Fast and Vigil at the Gates of Ft. Benning Print

Fast Journal

Vigil Day 1 1 January 2001

Today isthe first day of a month-long fast and vigil at the gates of Ft. Benning in Columbus, GA.  I am here, today with AnnTiffany (she will join me for the first ten days), to express my utter rejection of this country’s military training and armament of Latin America.  The army says that the new School of Shame will have nothing to do with the old one – it will teach skills to help fight the outdated and misguided “war on drugs” instead of the skills to help fight the also outdated and misguided war on Communism.  Somehow it doesn’t occur to my government that no matter what terror US trained troops will instill in Latin American farmers, drugs will continue to flow into the US until one of two things happens – we get rid of the demand here (by focusing on drug prevention and rehabilitation, NOT incarceration) or we give these farmers another viable and economically feasible crop.

The SOA, and its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), are symbols of my government’s ongoing militarization of Latin America, subjecting its people to endless human rights abuses and restrictions of freedom in order to satisfy our demand for an “enemy” in the war on drugs –typical imperialism.  I know this system will not cease with the disestablishment of the WHISC, but once the US acknowledges that we are wrong to fight the war on drugs against the Latin American people, we will have taken a great step forward in the struggle for justice.

To whoever said that nonviolent tactics do not threaten the status quo, our experience today completely belied your assertion! As it was the first day, we had much to accomplish organizationally before we actually went out to vigil. Finishing and faxing the first press release, creating signs and unearthing others from the SOA Watch media center, and visiting the office supply store took up most of the day. We didn’t manage to get ourselves out to vigil until midafternoon, but when we did – oh, what a ruckus we caused! Almost immediately two military police cars pulled up to watch us, followed soon after by three Columbus city police cars.  We were videotaped by the MPs while the city police made sure that we had a permit. We were encouraged to leave (for our own safety, mind you) but could not be forced to since we had the permit. In the midst of all this hullabaloo, a cameraman from TV Channel 3 arrived to film the event.  He interviewed me later, and I should be on the 11 PM news tonight.  But before he could even do the interview,the city police realized that since today is a holiday they couldn’t find copies of our permit anywhere (apparently every office in the city is closed!).  So the captain had to comedown and check the signature on our permit but by then the MPs were totally confused.  Finally the police asked us if they could borrow our copy of the permit to make more copies for themselves.  At this point there were seven police cars around for just the two of us!  A very nice officer made the copies while we had an intense discussion with an older officer who had served in Panama when the SOA was there.  When the younger officer came back and most of the police had left, we decided to call it a day since it was getting cold and dark.  We packed up our signs and gave the officers a friendly “see you later!” and went back to the office to warm up.  Whew!  What a first day!

I am very glad that we got this first wave of police out of the way today.  I am excited for the media coverage we got and happy that we got it so soon.  More than that even, I feel like we are already making a difference.  Personally, after the first day of fasting I am tired and chilly but otherwise feel great. I am content to be here doing my part and proud to share this experience with Ann Tiffany.  Our talks today in between police interruptions were fantastic. She helps me focus on why we are here and what is important.  I look forward to another busy day tomorrow, moving into the Southgate apartments, calling media, and hopefully managing to vigil for more that a couple hours in the afternoon!

Vigil Day 2

Today we had a smooth and leisurely start.  We enjoyed a long sleep lastnight after the 11 pm news (which had a decent story but a horrible quote from me!) and awoke refreshed at 8 am. Both Ann and I had grumbling stomachs and spent most of the morning vigil feeling cold and thinking about food. Our only pauses from that mind-numbness came when our signs fell over or the MPs would move their car (we have constant police accompaniment – they arrived before us and left after us today).         

We took a break at noon to warm up and fax some more media contacts that I had called while vigiling.  We ended up heating up all of our drinks and staying inside for two hours – making more signs was our excuse but avoiding the cold was probably the more truthful reason.  But by the time we went back out we had beautiful new painted signs that felt more fitting to our message than “memorial to victims of SOA grads.”  Our minds were working again, so we enjoyed the sunshine and spent much of the afternoon lost in ourt houghts.  I spent much of that time thinking about our CD action on the 17th.  I am not sure how to organize it since we seem to have constant military accompaniment.  More on that when the time comes…         

We called it a day as the sun crept below the treetops and the air temperature ranked at frigid.  Back at the media office, I found our press release on the indymedia website.  It warmed my heart to see that people are learning about our action in that way.  Both of us are tired and I am a little light-headed, thinking often about food.  Soon, though, I understand that we will get past that fixation, so I wait… impatiently.  Tonight another friend from Syracuse, Zac Moore, joined us. Tomorrow should be a good day at the vigil with him here.

