Five year old Jose Diaz was killed in El Salvador by graduates of the School of the Americas in Columbus, GA. I don’t know anything about the circumstances. That was all the information written on one of the thousands of crosses at the funeral procession.
I selected this one because it was about the age of the little boy we shot in the head in Vietnam. It wasn’t meant to be, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A bullet entered right in the middle of his forehead and created a leaky exit in the back of his head. Unlike all the women and children around him, he was alive and babbling when we found him. I don’t know what happened after that, but I never imagine he is alive when I think of him and his family - and I think about them a lot.
I walked down the street, outside the Fort Benning gate, waiting for the funeral procession to begin. Young people were opening boxes of crosses and placing them on the grass for people to pick up. Each cross had a different person’s name on it with some additional information. Some only had “unknown” with or without a location. There were thousands of them. They represented the people in Latin America who were murdered by the people trained by Americans at Fort Benning’s School of the Americas (SOA) or as many called it, the “School of Assassins”.
One man had a Jewish Star listing the Jews that were killed in Argentina. Other years he carried a cross, but this year he said he wanted to honor the Jewish victims. Many of the people have been coming here for years while others like me were here for the first time. I looked into the eyes of the aging nuns in wheelchairs and the young high school and college kids. These were the people who really cared. They each had their cross; some were decorated with flowers, others with words. They all knew about the sisters and priests that were murdered in the different countries.
People were waiting for the funeral procession. The drummers were practicing, the Puppetistas were putting together their props and climbing into the frame work of the giant puppets. Way down the street the crowd was thinner so I turned around and started the walk back to the gate.
I had arrived early in the morning. walking in with the Veterans for Peace. We left the Days Inn at 7:15 and marched together that mile and a half to the gate, chanting a cadence that expressed our thoughts about war and militarism. Like the others on the street, many of these men and women had been coming here for years and were passionate about closing down the SOA.
Back at the stage there was a constant stream of musicians and speakers. The Buddhists had just completed a 100 mile walk from Atlanta. They were chanting and drumming on the stage and they were beautiful. The day before they had stopped at the Stewart Detention Center where about 1800 immigrants were awaiting deportation. (See story below). Their crime was trying to improve their lives and feed their families. We don’t allow that here anymore.
Procession and Vigil at Stewart Detention Center, Friday 11/20
This weekend's activities got started on Friday morning. SOA Watch activists joined over 100 social justice and immigrant rights activists in a procession from Lumpkin Town Square to the Stewart Detention Center to call attention to the abuses perpetrated at this commercial prison which in the last year have killed one prisoner and hurt many. Prisoners are continuing to participate in hunger strikes to demand better conditions.
In a powerful and emotional vigil, survivors of detention centers, family members of detainees and human rights activists gathered to listen to those families torn apart by raids and forced detention, including the family of one detainee whose three children went in to visit him following the vigil.
Many immigrants to the United States are victims of U.S.-sponsored military training and atrocities in Latin America. In our fight to close the SOA, we continue to work towards a world that is free of suffering and violence. We recognize the SOA as a part of the same racist system of violence and domination that operates US immigration policy. We ally ourselves with victims and survivors of state violence and their families in our effort to create a better world.
Powerful Weekend Resisting Violence & Oppression
Four Line-Crossers Arrested Today; Hundreds of Demonstrators Penetrate Police Barricades
This weekend was a truly inspirational and powerful gathering made possible only by the collective work of thousands of activists like you.
Photo by Linda Panetta.
This morning, we came together at the gates of Ft. Benning to solemnly remember those killed by the graduates of the SOA. Four carried their witness across military lines and were arrested on the base: Nancy Gwin of Syracuse, NY; Ken Hayes of Austin, TX; Fr. Louis Vitale of Oakland, CA; and Michael Walli of Washington, DC.
Michael is refusing to post bail, and will remain in custody at least until the trial in January 2010. Nancy, Ken and Louis have been released and will soon be headed back to their communities to spread the truth about the SOA/WHINSEC. You can join them! Keep your eyes out for further updates with messages about their journeys.
Following the procession, several hundred activists risked arrest, marching into the street beyond the confines of the protest to carry their message of resistance and people power even further. Puppetistas carrying large puppets of the six Jesuit martyrs alongside Cakalak Thunder and other drumming groups led a march together beyond police barricades to lift of the spirit of life so as to better remember the work and ideas of those who we have lost. Resistencia, Presente!