I recently participated in the protest of the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, Georgia (Nov. 16-18). This was a great experience for me and an activity that I think YDS should get even more involved in next year.
SOA/WHISC is an institution that trains Latin Americans in counter insurgency tactics. Graduates are then placed in the military, police, or paramilitary forces in their country of origin. These U.S.-trained personnel have played a prominent role in repressing people’s movements and labor struggles across the region. Some SOA/WHISC graduates have even become heads of state, including such dictators as Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia (http://www.soaw.org).Others have been implicated in massacres, human rights violations and torture. This institution is vile and must be shut down. SOA Watch has been the principal advocates against this institution and the organizers of the protest.One of the most inspiring elements of this event was how dedicated to peaceful protest it was, and how that was reﬂected in the actions throughout the weekend.
The protest began in full-force on Saturday, with a stage where activists educated and performers entertained. Tables lined the road and there was great variety in the groups there, from the Bee Hive Collective to 1,000 Grandmothers.The Wooster chapter of YDS tabled for a while and we and met some very interested people. At the same time, workshops were held in the convention center of a nearby hotel.
Sunday was the procession, which was an incredibly powerful experience. The day began with the crowd being led in song and reciting the pledge of nonviolence. We marched as the names of the dead were sung to us and in response we sang back “presente”. Hearing the names read off and the crowd responding was incredibly moving. I really can't describe how powerful this sound was. Hearing 25,000 people sing together and knowing that all of us were there for the same reason created an incredible feeling of community.We marched to the fence and then placed our crosses into the fence. Seeing what had once been an entirely bare fence ﬁlled with white crosses was an incredibly powerful image. As the Grandmothers reached the fence, they then fell to their knees and began to wail and cry.At no point did this feel faked or calculated, it was merely people that were so moved by the inhumanity of this place that they could not contain themselves. The procession ended with a performance by the Puppetistas, which was very cathartic. Most of the performers were volunteers from the crowd: Art by the community, for the community.
I think that next year we should be much more involved. Getting a table would be great start, but I imagine that we could also present some workshops as well. YDS should really be there to represent Democratic Socialism and participate in solidarity.
Andrew Porter is a member of the Young Democratic Socialists College of Wooster, Ohio Chapter and an At-Large Representative on the YDS National Coordinating Committee.