Vigil Day 3

I have been a little grumpy today and I am afraid that my mood has affected our presence.  My excuse is simply that I am hungry and tired – but then Ann should be in the same boat.  Ah well, I suppose we all have our less than phenomenal days, and today was one of mine.

On the bright side though, the vigil today generated a huge amount of local press.  We were videotaped and interviewed by TV Channel 9 news and made the 5 and 6 pm news (I don’t think I’ll make it up until 11pm to watch that news too, so I’ll just assume that they will cover us too).  I was much happier with this coverage - this time I managed a coherent sound bite!  A photographer from the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer also stopped by, so I assume we’ll be in the paper tomorrow.  I didn’t really expect this much press until the reopening ceremony on the 17th, but I guess the local media is used to covering the SOA protesters.

Father Roy is back in town now, and came out this morning to say hello.  He is bubbling over with ideas and plans for the year, and it is amazing to hear him talk, going from topic to topic almost without pause even for breath! 

The only other excitement for the day was finally moving into our apartment for the month.  I must admit that I feel more settled now that I am not living out of my backpack. The place is enormous compared to what I thought it would be and will work quite nicely as an activist house for the month.  I can’t quite believe that there really will be people coming in and out all month, and that I organized it! But I won’t count any chickens yet, I suppose, since we are only three days into the presence.

Vigil Day 4

Every vigiling day so far has been spiced up by visits from various people.  Day one it was the police, day two Zac showed up, day three was the media, and today it was Joe Blair.  Joe is a former instructor at the SOA, who in his retirement has become one of its most outspoken critics.  We met him today after he had lunch (oh, what a heavenly thought!) with Father Roy. It was amazing to meet him – he literally told us stories about his SOA days for two hours!  At one point he simply waltzed over to the MP watching us and told him to radio the base to get us three copies of the SOA’s last propaganda magazine.  The MP did and even came over to us afterward to tell us where we could get the copies.  We ended up today by having about 15 magazines hand-delivered by the SOA librarian.  Of course Joe and the librarian had a long chat too, reminiscing about AFLAC and the SOA.  What a strange conversation for a pacifist anti-corporate SOA protester to be privy to!

So that was the excitement for the day.  Poor Ann is having some stomach trouble, but neither of us is as hungry as we were.  Zac left this evening, so the presence tomorrow will be less lively as a result – unless we have some new friends arrive.  My thoughts tonight are also with all the friends and supporters around the country who have helped me withthis vigil.  I was simply amazed tonight reading all the e-mail messages of support, even from people I have never heard of!  It really makes me feel like the message is getting out, and I am making a difference.

Vigil Day 5

Today we had a rough start.  It was just Ann and I this morning, and we both had very little energy; we hardly wanted to get out of bed!  Luckily once we managed to move our reluctant muscles our bodies seemed to remember that we were alive.  By the time we left the apartment we had enough energy to face the day and by midmorning we both felt like we could take on the SOA with both hands tied!  It helped that the weather today was beautiful – warmer with a bright bluesky.  I spent the morning reading a Human Rights Watch report on Colombia that details the military-paramilitary links and related human rights abuses. It was hard to read knowing how much money the US gives them in military aid.  The report also mentioned that at least 7 army officers linked to Castana’s paramilitaries are SOA graduates. 

The report saddened and frustrated me, and I was lost in thought for the rest of the morning vigil and our midday break about how I can fight both the SOA and Colombia’s military aid effectively.  My gut reaction is to first go to Colombia (like many of my friends are this month) and learn from them about what would make a difference.  My next gut reaction is to take over ABC studios and start a 24-hour TV broadcast about the effects of military aid on that country!  Ah, to dream.

So I was agitated this morning about Colombia and found my thoughts further complicated by a discussion I had with Ann about the Gandhian Wave (a new part of the fight to close the SOA where autonomous groups hopefully do an action here every month in order to keep up a continuous pressure).  She, half in jest, asked me to come down here next year to help organize weekly or monthly presences at the base.  That of course got me started on a tough topic for me – what WILL I be doing next year?  Would I bewilling to spend a year down here, organizing in obscurity and isolation, if someone asked me seriously?  Would it bethe most effective use of that year – or are there more pressing issues to work on in that time?  Am I over analyzing the entire situation because I am young and inexperienced?  Probably.        

Goodness knows this is a topic I have worked myself into a tizzy about many times before when reminded about it,and today was no exception.  But, having come to no conclusions by the afternoon vigil, I let it go for the moment and instead spent a relaxing afternoon vigiling and reading in the warmth of a beautiful day in Georgia.         Tonight we have a new friend with us, Gary Ashbeck from Madison, Wisconsin.  We are veryexcited that he has come, and he has certainly livened up the party!  Err, I mean vigil.  I am looking forward to a weekend full of new people and stories.

