Monday, March 12, 2007

snow, wind, and a glimmer of light...

note: This is my March 2007 newsletter
In mid-January,
winter finally arrived here in Western New York, with ice, wind, snow, and breath-defying temperatures.
The ice made the bare tree branches glow with the prism of fractured colors on a sunny day. During that time, I returned to Columbus, Georgia, for trial for stepping through a hole in the Fort Benning fence.
I visited the Riverwalk along the Chattahoochee River for a few peaceful walks. The air was not frigid, as it was in Western New York, but it was cold.
I looked deep into the water, and saw that it flowed gently and seemingly endlessly. Ducks floated by on the surface of the water. I walked past patches of violas, those hardy plants that bloom brightly in temperatures that would kill other flowers. I bent down and photographed the plants.
It was during those quiet moments that I looked inward for the words that I would say in court to answer the question: why did I cross that fence for a third time? Why did I risk another six-month sentence in federal prison?
The ducks and violas had reminded me of the quiet joy of being alive. I was free to enjoy a peaceful walk along a river. Despite the cold and the bare trees, the experience was life-affirming. And affirming life is what led me to the Fort Benning fence. I was not there just to say no to torture and to assassination but to say yes to human rights and to life.
Originally, I chose to cross the Fort Benning fence as a means to express my horror that my language school classmate, Sister Dianna Ortiz, had been tortured by military who had been trained in their violent acts right here in the United States. I was horrified by what had happened to her. But she survived and is now the executive director of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC International).
Many others who were tortured by U.S. trained military did not survive. Many of them disappeared without a trace. They had friends, too who can never have closure. I think of the mothers and the grandmothers (abuelas) of the disappeared who continue to stand with photographs of their loved ones in Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.
When I learned about the 1,000 Grandmothers group that Cathy Webster started for the Fort Benning protest, I thought about the ladies of the Plaza de Mayo. And so, I chose to cross again, to affirm life and to remember those who had died as a result of my government's policies. When I stepped through that hole in the Fort Benning fence, I carried with me a cross inscribed with a man's name. The Salvadoran man had been 105 years old when he was killed. I remember being shocked that someone who was old suffered such a violent death.
I was able to carry only one cross through that hole in the fence but, in my heart, I carried many others. I remembered the judicial anti-drug squad who had been massacred by the Farallones High Mountain Battalion of the Colombian Army's Third Brigade in May 2006. I remembered the eight members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community of Colombia who had been killed by members of the 17th brigade, led by SOA graduate Brigadier General Hector Jaime Rincon, in 2005.
I chose to make a stand for the human rights that had been denied to these individuals. I wanted to say that these folks' lives had meaning and that the world had not been made safer by their violent deaths. By crossing the fence, I used my body to say that I valued life and human rights more than my personal freedom. I talked about my motivations in court.
"I came to petition my government for a redress of grievances. I was welcomed by fences, barbed wire, no trespassing signs, and hordes of police. I was welcomed by the sight of no governmental official willing to listen to my concerns or to accept my petitions. I felt lost in a security state that I could not understand..."
I also read in Spanish and English part of Archbishop Oscar Romero's final homily before he was assassinated by an SOA-trained death squad. He talked directly to the soldiers, begging them to end the violence that was consuming his country. I chose to speak those words because I felt that Archbishop Romero's words came from the perspective of someone who had the strength to speak truth to power, even though he knew that he was placing his own life in danger.
"Hermanos, vienen de neustra gente estan matando a sus propios hermanos. cualquier orden a matar, ha de ser coforme a la ley de Dios, el caul dice, no maten!
Nadie tiene que obedecer ninguna orden que sea inmoral.
Es tiemo que obedezca a su conciencia y no las ordenes inmorales.
La Iglesia no pueda mantenerse en silenci antes dicha abominacion...
En el nobre de Dios, en el nombre del pueblo sufrido cuys gritos leegan cada dia mas fuerte al cielo, les pido, les ruego, les ordeno, para la represion!
"Brothers, you come from your own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, 'Thou shat not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination... in the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression."
After I finished, the prosecutor, Stuart Alcorn, asked Judge G. Mallon Faircloth to sentence me to six months in federal prison because this was "the third time that she's crossed in five years." Judge Faircloth agreed with the prosecution and he sentenced me to six months in prison.
At the end of my six month sentence, I will regain my freedom and will go home. I see it as a small sacrifice when I think of the friends and families of the disappeared, who may never know what happened to their loved ones and who have to live with that pain for the rest of their lives.
I will begin my six-month sentence on Wednesday, March 21, at the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut.
Thank you for all of your support and for the work that you do to say yes to human rights and to life!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

