Abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. But the town of Columbus, Georgia–that’s another story altogether.
For the last twenty years, protestors have gathered in the week before Thanksgiving outside the School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, Georgia, which is in Columbus, Georgia. They have conducted peaceful protests, in the nonviolent spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Protestors claim that The School of the Americas (known now as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) train military personnel throughout the hemisphere in how to shut down protests and demonstrations, as well as training military and police in sophisticated torture techniques.
Protests began twenty years ago when Americans learned that graduates of SOA were implicated in the murder of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. The priests were strong advocates for the poor among whom they lived and worked. There is evidence that Archbishop Romero was assassinated by guerillas trained at the School of the Americas.
This year twenty-four people were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, for parading without a permit, and for standing and watching the arrests (Excuse me–but what happened to “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” A local barber, for instance, stepped out of his shop to see what was going on and was promptly arrested. A number of people were arrested for the crime of taking pictures of the police who were conducting the arrests. These included a seventeen-year-old girl photographing the arrest of her twenty-year-old sister.
Once in court, the judge, who was also the prosecutor–as is apparently typical under Georgia law–ran his courtroom like a Model T factory. He ignored witness and defendant statements and evidence . Bail and fines were set high, and the town of Columbus set up a complicated system in which they accepted only cash for some parts of the penalties, allowed credit cards for others, but didn’t make their system available to the public. Four journalists, including two from Russia, were among those arrested. I guess we are showing them democracy in action so they’ll know what to do when they get arrested at home.
SOA Watch paid fines and bail for those arrested; the total was $75000. Since many of the members are Catholic Sisters and priests, as well as groups like Veterans for Peace, they don’t have deep pockets. Disclaimer: I’m not a member but I did donate money for fines and bail. A friend of mine who was at the demonstration, and helped bail out defendants, says they were in court until four Sunday morning.
I tried to insert video footage from the bus that transported people to the jail, but couldn’t figure out how to load it. The URL is here
On this Thanksgiving Day, please pause for a moment and do something to preserve the liberties which we all cherish. And wherever you are, I hope your holiday is safe and joyful.