November 17-19, 2006: 22,000 Gathered to Demand Closure of the SOA/WHINSEC Print
While record numbers attended the annual demonstration at the gates of Fort Benning, thousands more gathered at protests and vigils throughout the Americas.

Coordinated actions protesting US militarism and calling for the closure of the SOA took place over the weekend of Nov. 18-19 in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay and Peru, as well as in Ireland, Canada and at other sites in the US.

The Chilean human rights group Kamarikun organized a vigil to close the SOA in Santiago. The Movement of Christians for Peace with Justice and Dignity organized vigils on Nov. 18-19 at four key sites emblematic of US militarism: the US-leased air base in Manta, Ecuador; and the capital cities of Paraguay, El Salvador and Colombia. [Message posted by "PeSePu" on Colombia Indymedia 11/17/06]

In Ecuador, actions were also scheduled in Quito, Ibarra, Ambato and Tulcan. In Colombia, in addition to Bogota, there were actions planned for Medellin (Antioquia), Cali (Valle del Cauca), Popayan (Cauca), Sogamoso (Boyaca), Neiva (Huila) and Barrancabermeja (Santander), where 1,000 women dressed in black were to commemorate the victims of militarism in the region. Actions were also scheduled to take place in two other towns in Santander: Piedecuesta and Landazuri. [Red de Defensores no Institucionalizados de Colombia 11/18/06] Thousands of women took part in the protest in Barrancabermeja on Nov. 18, according to a message posted on Colombia Indymedia. The action was organized by the Popular Women's Organization (OFP). [Message from "Chrisman" posted on Colombia Indymedia 11/19/06] [Weekly News Update on the Americas]

Report from Sunday vigil at Ft Benning

2:55pm The Return to Life Ritual on Sunday afternoon concluded with the arrival of the Puppetistas and a celebration of music, drumming, chanting and joyful dancing. Three more people have crossed the line into Ft. Benning. One woman crossed by climbing over the barb-wired fence at the main gate and has been arrested by military police, increasing the number of people who have crossed today to sixteen.

As today's vigil slowly comes to a close and people begin to make their way home they leave re-energized and with their hearts full of optimism. We were blessed by the presence of 115 veterans who marched for peace and were the first to meet us at the gates of Ft. Benning, by Charles Steele Jr of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who, together with civil rights activist took part in the Living the Dream March from Selma to Columbus, by over a thousand grandmothers, wearing white handkerchiefs in the same tradition as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo of Argentina who pay tribute to the fallen and disappeared of Latin America. Joining us were families, students, religious workers, artists, and activists from all over the U.S. and Latin America.

1:00pm Hector Aristizabal is leading the transition from the funeral procession into the ritual of life, proclaiming that our drums are not the drums of war and destruction but drums of joy and liberation. The helicopter is now hovering behind the stage above the base entrance. Its noise fails to drown out the voices of 22,000 people who celebrate life and resistance.

12:50pm A military helicopter is circling in low altitude above the vigil outside of the base.

11:25am Thirteen people just went through a hole in the fence and carried their protest onto the military base. Two of the human rights activists that engaged in the civil disobedience action were part of the 1000 Grandmothers organizing effort. The military police arrested and handcuffed the linecrossers and is guarding the breached fence to prevent others from entering the base.

11:00am The crowd exceeds last years record attendance. More than 20,000 people are marching here at the gates of Fort Benning in a beautiful and massive funeral procession, led by Latin American torture survivors and social justice movement leaders, among them Renato Antonio Areiza from the Colombian Peace Community of San Jos? de Apartad?, Patricia Isasa and Father Roy Bourgeois.

10:15am - The No Más, No More Litany is beginning. Reading from the stage are Neris Gonzaleaz, a Salvadoran torture survivor; Simon Sedillo, a human rights activist and filmmaker who stood with the people in Oaxaca; Adriana Portillo-Bartow, a human rights activist and survivor of the war in Guatemala; Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking; Patricia Isasa, a torture survivor from Argentina; and Romero Ramirez and Francisca Cortez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

9:55am - Carlos Mauricio, a Salvadoran torture survivor, SOA Watch activist and the founder of the Stop Impunity Project, and Lisa Sullivan Rodriguez , SOA Watch?s Latin America Coordinator who worked with the poor in Venezuela for 21 years and raised her three children in Venezuela were on stage and talked about the successful SOA Watch trips to Latin America, the connections that have been made with grassroots movements for social justice and about the growing opposition to the SOA and U.S. militarism in Latin America. Emily Saliers from the Indigo Girls is currently singing her song.

9:20am - Charles Steele, Jr., National President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), delivers a powerful speech, calling for the closure of the SOA and connecting the civil rights movement and the work against militarism. President Steele is the Honorary Chair of the the ?Living the Dream? march.