SOA 16

Julienne Oldfield sent me this picture of the SOA 16, all together as a group in a circle.
We are still together in spirit, although we are separated by miles now and will be in separate prison facilities to serve our sentences.
Some of us have been notified as to where we are to serve our sentences and when we are expected at our new "homes." My notice came first, sooner than I anticipated. I will serve my six-month sentence at the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut. I have to deliver myself there on March 21, the first day of spring. I am looking to come back home somewhere around the 19th of September.
Even though I've been in prison in the past, the prospect of spending six months in federal prison is still a bit daunting and even scary. But, even so, I am fortunate. I am going to prison for something that I truly believe in. I am going to prison because I chose to carry a message that said yes to life and human rights and no to torture and assassination onto the grounds of Fort Benning, home of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas). I chose to leave a cross on the grounds of Fort Benning, bearing the name of an old man who had been killed by people trained by my government. I left that cross in a spirit of hope, not despair, however. The hope is that no more old men, young women, babies, children, or any other people will be killed or tortured by troops trained by my government. The hope is also that my government will establish a truth and reconciliation commission so that some redress can be afforded to the victims of U.S.-sponsored violence against civilians.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Trial of the Century

At the end of January, it was time to return to Columbus, Georgia, for me and for fourteen of my co-defendants. One of my co-defendants, Margaret, never left Columbus. On November 19th, which we found out was her birthday, she made the decision to go to jail, instead of posting bond so that she could be released from custody pending her trial.
On Monday, January 29, the fifteen of us and our supporters lined up at the Howard Johnson's to march to court. We carried crosses bearing the name of people who had been killed by graduates of the School of the Americas. Virginia Ward, mom of our co-defendant Grayman Ward, chanted the names of the dead, and we responded "presente," just as we had on November 19.
It was a cold morning but the sky was bright and clear.
At the steps of the courthouse/post office, we held a press conference. Five of us shared brief statements about what brought us to the other side of the Fort Benning fences.
Then it was time to enter the court for our trials.
The trials lasted just one day. All of us had a chance to say what we felt that we needed to say about WHINSEC/SOA. Grayman chose to sing his commentary about the judge. Judge Faircloth then commented on the singing... but, well, newspapers and magazines probably won't be calling or mailing him offers to take on the job of music critic. He also tried on the role of stand-up comedian. When he told us that we would have to pay a $10 assessment fee, he commented, "I don't know what that's for. Maybe it's for the entertainment of being here today." OK, that was a little bit funny. The debate between the the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the judge about sentences for a few of the defendants, who had expired ban and bar letters, was somewhat entertaining, too, but I think that we might have been overcharged with that $10 admission fee. I would suggest to Judge Faircloth that he isn't ready to quit his day job. I chose not to offer that recommendation in court, however... or my fee for the entertainment might have been increased to $20!!!
Popcorn, anyone???
Not all of the time in the court involved light entertainment, musical performances, and bad jokes, however. The court statements were serious and moving. Some of my co-defendants talked about personal experiences. Margaret Bryant-Ganer discussed the hardships of life in West Virginia, where mining companies have run amuck, and compared it to life in Latin America, where U.S.-trained military have run amuck. Tina Busch-Nema described an incident in Honduras, where she had been a missionary. She had come face to face with a death squad, quite accidentally. The death squads had guns and did not seem hesitant to use them. They did not use them that day. Tina talked about the fear that she experienced, both during the incident and after it. Val Fillenwarth talked about her grandson, Ben, who died in a car accident. She related the grief of a grandmother and the feelings of helplessness that her family experienced when Ben died. But, she said, that was an accident. In Latin America, U.S.-trained military kill people's children and grandchildren, and that is no accident.
My own court statement focused on the issues of freedom vs. security. I talked about losing my freedom to petition my government for a redress of grievances. Instead of speaking directly to governmental officials, in this case, the people who run the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation, I was faced with barbed-wire-topped fences and police. When I tried to exercise my freedom of religion by placing a cross with the name of a 105-year-old Salvadoran man who had been killed on the grounds of Fort Benning, I was arrested. I concluded by reading a portion of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero's final homily in both Spanish and English.
Take a look at the SOA Watch website for information about the SOA 16, which includes biographical stuff, court statements, and sentences.
Margaret was released from jail following her trial. She related that her fellow inmates in the Muscogee County Jail told her that they enjoyed having her there with them but now it was time for her to go home. I was especially happy to see her in the courtroom for my trial.
I would like to express my thanks to my supporters, the attorneys, the SOA Watch staff, everyone who helped prepare us for the trial, for the food preparation crew, and to my co-defendants. In addition to the ones named above, I would like to mention Cathy Webster, Don Coleman, Phil Gates, Nathan Slater, Martina LeForce, Mike Vosburg-Casey, Melissa Helman, Julienne Oldfield, Whitney Ray, Josh Harris, and Sister Sheila Salmon. I am very grateful to all of my co-defendants for their witness.
The pictures and stories below are of trial preparation activities and are posted in no particular order. The red rose pictured above represents life. We all hope for a life in Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere that is free of war, violence, and repression.
For more pictures and stories about my Georgia trip, please take a look at my Alice's Grand Adventures blog by clicking onto the link on the left-hand side of this page.