Vigil Day 6

Very little to report today.  Two new friends have joined us from Marietta, Georgia – Lill and Bill Corrigan.  Our energy is much improved and we laughed, talked, read, and contemplated the day away in comfort, with beautiful weather and beautiful company.  This evening we were visited by two reporters from the Atlanta indymedia website and spent a fruitful evening answering their questions and posing for pictures.  The Cincinnati Enquirer also called me – if we get an article there, I will consider this entire month worth it!  There has been a great media silence in Cincinnati about the SOA vigils (and about peace and justice issues in general).  I am feeling good, and how could I not after a day like today? Good weather, good company, good humor, good media, and good energy.

Vigil Day 7

        Ann Tiffany reminded me tonight that week one is finished and that I am 1/4 of the way through this fast and vigil.  I don’t quite know what to think about that – it certainly feels like I still have a long way to go!  I am not hungry anymore, though I miss food as a social event.  I feel like I have reached a point though, where I am more focused and more contemplative than I would be if I had not fasted.  I feel things very strongly now – reading that report on Colombia the other day brought tears to my eyes, as did the kind e-mails from loved ones this evening.  I have finally realized what it is that I am DOING while I vigil.  I am learning how to be a loving, caring person – from the life stories of the activists I meet (the “peace stories” as opposed to a soldiers “war stories”), from the reactions of passers-by and police, and from all that I read during those long three hour stretches.   It took me seven days to realize that I am learning from this experience; I wonder what another seven days will bring?            Lill and Bill left today after spending the morning telling stories and keeping everyone in good humor.  Afterwards, Ann, Gary, and I, spent a quiet day vigiling and appreciating once again the warmth of the afternoon.  Two friends, Dick and Liz Coss, and their dog, visited us this afternoon to lend their support and to chat.  I am amazed at the sheer number of local people who have stopped me, asked is I was part of Father Roy’s group, and then told me that I was doing good work. I expected an army town such as this to mildly distrust us protesters.  But we have gotten surprisingly few “Go home!”s and “Get a job!”s, and many more beeps and waves and thumbs up than I would have expected. My stereotypes have been broken partially by Father Roy’s ability and charisma!  I think I also underestimated the people’s ability to think past Army dogma. There are lessons to be learned from everyone in this place.

Vigil Days 8 and 9

Today I am writing a response to the last two days because yesterday I took the entire evening off to relax and play euchre. It was a good night to unwind – Ann Tiffany’s last night with us.  We spent the evening laughing and enjoying ourselves immensely, something that has been distinctly lacking since I got here.  We can’t always be serious or we lose all the joy in this work, and last night we needed that reminder.

So, with that rejuvenating evening behind me, I woke up this morning ready for a contemplative day.  It began with Ann’s departure; I am sad that Ann had to leave – her company has been comforting and inspiring.  But I know that she has much else to do and am grateful for the time she took out to spend here accompanying this witness.

The rest of the day was spent in a losing battle to keep warm.  Gary and I kept taking trips to the media center – bathroom breaks we called them – to warm up our hands and bring life back to our feet.  In between those breaks though, the Cincinnati Enquirer called back and a young reporter interviewed me.  I am very excited about having my hometown report on the SOA, especially since this reporter asked very detailed and thought-provoking questions.  Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have some favorable press!

I have also been inspired by all that I have been reading to write a piece about why I am doing this fast and why I want to violate my ban and bar.  We have spent much of the last several days discussing what would make people more excited about coming down to Georgia to do a Gandhian Wave action, and it seems like most people simply don’t understand the motivation behind illegal conscientious action.  Perhaps I can add my voice to those reaching out to raise awareness, and perhaps that voice will inspire more action.  Perhaps.

Vigil Day 10

My thoughts today took the form of a rebuttal to an OpEd piece written and published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  After reading that piece this morning, I seethed, drafting and redrafting a reply all day.  This was the final product: Rebuttal to Caldera’s OpEd Piece on page A13, 10 January 2001

Close the Clone!

   Today is the tenth day of my fast and vigil to draw attention to the U.S. Army’s replacement of the School of the Americas (SOA) with the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC). I have been here at the gates to Fort Benning to express my opposition to this clone of the SOA since 1 January, and I will still be here on 17 January for the “re-opening” ceremony.

I am also one of the critics “trying to impugn the integrity of the institute with the misleading, mindless slogan, ‘New name, same shame’” according to Louis Caldera’s recent opinion piece (10 January 2001).  In fact, I have held a sign that states just that every day of my fast and vigil.  I think that before he writes off the slogan as either misleading or mindless, perhaps Mr. Caldera would like to know why I use that phrase.

