Protest and Disempowerment – One Anarchist’s Experience at SOA

November 19th, 2000 saw a continuation of the annual mass
demonstrations against the [Army] School of the Americas (aka School
of Assassins). The demo, in its 11th year, brought 10,000* people to
the base in Ft. Benning, GA. The annual demos which have mobilized
people in strong numbers, have been a non-confrontational demo of
dissenters who “cross the line” and literally jump into the hands of
the State, forfeiting themselves to the SOA’s Military Police.

November 19th, 2000 saw a continuation of the annual mass
demonstrations against the [Army] School of the Americas (aka School
of Assassins). The demo, in its 11th year, brought 10,000* people to
the base in Ft. Benning, GA. The annual demos which have mobilized
people in strong numbers, have been a non-confrontational demo of
dissenters who “cross the line” and literally jump into the hands of
the State, forfeiting themselves to the SOA’s Military Police.

Because of the last year’s successful “anti-globalization” mass
protests, showing powerful, uncompromising and innovative
resistance, SOA Watch (the organizers for the annual SOA demos), had
no choice but to welcome that movement to the SOA demo. While many
were excited about the potential the new anti-globalization movement
would bring, the movement was only welcomed to participate as
autonomous affinity groups to do actions (as long as they abided by
SOA Watch’s “Principles of Non-Violence”), but never as the actual
planning body like we have seen in the successful anti-WTO (etc.)
demos. Though the energy of the younger and more tactically militant
strand of the new movement was present, the demo remained stuck in
the rut of non-violent civil (dis)obedience of “crossing the line”
in complete cooperation with the SOA.

At 11 am, around 3,600* people “crossed the line” (resulting in over
2,100* arrests) onto the base in a long, slow, funeral procession,
carrying thousands of crosses and other sacred symbols inscribed
with the names of victims of SOA violence in Latin America. Those
names were spoken loudly and slowly and the thousands of crosses
were raised in the air as the word “presente” was spoken like a
chorus from the huge crowd. The very front of the procession was led
by dozens of “ghosts” carrying coffins, to commemorate the lives of
six Jesuit priests and their two co-workers assassinated in El
Salvador in 1989 by SOA graduates. It was an emotion-filled march
that stayed true to the seriousness of the issue at hand.

When all those planning to cross the line had done so, the Military
Police stopped the procession. The “ghosts” re-enacted a massacre
(and were later charged with vandalizing military property for the
“blood” they spilled on themselves that dripped onto the street).
Photos were taken of the “ghosts'” faces (to enter into databases),
and their “dead” bodies were loaded onto stretchers and carried
away. The buses hauled them into the SOA’s own processing center and
the rest of the march was allowed to continue. Songs were sung and
crosses were stuck into the ground next to the street. At one point
when the MP’s commanded the crowd to stop planting the crosses in
the ground, the crowd complied. One of the MP’s, targeting a woman
who ignored his commands, trampled the crosses beneath his boots as
he walked towards her. Some frustrated murmuring took place but it
never materialized. Greatly outnumbering the MP’s and other pawns of
the State, the funeral procession waited when the MP’s told it to,
and got on buses when they told it to. Where was the resistance or
even the disobedience?

Some confusion occurred at one point as a small defiant group
marched up the exit road towards the base. The crowd took notice and
cheered and chanted but none left the procession. The crowd watched
the militants get dragged away by MP’s while waiting for other MP’s
to order us onto buses.

In custody, we waited on buses, then on bleachers in the rain, then
in tents, and then in a large airplane hangar which at no point were
there feelings of unity or solidarity with fellow demonstrators. The
general feeling was an impatient curiosity of when we would get home
and into dry clothes, and on which wall to hang our “Ban and Bar”
letters on.

When we were finally processed through, herded onto buses, and
driven to a park a few miles off the base, crowds gathered around
the buses and cheered for us as we got off. We were heroes and
heroines of a fast-food style protest. It was a protest fit for
television, but there wasn’t even any media.

As a demo that has
been sharply criticized, a few questions arise. It is my hope that
we can criticize, in a way that is constructive, the movement we
take part in as part of evolving our ideas, tactics, strategies, and
our movement. Any simple write-offs that serve as destructive
criticism are useless and unnecessary. What can we learn from the
anti-globalization movement?

WHAT IS SUCCESS?

Contrary to anti-globalization protests where successes are made by
innovation, coalition building, collective actions and militancy and
are counted not just in numbers but in effectiveness, education and
empowerment, the SOA demos measure success purely in numbers. But
our movement needs not only to be big, but also empowering and
educational to participants, as well as threatening to the
institutions of oppression.

I hope the incredible aspects of the anti-globalization movement can
be brought to the anti-SOA movement, working together to further our
opposition to the SOA, and other institutions of oppression and make
real changes happen.

*Numbers are provided by SOA Watch

Author: Rob Augman

News Service: theonwardcollective@hotmail.com

URL: http://www.atlanta.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=630