taking a break

Julienne, Betsy, and I went for a short walk along the Chattahoochee River between the many marathon sessions that we enjoyed as we prepared for the Trial of the Century (not quite the Scopes Monkey Trial, but that was the last century!).


Here are Juliana Illari and Julienne Oldfield enjoying the fun and frolic of the Festival of Hope. Their names sound alike, sort of, and their color coordination is quite incredible. This is the Festival Fashion Statement, without a doubt!

Judge Faircloth???

Here is... ummm... "Judge Faircloth," not to be mistaken with "Judge Judy" or Night Court's Judge Harry Stone. Come to think of it, where is Night Court when we need it?? So anyway, we held "court," with Judge Faircloth, who was mad and was offering three months here and six months there... here a month, there a month, everywhere a month, a month...
We also had the winner of the one millionth... billionth, trillionth... oh who can remember when the numbers get to be that big... inmate to enter into BOP-land... with prizes galore... mostly booby prizes, however!
It was all great fun for everyone concerned... and those of us who are headed on a government-sponsored vacation in BOP-land are looking forward to collecting a few of those prizes.
(BOP= federal bureau of prisons)

Introducing the acts

Eric LeCompte, operations coordinator for SOA Watch, had a great deal of fun introducing the wide variety of "talent or non-talent" at the gala festival of hope on Sunday, January 28. We had a great time reciting or reading poetry, singing, telling stories, and juggling, among other activities.

Father Roy Bourgeois and Gail Phares

Father Roy Bourgeois chats with Gail Phares of Witness for Peace shortly after his return from a whirlwind trip to Colombia, Panama, and Nicaragua.
At the Sunday evening Festival of Hope, he talked his journey.
"I experienced fear of the empire in Colombia. I talked about our movement in solidarity with them (the Colombians). They are hearing about people confronting nonviolently el empirio (the empire). They send love and el abrazos (hugs) to the SOA 16 and to all. They know that we're here, walking in solidarity with them.
"We don't need guns and commandos. We need health care, schools, and hospitals," Father Roy said. He also talked about creating symbols of hope... Project Mariposa... to put butterflies on buildings and in parks...

Joao, our media guy

Joao da Silva is SOA Watch's media coordinator. He is originally from Chile. After the 1973 U.S.-sponsored coup d'etat, his mother was illegally held in detention for several weeks.
He said, about WHINSEC/SOA, "You can change the name, but it doesn't change the history. The school should be closed and investigated... There is no logical justification for the school, other than pushing U.S. foreign policy in Latin America."

Peaceful moments

On Sunday afternoon, we shared prayers, reflections, and music from a variety of spiritual traditions. Martina LeForce's gentle flute playing helped to establish a peaceful mood. It was a time to be free from the busy-ness of trial preparations. It gave us a chance to center ourselves and set aside, at least briefly, fears of what might lie ahead for us.

My fearless attorney

This is Dan Gregor, who served as my attorney for my trial. He lives in Salt Lake City, the home of that great anti-war mayor, Rocky Anderson!

