10,000 Protesters to Converge on Ft. Benning's School of the Americas, Nov. 20-21 -
Largest Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Expected Since Vietnam War Era. Record Number Anticipated, Including Actor Martin Sheen, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Jesuits, Veterans, Students and Union Members
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the slaughter of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 15-year old daughter at the hands of U.S. Army School of the Americas graduates, over 10,000 people from around the country representing labor, students, war veterans, and a diversity of faiths are expected to protest the Ft. Benning military training school on November 20 and 21.
"We are not going away until this school is closed," said Father Roy Bourgeois, co-director of School of the Americas Watch, an organization committed to shutting down the SOA. "The enormous number of protesters this year is proof that the American people will not tolerate government support for a school that is consistently linked to crimes against humanity."
To kick off the weekend protest, SOA Watch will host a press conference at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 20 outside the School's gates (Ft. Benning main gate on Ft. Benning Road). The press conference will feature labor and student leaders, Bourgeois, and Rufina Amaya, a survivor of the 1981 massacre of nearly 1,000 civilians in El Mozote, El Salvador. Also available to speak to press will be Richard Velez, a Colombian journalist who was savagely beaten in 1996 by military troops under the command of an SOA graduate.
At noon Sunday, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and actor Martin Sheen, along with over 5,000 protesters, are expected to risk arrest by crossing onto the military base in a solemn funeral procession bearing symbolic coffins and crosses with the names of victims of SOA violence.
Despite the School's recent efforts to renounce its brutal history and recast itself as a counter-narcotic training center, evidence shows that little has changed, according to SOA Watch co-director Carol Richardson. As recently as 1997 and 1998, Colombian military officers who were SOA graduates have been implicated in the massacre of 30 peasants and the murder of three human rights workers. "Advocates of the SOA say the School is necessary to fight the drug war in Colombia, but the fact remains only 15 percent of Colombian soldiers took counter-narcotics training courses in 1998. The vast majority took the same old classes in commando tactics, combat training, and psychological warfare," said Richardson.
Momentum to shut down the SOA continues to build in Congress. In July, the House of Representatives voted 230-197 to cut partial funding of the School's budget. Meanwhile, companion bills to shut down the School, H.R. 732 (Rep. Joseph Moakley) and S.873 (Sen. Richard Durbin), continue to gather bi-partisan co-sponsors as they make their way to a floor vote. (May want to include information on how local Representative and Senator stands on the issue.)