The 18th annual Vigil to Close the SOA was one of the largest and most vibrant yet. As early as 7 am, Veterans for Peace and supporters began marching along Victory Drive to the gates of Fort Benning where Gennaro Jacinto Calel from the International Mayan League offered a Mayan Blessing.
U.S. presidential candidates Dennis Kucinich and Cynthia McKinney, Sister Mary Waskowiak and Rabbi Michael Lerner, addressed the crowd with messages of hope, and Adriana Portillo Bartow gave a tribute to Rufina Amaya, the sole survivor of the El Mozote massacre of over 900 men, women and children in El Salvador.
In 1999, Rufina traveled from El Salvador to the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, where 19 of the 26 people found responsible for the massacre had been trained at the School of the Americas. She told the story of the massacre and worked for justice until her death of a heart illness earlier this year. Rufina Amaya Presente!
While thousands commemorated the martyrs in a solemn funeral procession at the main gate, 10 SOA Watch activists entered the Fort Benning military base through a side entrance in an attempt to carry the protest to the site of the SOA/WHINSEC: Le Ann Clausen, Diane Lopez Hughes, Stephen Schweitzer, Gus Roddy, Ozone Bhaguan, Arthur Landis, Chris Lieberman, Michelle Yipe, Ed Lewinson, and Joan Anderson were arrested by military police. Teil Rainelli, climbed the barbed wire fence at the main gate of Fort Benning during the funeral procession, raising the number of arrested to 11. Three more SOA Watch activists face charges from the city for refusing to relinquish crosses at the vigil site whose size exceeded Columbus police regulations.
– Watch and listen to a SLIDESHOW and AUDIO from the November 16-18, 2007 Vigil to Close the SOA(Photos by Mike Haskey / Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)
Simultaneous actions took place throughout the weekend in Santiago, Chile; Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Monterey, California; San Francisco, California; and Toronto, Canada. More than three hundred people rallied against torture outside the gates of Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and school for interrogation. Three people were arrested during the rally as they tried to bring their witness against torture onto the base. Betsy Lamb, Mary Burton Riseley, and Franciscan Fr. Jerry Zawada were taken into custody and charged with criminal trespass on a military installation and failure to comply with a police officer.
This has been a very exciting and energizing weekend of celebration and we invite you to continue to check the SOA Watch website for updates regarding this year’s vigil. We also ask that you make a contribution to SOA Watch so that we can continue the organizing work to close down the SOA/WHINSEC, to end the racist system of violence and domination that the school represents and to create a culture of justice and peace.