Peace rally at the gates of Fort Benning

On Saturday, January 27th, everyone who had come to Columbus for the trial, including defendants, supporters, the legal team, and the SOA Watch staff, wanted to participate in a small demonstration to coincide with the larger one in Washington, D.C.
Our fun activity for Friday night had been sign making. We were given posterboard and markers. Our messages were as varied as we were, as can be seen by the above picture.
The military police were not thrilled with us, but they could do very little since we were not on Fort Benning property, and they did not have jurisdiction over us. They did, however, send for the Columbus police, who sent two officers. They spoke with members of our legal team and left, which made the military police even less happy. A number of people who drove into Fort Benning showed their support of our calls for the troops to be removed from Iraq with horn honks and waves.
In addition to the signs calling for the Iraq war to end, we also carried a large banner reading, "Close the SOA," to remind people of why we had come to Columbus, Georgia, two months after the November vigil.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Farewell Party for Alice!

Last evening, the Buffalo War Resisters League and other supporters threw a "good bye party" for me. It was held at El Buen Amigo, a store in downtown Buffalo.
El Buen Amigo is a store that was started by Santiago, who is originally from Chile. He and his family had to leave Chile after the U.S.-sponsored coup d'etat in 1973 that overthrew that country's elected president, Salvador Allende, and replaced him with a terrible dictator, Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet was associated with some very terrible human rights abuses and had been indicted for them. Before he could go to trial, however, he died. But, anyway, Santiago found his way to Western New York and he bacame a teacher here. He also founded El Buen Amigo as a place where clothing and a variety of crafts made by people in Latin America could be sold and where the profits would go directly to the craftspeople. Now, there are goods from all over the world. The store is always colorful and cheerful, with clothing, jewelry, crafts, and artwork. It is a delight to behold.
Santiago, always a gentleman, was very happy to offer his store as a place to hold the party.
And the party was a great delight, with plenty of food to eat, people to chat with, and lively Latin American music to listen to.
Toward the beginning of the party, I had a chance to talk to the group, to tell them what led me to cross the Fort Benning fence... um... more than once(!) I told them my story, about my trip to the Texas-Mexico border, about my time at language school in Guatemala, about the things that I had learned about SOA/WHINSEC, about my legislative work. I was also happy to answer questions. In addition, I brought the looseleaf binder that I had put together for my trip to the midwest, with articles that I had written, articles written about me, my prison journal, my newsletters, drawings of the Fort Benning fence from my sketchbook, drawings from my prison sketchbook, information about legislative stuff concerning closing the school, and photographs.
After the talk, I had the chance to chat with a variety of people and to dance and to enjoy some delicious food! It was a great party and we all had a good time.
The party was so good for me, and for everyone else, I think. I am headed back to Georgia on Thursday, January 25, for my upcoming trial. I am very grateful for this display of support from my friends here in Western New York!
(below are pictures from the party)
Here is a view of the party in full swing, with people all excited about the camera! I don't know why the taller people ended up in front and the shorter ones in the back!!!
"Bitsy's Dad," on the right, has been to Palestine to share his computer knowledge with the people there. He plans on returning to Palestine again soon to spend four weeks there, doing, I suppose, computer stuff.
Here are Barbara and Jinni. Barbara is the one with the cup. She is a retired teacher who has a very wacky sense of humor and a great gift for water color painting. Jinni is an artist. Her favorite medium is water color painting. She teaches art classes in various places in Niagara County. Every other week, Barbara and I go to Jinni's art class at Stella Niagara. We enjoy the peacefulness of Stella Niagara and the kindness of the Franciscan sisters. Barbara and Jinni brought me to the party in Buffalo, where we discovered that everyone in the city must have gone out for a night on the town!!! There were very few parking spots to be found!!!
Here is Joe, who formerly published Alt Press in Buffalo. I was the assistant managing editor of that publication for a long time. It ceased publication about a year ago, and Joe went into radio work. I've spoken about the School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) a few times on the radio show that he and Grady Hawkins hosted until fairly recently, called "The Voice of Reason." The show is now off the air because the radio station abruptly changed format. Everyone was canned!
Marie is Joe's wife. She has been a special education teacher in the Buffalo school system for a number of years, and she currently works in a high school. She has been active in the movement to close SOC/WHINSEC far longer than I have. She arranged for Father Roy Bourgeois to come to Buffalo in 2001 and 2002. She and Joe arranged for me to interview Father Roy at some length for a few articles for Alt Press.
Marie and Joe have three sons and one daughter and are now the proud grandparents of a happy baby girl, named Hannah.
Santiago, Barbara, and me in Santiago's store, El Buen Amigo, where clothing and other crafts from all over the world are sold. The profits go directly to the crafts people. In back of us is the banner that I made for the War Resisters League of Buffalo. The broken rifle symbolizes their hope for a world free from war.