October 30, 2001

C.U., I.C. Activists Keep Eyes Trained on School of Americas

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More than 50 students and local activists, about one-fourth of them from Cornell, held a nonviolence training retreat last weekend to prepare for the upcoming protests over the School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S.-run training center for Latin American militaries in Ft. Benning, Ga.

The so-called “convergence,” sponsored by the Ithaca Catholic Worker and the Committee for U.S. and Latin American Relations (CUSLAR), is held before the Close the SOA protests each fall to teach activists about civil disobedience. Training events were held at a local Unitarian church on Friday, and the activities on Saturday took place in Anabel Taylor Hall.

“We had a four-hour nonviolence training [session] that included discussions about the history of nonviolence in addition to role-plays that helped each participant decide ahead of time how they would react when confronted with potentially violent or confrontational situations,” said Marcie Ley, CUSLAR coordinator.

The widely publicized protests will take place Nov. 16-18.

The SOA, recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is a target for groups such as SOA Watch, an organization founded in 1990 to inform the public about the school and other anti-globalization organizations. A major part of the worldwide peace movement, the protests routinely draw the attention of Congress and many outspoken Hollywood celebrities — including actor Martin Sheen and folk singer Pete Seeger.

However, the demonstration will take on added emphasis subsequent to the mobilization of the U.S. military in its attack on Afghanistan.

“While we realize that our desire to promote peace and justice for all people may not be a popular stance during these times of international conflict, we recognize the enduring validity of our right to express our views,” Ley said.

“In the face of increased repression of dissent, both on this campus and throughout the country, we feel it is even more important to organize around this worthwhile cause and make our voices heard,” she said.

Grace Ritter, of Ithaca College’s SOA Watch chapter, helped organize the training event last weekend.

“Every year we have nonviolence training to get everyone on the same page,” Ritter said. “I think it was successful.”

According to Ritter, activities over the weekend included workshops on street theater, music and media in addition to the nonviolence training.

“We feel that not only are we trying to protest the things we see as wrong, but we also want to create and bring a positive message,” she said.

There are already several events planned for the upcoming protests in Georgia, including a vigil outside the gates of the SOA.

“In the past, we have always had a big rally on Saturday with lots of speakers, people who have had experience with SOA, who have been tortured,” Ritter said. “The next day there has always been a funeral procession where people participating risk arrest by crossing onto the base to speak for the voiceless in Latin America.”

However, she said, the funeral procession will be different this year because Ft. Benning is now a closed base.

Ley said the event last weekend was worthwhile and will lead to a successful protest next month.

“Those of us who attended the convergence are certainly well-prepared for the trip to Georgia as well as for future advocacy and lobbying,” she said.

Archived article by Andy Guess