The SOA “closed” on 15 December 2000 without anyone ever admitting the guilt of that institution which was part of a U.S. foreign policy that propped up dictatorial and abusive anti-Communist governments in Latin America.  There has never been a truth commission.  The survivors of the many victims of SOA graduates have never received reparations.

The facts of abuse by SOA graduates are still denied by its leadership. Current Subcommandant Col. Patricio Haro Ayerve stated in the final edition of the SOA’s magazine, Adelante, that “[he] would like to express [his] gratitude to the School of the Americas for having served for more than half a century as a … propagator of insightful teachings in security, democracy, and respect for human rights” (page 4).  Now as the clone is poised to open, Caldera sends out a well-timed propaganda piece stating that the “new” institute’s goals are also “strengthening democracy, deepening the rule of law and honoring human rights.”  Pardon me if I miss the difference between these two schools.

The WHISC’s main objective is a post-Cold War one, to teach soldiers and police to fight the drug war in Latin America.  To take the example of Colombia – although the country has been involved in a long-term civil war, the Colombian military receives huge amounts of US military aid to fight the drug war. The problem is that “The connection between drug traffickers and paramilitary groups is not new and has been well documented in reporting by the U.S. Embassy in Bogota since at least 1990.  ‘Elias’ [a former military intelligence agent] witnessed close links between drug traffickers, paramilitaries, and theArmy”  (P. 6, “The Ties That Bind:Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links” Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 12,No. 1 (B)).  Perhaps the U.S. should stop trainingColombian soldiers (who may frequently be involved in drug trafficking) to fight the drug war, and instead send economic and social aid to countries such as Colombia.  By cutting off this military aid, we may also save Colombian human rights workers from the abuses known to be perpetrated by paramilitaries in the region.

Mr. Caldera seems to think that I am slighting the Army by acting to end the WHISC/SOA.  If so, why do I get waves and “thumbs up” signs from service men and women entering Fort Benning every day? And why are there so many veterans in the movement to close the WHISC/SOA?  The answer is simple.  Our actions have very little to do with the Army, and very much to do with a U.S. foreign policy that is ineffective, misguided, and outdated.  It is time to stop renaming the school; we want to shut it down.

Dear Friends, I am sorry, I have been remiss insending out and even writing journals for the last week.  It has been a crazy wonderful week though, and I am very excited to finally share those experiences with you!   Now that the house here has calmed sown some and the press has gone and written their stories, I am free to finally reflect.  Most of the journals I have included today are simply catching up on what happened, hopefully the next set will be more emotional reactions and reflections.  Thanks, and I am sorry to those who have e-mailed me missing these updates! Peace, Becky PS - they are attached and included below, for those with various computer types.

Vigil Day 14

The nextfew days are going to be intense, draining, and fantastic.  We spent the evening in a house meetingplanning and organizing the events for the 17th and we have a lot todo.  Press releases and follow-up calls,statement writing, and generally organizing ourselves to do an action will takeup most of our time and energy.  I havenoticed myself feeding off the excitement of everyone here though, and the auraof joyful resisters permeate the apartment.

I know wewill get media because of the timing of our action, I just hope it is an actionthat will resound in people’s minds and hearts when they hear about it.  I feel ready for the commitment and proudthat I have the opportunity to do an action that so many people have told me isimportant to them.  The responsibility Ifeel to live up to that anticipation is an important one.  I feel like our action scenario is powerful,and I know we can create a powerful statement to go with it.

My dreamslast night and today while I napped were dominated by emotional, powerfulactions.  The one we chose today feelsright for the time and the people involved. I just hope that my dreams will remain as inspiring as they have been;they have been keeping me motivated.

Vigil Day 15

       I just gotfinished with one of the best conversations yet on this vigil.  Shauna and I were just in the kitchen,excited about the prospects of ginger tea and carrot juice, also excited aboutthe opportunities we have to make change. She doesn’t feel grounded yet, and is looking for a good place, and I amtrying to reach out from my grounded state as a college student and into therealms of life-after-graduation.  We areuntied in our concern and activism (and excitement over good ginger tea!) andour appreciation of the opportunity to witness here in faithful, joyfulresistance in a community of loving new friends.       Speaking ofloving friends, this morning as we held vigil in a drizzle, who came by but myfriend Becky Karasack from Pennsylvania! I had no idea that she was coming, and apparently they were on their wayto New Orleans, realized that Columbus was on their way, and set out to find meand visit.  Well, find me they did, andmy goodness did they surprise me! Becky’s two friends, Rebecca and Jole arrived with her, and after amorning of visiting and vigiling the three decided to stay until the 17th to join us in our presence and resistance. So now our house is hopping with even more activists, and we have twosets of photographers arriving tomorrow (along with even more friends) - sothese are exciting days in Columbus, GA. A little rain won’t keep us away!

