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Report Back--Strategy Sessions 2012 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Nico Udu-gama   
Saturday, 14 January 2012 22:18

TimelineOn Sunday, April 15, around 50 SOA Watch organizers gathered at Georgetown Law School in DC. Local organizers were represented from across the country including California, Georgia, New York, Florida, and DC! The morning started out with a movement timeline looking at SOA Watch in the context of what was happening throughout Latin America and the United States. We discussed how the movement has evolved over time and the shifts in tacts that people observed. We then split up into four breakout groups, Direct Action, Legislative, Education and Outreach, and Local Organizing. Each group discussed these different areas, shared experiences and success stories, and focused on concrete plans to enhance our organizing work.

More to come on updates and work plans coming out of the strategy session to follow in the next couple of weeks. Contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information or questions.

Thanks to Georgetown Law School's Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) for hosting the strategy sessions.

Click on the links for each individual report back: Legislative, Education and Outreach, Direct Action and Local Organizing!

Legislative Strategy

Facilitators: Legislative Working Group (Rebecca Kanner, Alison Snow, Ellen Barfield, Theresa Cameranisi)

This session focused on identifying ways to support various aspects of the legislative work. We wanted to come up with specific ideas and plans for achieving the following three goals:
1. Making the legislative work to close the SOA/WHINSEC a key component of the movement and putting the SOA on the national agenda
2. Building alliances with and working with groups doing similar legislative work (both on the the locally level and nationally)
3. Empowering local groups to do legislative work throughout the year, not just in April and November

After discussing the history of the legislative work to close the SOA and where we are now with that work, we talked about the three goals and how they relate to the work. Then we broke up into three small groups. Each group brainstormed around one of the goals, sharing ideas on how to reach it and further flushing out what it means. (See below for the brainstorm ideas generated by each group.) Before the break, each group reported back on their brainstorm ideas.

During part two of the session, we worked on taking the ideas generated in the brainstorms and developing concrete plans for each goal. First, we shared our own successes and perceived failures in the legislative work. Pam Bowman joined us to give a briefing on the current political atmosphere in Congress, particularly in the House, and how this can impact our strategies. Then we prioritized the ideas from the small group brainstorms.

The group identified the following as priorities for 2012:

1. Exploring an Organizational Sign-on Letter
2. Develop relationships with Congressional staffers in district and DC offices
3. Educate ourselves on issues/get facts
4. Approach allies to lobby together
5. Research and ally with groups working on military training issues and collaborate
6. Bringing Latin American speakers to US to lobby

We wanted to come up with a list of concrete tasks for each of these priorities. However, there wasn't time to address them all. Here are the actions we suggested for the first four on the list.  This was our report back to the larger group:

Organizational Sign-On Letter ~ topic: cut SOA funding as part of mandated military spending cuts

1. Draft letter
2. Identify groups ~ national, regional, local
3. Develop sign-on procedure
4. Distribute letter to movement
5. Identify key Representatives; how cuts to be made

Develop Relationships with Congressional Staffers ~ District and DC Offices

1. Follow-up visits with thank you note within 1 week
2. Follow-up visits with calls, email, letters within 1 month
3. Research Congressional Members and find thing(s) to connect on
4. Go to at least one of their (Representatives/Senators) events within 6 months
5. Find other connections ~ schools, religious, interests, organizations
6. Focus on local power centers

Educate Ourselves (movement, grassroots)

1. Have a teach-in
2. Learn history/facts re SOA

Approaching Allies to Lobby Together

1. Who are our allies? Identify local groups ~ Veterans, Union, Religious, Groups working on Latin America, anti-militarization, immigration, others
2. Go to their events (local events)
3. Partner on related issues
4. Build relationships

Legislative Strategy Session Notes

Sharing Success and Challenges:

1. Aide mentioned something learned from previous visit with group
2. Get Aide passionate about issue, then Aide influences Member
3. Impromptu meeting wtih Member
4. Good, long-term relationship with Congressional staff members

1. Discouragement at Aide
2. Members asking us to investigate, how to get Congress to investigate
3. Congress uses "terrorism" as excuse for secrecy
4. Representative really good on all issues EXCEPT SOA
5. Representatives repeating military propaganda
6. Military personnel working in Congressional offices

Brainstorm on Goals:

Goal 1: Making legislative work a key component and putting SOA on national agenda

1.Both inside and outside movement
2.Internally raised profile would energize the movement
3.Lend local excitement
4. Media campaign ~ social media, op-eds, video (transparency, truth and reconciliation) 
5.Letter writing campaign, postcards
6.College lobbying trips, huge training effort
7.Escalation of tactics
8. Bring Latin American speakers to US for public speaking and lobby visits (5)
9. Connections, maybe funding from Latin American governments
10. Legislative campaigns in Latin American countries to not send students to SOA
11. SOA truth commission focused on Congress ~ expertise from Latin Americans who have done truth commissions
12. Film showings
13. Connect SOA issues to "defense" funding cuts, especially toward new Tea Party Members
14. Organizational sign-on letter to Congress
Goal 2: Building alliances with and working with groups doing similar legislative work (locally and nationally)