9:10am - The newest additions to the SOA Watch staff, Aisha Brown and Joao Da Silva and the SOA Watch Council representatives from the Northeast, Deirdre MacDermott and Great Lakes Region representative Liz Deligio are addressing the crowd.

9:00am - Genaro Jacinto Calel from the International Mayan League offers a Mayan Blessing, honoring "our grandfather the sun, our mother the earth, and the life-giving universe."

8:30am - Buddhist monks of Nipponzan Myohoji are drumming on the stage. The monks from the Atlanta Dojo have organized annual peace walks from Atlanta since 1999. Over the years the Peace Walk has drawn various people of faith including Catholic clergy and lay people, Quakers, Native Americans, Jews and Buddhists. Though varied in faith and background, the mind and the heart of the participants have been united in a common cause to confront the violence and deceit of the SOA with truth and nonviolence and to see it closed forever.

8:15am - Under the cheers of those already gathered at the vigil site, the veterans contingent is marching in, powerfully chanting anti-SOA slogans.

7:15am - Military veterans from Veterans for Peace are marching down Victory Drive towards the gates of Fort Benning.

Saturday, November 18

10:00 pm - A festive and energetic march has left the Convention Center in downtown Columbus.

6:00 pm - Events at the Columbus Convention center are in full-swing tonight: film showings, the Latino Caucus, workshops, direct action planning meetings, a concert and more!

4:00 pm - As this day of remembrance and celebration progresses, our sisters and brothers in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay, Canada and Ireland are in the midst of or in preparation of coordinated actions to protest U.s. Military intervention and to demand the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC.

We have now heard from Patricia Roberts and Fernando Suarez del Solar, the proud parents of U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and who have honored their memory by fighting for peace and educating others.

Patricia Isasa, a human rights activist and torture survivor from Argentina, spoke to the thousands gathered today:
"We need to meet each other, to know each other, because we are all part of one big and important struggle, a struggle for life, a struggle to share resources and to live in peace without these terrible criminals. I think we are going to win! YES, we are GOING TO WIN! We all deserve a better world."
(Earlier this week, Patricia was featured on Democracy Now! Click here to watch the coverage).

3:00 pm - Thousands are now gathered at the gates of Ft. Benning and thousands more continue to arrive! As civil rights marchers and human rights activists began their pilgrimage today to the gates of Fort Benning, they were met with an early morning chill but found warmth in the inspiring songs of resistance performed by the Musicians Collective and words of welcome and solidarity from social justice organizers from around the world.

As Jose Oswaldo Sanchez, a student activist from El Salvador, reminded us of the struggle in El Salvador to heal the wounds of the brutal civil war, the cold air gave way to sun-drenched warmth. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers shared words of solidarity and made the connection between the unjust treatment of immigrant workers and U.S. military intervention in Latin America while Linda Chavez-Thompson of the AFL-CIO reminded us of the richness of the different cultures and ethnicities that make up the map of the Americas.

Other speakers today included:

  • Charles Steele Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC) and one of the honorary chairs of the ?Living the Dream? march.
  • Linda Chavez-Thompson, Executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO.
  • A delegation of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, one of the most significant immigrant workers rights organizations in the U.S. today.
  • Maria Guardado, a human rights activist and torture survivor from El Salvador.
  • Founder of the Moratorium Campaign and author of ?Dead Man Walking? Sister Helen Prejean.
  • Fernando Suarez del Solar, founder of the Guerrero Azteca Project, father of Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar, who was killed in Iraq in 2003.
  • We will also be blessed with the beautiful sounds and inspiring message of artists such as Holly Near, Emily Sailers of the Indigo Girls, the Chestnut Brothers, Colleen Kattau, Francisco Herrera, Jose Saavedra, David Rovics, Emma?s Revolution and more.

    This weekend, November 17-19, civil rights movement leaders, torture survivors, grandmothers, war veterans, faith communities, union organizers, families, puppeteers and social justice activists from across the Americas are converging on Fort Benning, Georgia, to speak out against the SOA/WHINSEC and to change oppressive U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, social movement activists will gather in Central and South America, calling for an end to U.S. intervention and the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC. Together, and in numbers too big to be ignored, we are taking a stand for justice, peace and accountability and against the racist system of violence and domination that is represented by the SOA/WHINSEC. Repressive militaries are not the answer to the problems of our day and age.

    Report of the Hemisphere-Wide Actions to Close the SOA/WHINSEC
    On the weekend of November 17-19, 2006, simultaneous demonstrations took place in Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ireland, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay; Fort Huachuca, Arizona; and in Davis, California! Thousands of people marched, held vigils and raised their voices, calling for a world free of militarism and the SOA/WHINSEC.
    Read a report about the Hemisphere-Wide Actions.