Vigil Day 16 (written Jan 19, AM)

       Today consisted mostly of frantically doing last minute things for the actiontomorrow and welcoming friends.  SisterMegan came today and it was a joy and inspiration to meet her.  Press called and gathered all day, and if Ihaven’t perfected the art of a phone interview by now, I never will!  Jole, Becky and Rebecca decided today tojoin in the high risk resistance tomorrow (yeah!) and Margaret was precioushelping to find our supplies – black shrouds and other materials.       My mother arrived today and I joyouslygreeted her under the watchful lens of photographers.  This evening we had a nonviolence training in the media centerand a high risk training in the bedroom of the town house.  We attempted to learn to lock down fourpeople in this little room while my mother my mother wrote our statement andBecky and Rebecca made shrouds.       EricLeCompte from the DC office also arrived today and spent most of it cooped upin the media office writing press releases and organizing press packets andgenerally making himself into a saint. I certainly had very little time to reflect today, as it always goes theday before an action, but I fee like the press release and statements we wrotespeak well to the sentiment of the day.       The followingis the statement I wrote for my part in the press conference:       "Good afternoon and welcome to our witness ofresistance!   I am Rebecca Johnson and I am here, first of all, to give you a quick run-down of how the next few minutes will work.  Three of us will give short statements – myself, Deborah Meem who is my mother, and finally Roy Bourgeois,Maryknoll priest and SOA Watch founder. After those brief statements, we will take a few minutes of questionsand then move on to the action.       Our action today on Fort Benning will continue the tradition of thoughtful, nonviolent civil disobedience as taught by Jesus, Dorothy Day, and Dr. MartinLuther King, Jr.  I find it appropriate that the day in which we demonstrate our resistance to violence in the form of the renamed School of Assassins falls in the week when we also celebrate the life of Dr. MLK Jr, one of the greatest peacemakers in history.  So I am here on the 17th day of my month-long fast and vigil because I am inspired by the peacemakers, by the civil resisters who have changed history. I will be taking part in the illegal action today, along with six of my companions, to continue my witness in opposition to the US militarization of Latin America.       I will risk 6 months in prison today to show my country, that I, that none of us here, are fooled by a name change and a public relations campaign. I remember the history of atrocities committed by SOA graduates, and I am called today to give a voice to those rendered voiceless by US foreignpolicy."       The nextstatement was written by my mother to read at the same press conference:       "Since the early 1960s I have been an activist for social justice, through the Civil Rights movement, theanti-Vietnam War movement, the women’s movement, the lesbian and gay rightsmovement, and now the movement to end US violent interference in Latin America,specifically through training of Latin American military at the SOA.       As I think about these causes, I see them as linked: in all cases the objective has been to urge our government and its agencies to take the broadest possible view of human rights and to adoptpolicies based on inclusion, acceptance, and nonviolence.  At the same time I see them as representing two related by different priorities: advocacy of systematic change within our society, and opposition to US government policies that involve coercion and violence, I am proud to stand with my daughter today outside Fort Benning.       I hope that her witness, and Father Roy’s, and mine, and all the other people here in body or spirit, will influence Americans to widen their opposition to the SOA and now to WHISC – and ultimately to shut it down."

      I do not have Father Roy’s speech since he spoke extemporaneously, but his words were very powerful and were quoted around the country, so if you saw any of the newscasts of our event, I am sure his speech was part of it!       The final statement that I am including here was our statement for the action itself, recited by Father Roy during our civil disobedience:       "The School of theAmericas is being reopened today under the alias of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.  We are here in nonviolent witness to say that we still remember the sins of the past and we are not fooled by a cosmetic facelift masquerading and substantivechange.  First, we demand establishmentof a truth commission to discover and enumerate crimes committed by the old SOA.  Our military needs to be held accountable for decades of violence against civilians by Latin American military officers trained here.  We also demand the closure of WHISC and all training schools operated by the US military for countries whose governments practice systematic violence against their own citizens.       The three women in black, carrying a child’s coffin, represent the mourners for those killed in Latin America by SOA graduates.  They hope to bear witness at the reopening ceremony so that all voices may be heard.       The four individuals lying in the road represent those killed in our names. Their nonviolent resistance here symbolically blocks the reopening of the SOA under any name at all.       All of us, on both sides of the line, are here to give testimony to our belief in nonviolence for ourselves and for the world. We will maintain a presence here, as we have since January 1, until the end of the month.  We fast to remind ourselves and others of the importance of our mission and to clarify our vision of peace.  We are all here today to commemoratethe opening of WHISC by crying aloud against the sins of the SOA, it’s ancestor and prototype in coercion and violence. Only after a truth commission and the closure of these schools of assassins will the ghosts of victims of the SOA graduates be able to rest in peace knowing that the US sponsored repression has ended.