1. Join existing coalitions
2. Approaching natural allies to do lobbying together
3.Look for overlapping issues (e.g. Guatemala's president is SOA grad)
4.Collaborating on info gathering; identify info gaps
5.Attending each others' conferences, marches, events, etc, having tables
6.Put SOA/WHINSEC in sight for other groups
7.Develop talking points on US training and other issues that are being worked on locally
8.At home/locally make lists of groups to work with
9.Research other groups working on military training outside of Latin America issues, globalize the struggle
10.Use HR 3368 postcards with other groups (unions, vets and more)
11.Organize organizational sign on letter

Goal 3: Empower local groups to do legislative work throughout the year, not just in November and April

1.Get facts, to not feel stupid when talking to Congress; facts about countries, facts about current legislative climate
2.Media awareness ~ how to let media know that you met with Congress or Aide
3.Get the local group (in Columbus) to think WHINSEC should be closed
4.Relate to family and friends of the soldier
5.Developing relationships with District and DC Congressional staffers
6.Identify books and magazine articles
7.Organizational sign on letter
8.What are the actions to maintain contact with Congressional offices: email, postcards (quarterly), phone calls to district and DC offices, check legislators website, thank them with cookies
9.Meeting in district offices and make it public

Nonviolent Direct Action
Facilitators Kathleen Desautels and Elizabeth Deligio

At the heart of the SOA Watch movement lies a willingness to use our bodies to demonstrate our opposition to the deadly training taught at the SOA.

The Strategy session started out with a history of nonviolent direct action in the movement to close the SOA. We use nonviolent direct action because it is necessary and effective. In Argentina, daily demonstrations by the Mothers of the Disappeared caused the fall of the SOA-led dictatorship that claimed 30,000 lives. In Bolivia in 2003, campesinos and workers transformed their entire government after the use of strategic nonviolent direct action forced their president to resign.

Creative civil disobedience has a long history in our movement. Father Roy’s original action - climbing a tree on the grounds of Fort Benning to broadcast Oscar Romero’s famous homily calling on soldiers to resist orders to kill their brothers and sisters - was unexpected, creative, and dangerous for him personally. We cross the line at Ft. Benning to stand in solidarity with activists in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Haiti and Mexico and all the places where people are putting their bodies on the line to challenge imperialism, neoliberalism and military domination.

Taking action is indeed the only way to change the current existence of domination and oppression that occurs through military force. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world are putting their lives on the line in order to create change. Consider Chile, for example, where students, workers, environmentalists, and citizens are actively and continuously taking to the street in order to demand change in the neo-liberal policies that were installed under the Pinochet dictatorship. We, too, must take bold and courageous action in opposition to the US hegemonic domination polices.

Following a conversation about affinity groups, and roles for activists in nonviolent direct action, the group slip into two. The first group discussed possible action scenarios at the Fort Benning military base, where - for over twenty years - people from all walks of life have trespassed to call for the SOA's closure. These peacemakers have built a movement undeterred by harsh prison sentences and the Pentagon's smoke and mirrors campaign. Today, 245 individuals have served prison sentences of up to 18 months. These "Prisoners of Conscience"  use their outrageous sentences to educate and awaken the public to the atrocities committed by SOA graduates. The second group discussed other creative actions that affinity groups can carry out within their communities as well as during the April Days of Action in Washington, DC.

Local Organizing Session

Facilitator: Andrew Willis Garcés

This session served to give ideas for local organizing around the SOA/WHINSEC issue. The movement to close the SOA/WHINSEC has always relied on local groups organizing different actions and events in their communities throughout the year, not simply mobilizing for the yearly vigil at Ft. Benning.
The session started out with examples of local organizing in SOA Watch. Representatives from SOA Watch San Francisco (CA), Long Island (NY), Columbus (GA) and Cleveland (OH) shared with the group their successes and problems in organizing. The SOA Watch Columbus chapter talked about their upcoming work to get a local NAACP resolution renewed against the SOA/WHINSEC (leading to a national resolution), as well as their work at the upcoming June SOA/WHINSEC Board of Visitors meeting.
Different ideas for local organizing events and actions were thought up, as well as connecting with the Occupy Movement. We also mapped out groups we have worked with locally, and groups we would like to build more relationships with. Also looking at the electoral year and how we can do events in our communities to connect SOA with other relevant issues.

