically to attend a prearranged meeting with Pentagon officials regarding the closing of the School of the Americas. The day before the meeting was to be held, the Pentagon cancelled. The fourteen delegates decided to go to the Pentagon anyway, where they were met by a representative of the U.S. Army who informed them that it was now the Army's policy "Not to meet with not-for-profit organizations." Which, of course, raised the question, "Is it the Army's policy to only meet with for-profit organizations?"

That rather disconcerting information only added fuel to the fervor with which over two-hundred of us gathered at the south entrance of the Pentagon under somber, grey skies on a cold Monday, April 28, at 7:00 a.m. "Armed" with one-hundred white crosses, numerous colorful banners, and our street theatre we peacefully announced the truth about the SOA, recounted the long litany of human rights abuses by its graduates, and sang songs to the thousands of military and civilian workers arriving to spend their day in the belly of the war machine. As the number of arriving workers diminished our Uncle Sam, replete in his splendid red, white, and blue stars and stripes uniform began to lead our eight campesinos with ropes around their necks and flanked by soldiers with mock rifles in a procession around the building. The campesinos were followed by the hundred white crosses, and then the banners. There was a drummer at the beginning and end of the procession and they beat out a funereal marching rhythm as we solemnly walked in silence around the Pentagon escorted by police on foot, on bicycle, and in patrol cars with flashing blue lights.

When we reached the river entrance of the Pentagon I, as the designated Parade Ground Coordinator, led our procession onto the pristine Pentagon Parade Ground in full view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and lined up our cross bearers in cemetery fashion with our street theatre in front of them and our banners down both sides. The silence was deafening as I nodded to Uncle Sam and he ordered the execution of the campesinos. As the soldiers began the brutal executions our crossbearers planted their crosses in the grass and stepped back to reveal a full-fledged cemetery. The dramatic irony of Arlington Cemetery behind us was not lost on anyone present!

As the seventeen crossbearers in the front row planted their crosses, they also pulled out U.S. Army "trenching devices" from under their coats, stepped forward, and began digging a mass grave trench in the parade ground lawn. The trenching was allowed for at least twenty minutes as the police moved among us taking both video and polaroid pictures. Just as I was supervising the creation of a large burial mound from the sod which had been dug up and a white cross was being stuck in the top, the police moved in and began arresting anyone with a shovel in their hand. One of our "soldiers" rose to the high drama and began following the police around, and each time they approached a person he would order, "Arrest her/him! Take her/him away!" While the police were distracted detaining and handcuffing the "diggers," two men began dragging the "dead" campesinos into the shallow trenches and covering their bodies with the parade ground sod, completing our scenario and accomplishing our witness.

After all of our diggers had been taken by car into the Pentagon, I took up the drum and began to beat out the triumphant, albeit funereal procession back to the south entrance where we dispersed into the subways like a colony of ants to meet again on the Capitol steps and await the release and arrival of our arrested friends.

One would think that the largest office building in the world, employing over 23,000 people, aptly described as "the nerve center of the Defense Department," and containing some of the most expensively trained men and women in the world would by its very nature be efficient. NOT SO! The arrest, booking , and release was far more characterized by "Keystone" than Pentagon and confusion reigned. At one point, for reasons unknown to even the perpetrators, five of the arrestees were informed there were no charges and led out a back door and told to go home! The twelve others were detained and issued citations; some one, some two but with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Just before noon I suddenly realized that every single character in our street theatre had been arrested except Uncle Sam himself! How ironic. As I was scrambling to find new role players and distribute costumes, the culprits all arrived--the show must go on. And go on it will until we close the U.S. Army School of the Americas!