Vigil Day 17 (written Jan 19, AM)      Wow, today was awesome!  I ended it in total exhaustion, but also with the empowerment I always feel after taking my voice back from the oppressors and making a statement of resistance.  Our plan went beautifully – the morning was spent vigiling and giving interviews, and generally reveling in the stomach butterflies.       We had almost 20 people at the gates today showing their support for ouraction.  Banners and signs wereeverywhere and press poured in from around the country.  At 1:30 PM we hosted a press conferencewhere I, my mother, and Roy spoke (see yesterday’s notes for thestatements).       After that (actually the most nervewracking part of the day – I do NOT like talking to media!) we moved intoaction mode.  Father Roy read ours tatement as seven of us crossed the line. Mom, Rebecca, and Becky kept walking attempting to carry a child’s coffin to the reopening ceremony with Becky and Rebecca dropping peace cranes and flowers along the way.       Four of us –Laurel, Jole, Joseph, and I – crossed the line and immediately locked our armsinside PVC pipes and “died.”  Our wrists were connected inside the pipes with ropes and carabiners, so the military were confused momentarily about what to do with us. One said, “Well, that’s something new!” Finally they moved us, still connected, to the side of the road so wewould not block traffic while they brainstormed how to get us apart.  The press, of course, was totally in the way.  At the beginning of the action, a cameraman was right in our way, not even allowing us to cross the line.  They had the street blocked long before we did, and probably long after we were hauled to the side of the road.       

The MPs brought out metal detectors and were quite upset when it went off inside our pipes. It didn’t take them long to figure out though that we were connected byropes and not handcuffs.  After figuring out that they could move our arms some, the police pulled on me until my arm was out far enough to cut the rope.   A slightly painful experience for all involved, but we learned from our first lockbox experience!  They got us all out of the lockboxes after a few rope burns and carried us to a waiting van.      

After piling in, we sang our way to the MP station, always on the lookout for Josh’s banner hanging water tower.  Processing was pretty normal – two of us had ban and bars already and were given new ones, the rest got their first – until General John LeMoine stopped by. He had obviously just come from the reopening ceremony and was stilldressed in his finery.  After mistakenly calling him Colonel Weidner (the former Commandant of the SOA, the General was the one that invited us to visit last week!  I could have sworn he introduced himself as Colonel Weidner then) and getting the giggles about that, I sat in amusement as he told us that military bases are not political institutions and all events of a political nature must be kept off of them.     

  I remained mostly quiet,trying to stop my giggles, but I found out that Laurel has quite a sassy streak in her.  That only added to the hilarity of the situation, with the general giving us a lecture and Laurel talking back while we sat in a classroom and all of the military personnel were standing invarious poses of respect and awe on the other side of the room.      

Luckily that was over soon enough and the general lef the room to call us individually into a makeshift “office” and handdeliver our ban and bars.   Apparently he told my mother to be proud of me, he told Laurel he was going to prosecute her, and he told me I was still welcome to come back and visit during the WHISC’s human rights classes.  I told him that I had no interest in visiting what my mother has dubbed “human rights minute” but  thanked him for the offer.  We waited for him to be through talking to each of us, and then he left after extending that invitation to all of us.  We were reminded not to return or else “that Roy better make sure to have bail money on hand, because we’ll send you right before the magistrate!”

Finally, we were released to a gas station near our apartment and after excitement and hugs all around we went back to the media center for debrief. It turned into a simple account of the action from all sides and congratulations on all sides and not much actual responses, but after the excitement wore off we were all ready for bed. The power of our collective emotions though kept my spirits high eventhrough the utter exhaustion I felt this evening.  My adrenaline also kept me going through the dehydration and extra activity. 

Vigil Day 18

After the high of yesterday’s action and the general intensity of emotion, everyone was completely drained today.  Honestly, we felt horrible today.  Vigiling in the morning was OK, and grocery shopping at midday break was fun, especially juice shopping at a health food store while getting a call from Josh RC, but after that I felt like I couldn’t move, or even think.  I napped for a while while everyone else headed out to vigil, but after being awakened by a radio reporter, I came out for the afternoon.