Ideas for Events/Actions
film screenings
public talk
get allies to endorse
Map connections (labor, religious, anti-war, students, civil rights, immigration, vets, youth, high school
Resources on soaw.org
target Board of Visitors members
school presentations on “human rights”
scholarship program for vigil--require to volunteer/participate
get opinion pieces published
resolutions passed at local level
bird-dogging on presidential candidate campaign trail. Getting local group to get one question about SOA/WHINSEC during town hall meetings, to get candidates on public record

Tips for Building Your Group

Don't expect everyone to be at every meeting
Make meetings social/have food
Plan your work and work your plan
Create opportunities to plug-in
Connect to other issues (i.e., Occupy)
Create connections to staff (Skype events)
Stay in touch! Send/Share relevant news
Have a core planning group/board
Engage people between events

Tips for Building Alliances

Approach on common ground/shared interest
Make it personal
Tell personal stories (Monsanto and SOA)
Think about their interest (financial)
Connect to larger (North-South) struggle
Look for contacts through existing networks
Gestures! Express appreciation
Just show up
Expose (il)logic of militarism

Building Alliances
Groups/sectors you have worked with:

Vets for Peace
Migrant Workers
Sierra Cluba
Anti-war christians
Jobs with Justice
Project South
Peace Studies Departments
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
Unitarian Universalists
housing rights organizations
Immigrant detention orgs
Health centers

Groups sectors you haven’t worked with:

Palestine Solidarity
Queers/ LGBT (centers)
Food Justice
Black Student Groups
Congressional Black and LAtino
Panamanian Association
Theatre/ Arts (Alternate Roots)
Animal Rights organizations
anti-violence (V-Day)
Highlander Center
Community Media
Corporate sector
graffiti artists
climate activists
think tanks
Native/First Nation Peoples
Undocumented Youth
City Councils
Political Parties

Education and Outreach Summary
Facilitators: Maia Rodriguez and Becca Polk

This session mostly focused on ways to enhance local organizers methods of doing education and outreach in their communities. We started out with an activity generating a list of things that SOA Watch does well in terms of education and outreach and things the need to be improved. See below for the brainstorm. Part two of the breakout session was aimed at building strategies within 3 major areas to focus on: Political education of the culture of militarism, Resources for local education and outreach, Methods to learn/share from anti-militarization struggles across the Americas. See below for some of the plans people came up with.

We recognized that SOA Watch as movement has been instrumental in education thousands across the Americas about militarization. It continues to be a platform for politicization and opens doors to many other social justice movements. For this reason, it is important that we continue to strengthen our strategies for education. We want grassroots organizers to feel empowered to develop and share education tools and outreach strategies that they are using. Please contact Becca at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information.

Things SOAW does well

intergenerational outreach and communication
cross-cultural balance
Traditional vigils/speakers
Collecting info/contacts
the vigil: st. convention center
helping people take a life-long commitment to peace and social justice
roys talks, example and outreach
personal relationships/word of mouth-- “social media”
Having a focus: closing the School of Americas
Improving communication about delegations, work in between the big events, etc.
Use of acting and theater and puppets to connect peoples souls t the movement

Areas to strengthen/ needs improvement

Outreach to youth beyond the Vigil
Vigil: Bringing youth and newer folks to the vigil
provide local organizations with tools and flyers
ground anti-militarization work to local campaigns(ex. In London, Ontario campaign against local construction of army tanks
Building alliances with partner organization in Lat. Am.
Listening process, seeing ourselves as S-N learners
More clarity and strength in conveying that “we struggle for much more than shutting down the SOA”,
Mass media coverage- documentary, make our own media and social networking
Consistent, concise message
lack of sophistication in internet activism (in comparison to MoveOn.org)

Anti-Militarization from the Inside Out
-connect fair trade and militarism
-unpack benefits global north gets from militarism
-gather local info/activities and make available nationally
-develop template for recording info
-Identify intern/activante/ volunteers to develop educational toolkits/curriculums
-post on website

Bridges not Bases
-Research bases in LA (coordinate nationally)
-Find local connection
-have delegations to/from base areas
-Use as a local organizing tool

Political Education
-Educating different groups of social entities ie unions, teachers/ professors, social workers, mental health practitioners
-To get two professional groups to formally endorse de-militarization and commit to act upon this endorsement
-Military spending is a benefit of the 1% and detriment of the 99%-Austerity
-Specific strategies for each social group that is approached

How to build Knowledge in those who don’t know
-slide show for friends/ family/groups after travel
-personalize the issue/connect
-community presence (vs. worldwide)
-utilize personal strengths
-strength in numbers -- spread across different regions/sharing fields of experience between representatives (SOAW) and new constituents
-Focus time and energy on those who are interested, throw away contact for those not interested

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 June 2012 21:29

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