Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fort Benning 2006

Part one: The trip to Georgia and an evening in Alabama
My trip to Columbus, Georgia, for the SOA Watch protest at the gates of Fort Benning was a great adventure this year.
I traveled down to Georgia with a group from Syracuse, New York. We started on November 15 and arrived in Georgia on November 16. On our way down, we experienced a large traffic tie-up in Pennsylvania and an even larger traffic tie-up in Virginia. The Virginia traffic jam was accompanied by sheets of rain and the overwhelming darkness of a stormy night. As the five of us sat in our unmoving car, we played a geography game and sang and recited nursery rhymes. It felt almost surreal or, as Rae pointed out, it was much like being stuck in the Twilight Zone.
After about two and a half hours, we emerged from the traffic jam. We were then able to see the cause of the traffic jam: an accident that resulted in a crushed tractor trailer. Many police cars, fire trucks, and an ambulance or two were parked at the scene of the disaster. I sincerely hoped that no one was injured too severely.
We spent the night at a church in a church in Statesville, North Carolina.
Rae and Ann reported to us the next day that they had awakened during the night to hear a huge storm. They said that it sounded like a hurricane.
We found out later that tornadoes had hit various parts of the southeast that night, including Fort Benning.
We arrived in Columbus, Georgia, early on Thursday afternoon and settled in our hotel rooms.
Before long, however, we were back in the car, on our way to Opelika, Alabama, to meet up with the "Living the Dream" marchers. They had spent the week walking from Selma, on their way to Columbus. I had considered joining them but never followed through. This didn't seem like the right time for me to do that, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps, if they do it again, I will take the whole walk with them.
We were looking forward to hearing Kathy Kelly speak at St. James Baptist Church in Opelika. The talk was scheduled for seven o'clock in the evening. We were very concerned about getting to the church on time. We ate a dinner at a pizza parlor in Opelika, surrounded by a youthful soccer team that seemed to be enjoying an awards dinner. There were loads of kids and even more trophies.
The pizza parlor was quite a place. It was filled with all sorts of memorabilia of Auburn University and its famous football team, as well as loads of other stuff, all for sale. Near the ceiling, a little train chugged around a track. It was quite a delightful restaurant, and the prices were very low. The people who worked there were quite pleasant, and we were made to feel right at home.
After dinner, we went straight to St. James Baptist Church and saw that... no one was there! We were confused. It was exactly seven o'clock in the evening. That's when we realized that seven o'clock in Georgia was only six o'clock in Alabama. As soon as we crossed the bridge over the Chattahoochee River into Alabama, we had changed time zones, from eastern to central. We got to relax for an hour before the talk. Also we were welcomed by the pastor of the church, the Rev. George Bandy, who made us feel very welcome.
We heard from a variety of people, including the Rev. George Bandy, who talked about the civil rights movement here in this country and the School of the Americas. We were introduced to Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson, who has been a civil rights activist since the 1930s and is still going strong at 95. We also were entertained by the Living the Dream choir, who led us in rousing sing-alongs. They even invited members of the audience to join them in front. Kathy Kelly gave an energetic and heartfelt talk about human rights... including civil rights in the United States, her experiences in Iraq, and issues involving the SOA/WHINSEC.
It was a good evening. Ed, Rae, Nancy, Ann, and I agreed that, when we left, we felt energized by the experience. We took Kathy back to the hotel to spend the night with us. She left early the next morning.

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