This evening though, we (Margaret, Laurel, Shauna and I) had a long and good talk about the personal and spiritual nature of nonviolent civil disobedience, and how press really takes away from that. We talked about other movements that don’t use mainstream press as much, and how that feels less like selling-out their versions of the world to a twenty second soundbite.  Good food for thought since we did totally base our action yesterday on how media could use it best, and maybe we didn’t do what we really wanted to because of that.

I get angry very easily at mainstream media, but I often take it as given that I need to reach out to them.  Hmm.  Anyway, life here is slowly returning to “normal” and I am slowly catching up on e-mail and journals, but first I need to catch up on sleep.  Zzzzz

Vigil Day 19

I am feeling finally back to normal after days of beautiful craziness.  I got my first real nap in a week this afternoon and it was wonderful to wake up feeling refreshed again.  My body hit a wall yesterday, letting me know that pushing myself while fasting is not the best idea.  So I took it easy today, enjoying the warm weather and letting my mind rest and my tension release.  I needed that.

Father Roy came out today talking about media again, and I realized that I am totally burned out on media work right now.  I can’t decide if that is a good thing or not, but it certainly means that I need to focus more on personal outreach if I am not going to focus on mass media.

Anyway this evening we decided it was time again for some relaxation.  We went to a community theater and watched “Going to Paris.”   It was a great little theater downtown where you sit at tables and bring your own dinner (or juice).  Most people had crackers and wine, and we had our water bottles.  Wewatched our local friend, Beth, work the sets and it was a great time though I am not sure I got the play – I was a little out of it.  Now I am back to feeling contemplative and ready for 11 more days of vigiling – renewed in mind and body.

Vigil Day 20

We had a day of mourning today to commemorate the death of democracy (in solidarity with those demonstrating in DC).  I felt a combination of amusement (long live King George!) and anger/frustration at the man who will (not) represent me for the next four years. Although we are here for a very specific cause, I felt the need to express my understanding that the WHISC is not an isolated incident of US foreign policy failure, and the name change will not be the only bad decision of the next four years.  Tomorrow, Kate Berrigan arrives to let us know the details of the DC protests – from the corporate media we found out that there were more protesters that celebrating fans.  That, at least, is encouraging; people are angry enough to get involved and empowered enough to take to the streets.  Hopefully that involvement will minimize the negative impact of this administration.

After our vigil, we came back for a long house cleaning this evening.  Thank goodness, cleanliness and organization always makes me feel more centered. That and some yoga meditation this evening has allowed me to finally regain (hopefully) some vigiling energy. Ten more days, and hopefully they will be good ones!

Vigil Day 21

Today was uninspiring and frustrating.  I feel like I have lost my focus and can’t figure out how to regain it.  At this point, the vigil could have ended onthe 17th and I wouldn’t have lost anything.  We played cards and word games this afternoon to keep us going, and while I understand and appreciate that relaxation and games are all part of community building, I also feel like we need some inspiration when cards are what keep us motivated.  Kate arrived today and we talked about that some this evening, but as of yet I have come to no conclusions. There is definitely value in our simple presence at the gate every day, no matter what we do to “entertain” ourselves, but this fast has to be more personal and spiritual than that if I am going to feel like we have accomplished anything from it.

But the day wasn’t all bad.  We talked to several local friends who stopped to chat.  It is really nice to see the growing number of Columbus residents willing to express their dissent.  And we talked to Mr. Downey, Commandant of the SOA-turned-WHISC.  That was an interesting conversation, which just strengthened my resolve to shut the whole mess down.  He didn’t even want to hear about the idea of a truth commission on the SOA and kept insisting that he was dealing with a “clean sheet of paper.”  Obviously we didn’t end the conversation with much agreement.

Vigil Day 22

I started off today with the closest thing to a prayer that I know.  I have never been one to look for outside, divine inspiration, so this morning I meditated on my frustration with the vigil and searched myself for direction. When I was done, I finally felt like the vigil had purpose again, and I could let go of my frustration.  I think I was partly annoyed that the vigil has become less learning oriented and contemplative, and partly out of sorts because the vigil house is finally becoming a community, which means that I am no longer “in charge.”  That second one bothered me for a while, since I have spent the whole month trying not to be in charge, and now that it has finally happened I got frustrated!  Ah, at least I can laugh at my absurdity, and hopefully this state of mine didn’t rub off on anyone.

The vigil frustration was easier to fix.  I simply accepted that we all needed a few days of light conversation to remain motivated and now are moving back into learning mode.  I felt great at the end of today, and tonight have enjoyed music and freshly made apple celery juice (much better than it sounds!).

Vigil Day 23  

          It was a blah day for me.  I didn’t feel well this morning and slept instead of vigiling with the others.  This afternoon I regained energy for a few hours and am now just hoping to make it to e-mail before I go to bed.  I have been very good to myself today, and hopefully my body will perk up tomorrow.  Everyone else seemed to have a good day though, and we had music (from Gary’s boom box) for the vigil this afternoon. The music and the sun and the warmth made me quite content, even without much energy.

Vigil Day 24

 

Days are going by quickly now; at the beginning of the month I wasn’t sure that I would ever get through a month long fast and I thought that I would either be bored out of my mind or so focused that I wouldn’t interact with any of the other vigilers.  Instead as we near the end of this intense experience I feel like, though I miss food, I could go on fasting here for a long time, and the memory of food is becoming very distant.  Also, much of this vigil has been introspective and I have been rather anti-social, but right now I feel well balanced between that important self-discovery and the affirmation, support,and general joy of community.  A far cry from a couple days ago when I felt lost and out of sorts, thank goodness.  I notice though that my thoughts are starting to turn to “life after fast” – I have over the last few days filled out a Ruckus application and worked on my course choices for college next semester and generally started to make plans to speak at several places around Ohio.  I feel good getting my mind to slowly move out of vigil mode so it won’t be such a shock when I leave here and suddenly have to start classes! I don’t mean to say that these days are not important – we still have friends coming to visit this weekend and people stopping by to talk (today it was Norton McPhereson from Troy, AL) and learn, and I love the chance to simply sit and enjoy an act of personal resistance. This feeling feels so far away sometimes when I am at school trying to plan actions and trips and events around the schedule of academia.  After this experience, next semester should be an interesting one; I feel like my priorities have shifted,and I am glad that I am graduating in May. This action has made me crave doing more in this movement and in other related ones.  As if Oberlin didn’t radicalize me enough, I go to Columbus, GA for a month and get radicalized even more!

Vigil Days 25-27       

         This journal is almost the same as the 24th.  These last few days have been again like slowly waking up from the dream of this month.  As I said a few days ago, my mind is starting to look forward and I am planning speaking engagements and semester events rather than being entirely in the here and now.  It feels good – the intensity of thoughts and emotions this month has been a lot to take, and I think that if I left here still in that state, I’d be very shocked at the world.  This vigil is very important to me, and our presence is obviously very important in empowering others, but I am glad that it will soon be over.           The others here are also content, it seems, with lightening the mood a bit.  We have spent much of the last few days laughing and talking and sharing and doing the hokey-pokey on the line to Ft. Benning.  It hasn’t been all games though, we seem to intersperse some quite serious conversations in with our gossip and chatting.  Yesterday we talked about the pros and cons of the centralized SOA Watch movement and the decentralized anti-corporate globalization movement.  We haven’t yet come up with too many conclusions, but we’re working on it!

Yesterday we also spent a while talking to an MP who was worried about us being cold on the vigil.  He was very kind and we enjoyed his company for a while.  We also got a visit from a very sweet man who brought us two boxes of doughnuts – he was disappointed to hear that we were fasting and could not eat them.  And today we were joined by two friends from Atlanta, Hans and Will.  They were a joyto have around and I am sorry that they could not stay longer.

At home we are all starting to talk about food, and I am afraid that I instigate many of those conversations.  We have a lot of mashed up food from juicing sweet potatoes, squash, cabbage, apples, and other stuff and we are trying to figure out how to make that food into something palatable for a breakfast meal.  Tonight we had a night out at the movies, and all walked past the popcorn stand with noses perked up and stomachs growling. I think there will definitely be some rejoicing when we can all eat again.

Vigil Day 28

  I have been lost in visions of Becky-topia all day. This morning as I read about the founding philosophers and theologians of the Unitarian Universalist church, I was distracted by the strong feeling that I need to go to seminary.  It has been in my thoughts for a while now, and I have inquired about various institutions, but my vague idea crystallized today into a concrete calling to UU ministry.  In the space of about ten minutes, I saw a plan that my life could follow combining my faith with the Catholic Worker ideal of “living the dream” by practicing radical acts of community building, simplicity, and resistance.  I came up with a lot of questions, but the experience was intense and inspiring.

I am starting to take stock of the month, and coming up feeling contented and radicalized by my experience here. Before this month, I don’t know if I was ready to move out of the “box”of my privileged background and college experience into a less structured and more emotional life based on the dictates of my conscience.  I think the support and inspiration that I have received over the month from so many people, knowing that I have reached them all with this action, has helped along that radicalizing event.  I have never been one to willingly compromise on my opinions, but I feel more ready now to live my beliefs without the regret of “missing out” on materialism and obligation to the nuclear family (rather than to the larger family of humankinid – cheesy but true).  It’s funny what I can learn from sitting in Georgia and thinking for a month; maybe those gurus on mountain tops have the right idea!