Friday, September 19, 2008

One-year anniversary

Last year, on September 19, 2007, I was released from the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut, after completing my six-month sentence. As happy as I was to get turned loose onto an unsuspecting world, it was a sad experience, too. I had to leave behind friends, who had far longer sentences than I had.
Spending time in prison, especially when that time is measured in years, not in months that can be counted on one or two hands, is very hard on women. Many of them are mothers, and they must endure long separations from their children. The children grow up without their mothers, which is hard on them, too.
I believe that too many people are in prison. Keeping people in prison is expensive and nonproductive. I would very much like to see more people sentenced to probation and community service and restitution (if necessary) than to prison sentences. I would also like to see more use of restorative justice. It is important for people to take responsibility for their actions, to apologize, and make right what they have made wrong. Occupying space in prison does not accomplish any of that. So these are a few things that I have learned from my time in prison.
I have also learned that being in prison is challenging but it is an experience that the overwhelming majority survives. They then go on to other things and other adventures. I have also learned that going to prison for something that you believe in is somewhat difficult but far from impossible. I believe that change can occur when ordinary people, such as me, are willing to make sacrifices for the things that they believe in.
In two months, there will be another vigil at Fort Benning. Undoubtedly, some people will choose to cross the Fort Benning fence. Might you be one of them? Would you be one of those who chooses to take that step (literally) to say yes to life and human rights and no to torture and assassination? Or, if you prefer to travel to Arizona, rather than Georgia, might you take that step, instead, at Fort Huachuca? I would encourage you to think about it. I have no regrets about having crossed that fence and, I believe, that, if you crossed the fence, too, you would not regret it.
And, speaking about steps, I have finished my 500-mile walk from Chicago to Saint Paul, Minnesota, with Witness Against War (see It was a good experience, and I will write more extensively about it in later posts. Above is a photograph of me on the top of Brady's Bluff at Perrot State Park, in Trempealeau, Wisconsin. The upper Mississippi River is in the background.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Witness Against War

Hi all!
I am part of the Witness Against War walk from Chicago to St. Paul, Minnesota. We started the walk on July 12 and will finish on August 30.
For more information and to see the blogs that I have posted, take a look at the Voices for Creative Nonviolence website at
Bye bye for now, and I will post on this blog when I return home!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Sharing the message in Washington, D.C.

Our colorful message in favor of human rights certainly attracted a lot of attention on Monday morning, near the Capital South metro station. Plenty of people who work in Congressional offices take the metro to that stop. They couldn't miss us with our signs and big banners.
OK, I know that the name of the school at Fort Benning, Georgia, is no longer "School of the Americas" or "SOA." It's the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" (a real mouthful). But the message is the same... close the school and get an independent commission to investigate the instructions.
A bunch of us spent much of the day on Monday on Capitol Hill. We visited the offices of House Members and Senators and we talked to foreign policy and military policy aides in those offices. It was a very interesting and educational experience. I learned about the difference between an "authorization" bill and an "appropriations" bill. All government programs have to be reauthorized each year. Hence the "authorization" bill. But that bill doesn't pay for the programs. That is done with an "appropriations" bill.
I also learned that, in each Congressional session (two years), many bills are proposed and then are sent to committee. A good number of these bills tend to languish in committee because they lack support. Support for a bill is measured in the number of co-sponsors who sign on to that particular bill. So it is necessary for people who want a bill to be passed to contact the offices of their members of Congress to ask them to co-sponsor the bill.
In the case of Rep. McGovern's bill, HR 1707, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2007, we are doing well with co-sponsors, but we could be doing better. If your House member is not yet a co-sponsor of HR 1707, please ask him or her to become a co-sponsor. The best ways to do that are by calling, sending a fax, or visiting the office. If your House member is a co-sponsor, please contact the office to express your thanks. Members of Congress feel much better about taking a position on an issue when they know that they have support from their constituents.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A request from a friend

Tomorrow, I'm headed to Washington, D.C., and will be there for a week. I'm going to spend several days focused on WHINSEC and lobbying and stuff like that.
Today, Tina Busch-Nema, my friend and fellow member of the SOA 16, asked me to share something with you. It's about the terrible effects on people of countries using nuclear weapons. I can't really add much to this, so here it is...
Dear Friends,
Fatemeh Keshavarz or known my most as Fati, is a woman who teaches at Wash U here in St. Louis. Fati is from Iran and is working tirelessly to prevent an attack on her homeland.
She wrote this poem and asked it be circulated far and wide. She wants to circulate it to let make a point...the dust of these bombs infects our well as our bodies.
Meet Keiko!
Twenty years ago, when we first moved to St. Louis, I met this lively graduate student named Keiko. After twenty odd years, it is hard to recall details beyond her round face framed by short shiny black hair.
But I remember the way she moved through the building with a combination of agility and grace, in bursts of short successive moves - much the way robins would explore a tree (without making noise or knocking anything down) .
A year after we had met, Keiko died – suddenly – of lung cancer. “I didn’t know Keiko smoked!” I said to the teary-eyed friend who brought the news of her death. “She didn’t,” he said rather hurriedly, and added after a silence, “She was born in Hiroshima.” Neither of us said much after that.
Keiko’s round face and shiny black hair have come back, often, these past few days. And every time, I have caught myself drafting a letter in my head, a letter I know I will not put in the
“Dear Senator Clinton!
I write with a personal request.
If we were careless enough to hand you the key that
opens the Oval Office
And with it as many war fronts across the globe as you
Please do yourself a favor, throw it away and do not
look for it!
You may want to find out first
Why the idea of “obliterating” seventy million people
does not make you shudder
And if you have the time to pass through St. Louis,
Please stop by and meet Keiko Yamakawa
Her round face smiling from a hand-made picture frame
Ashes of Hiroshima in her lungs”
Fatemeh Keshavarz
Asheville, North Carolina
April 29, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Post-fast reflection

This morning, I broke my fast with breakfast and a good cup of tea. It felt good to enjoy the texture, tastes, and smells of food again. One of the results of my fast is that I've learned, once again, not to take food for granted. Food is a delight and a joy, a pleasure for the senses. It's also a necessity, to maintain physical strength and, indeed, to maintain life.
But, lately, the news has been about the constantly increasing price of food and how that is affecting the world. There have been images on the news of the crisis in Haiti, where people don't have enough money to buy sufficient food to provide necessary nutrition for themselves and their families. In Asia, the cost of rice is increasing astronomically.
So, I think about food... about how good it is... and about how necessary it is...
I also think about conflict in the world. The Sierra Leone story gave me hope. The war was very terrible and many people were killed. Children were given drugs and weapons and were forced to fight. They fought fiercely because the images that they had in their heads were of loved ones, who were killed in front of their eyes.
After the war, Sierra Leone started working on reunifying the country. They established a truth and reconciliation commission as a part of the healing process. That is a process that worked well in South Africa.
So... I have to relate all of this to WHINSEC/SOA... might establishing a truth and reconciliation commission help all involved to heal, to accept responsibility for wrongs done, for anger and grudges to be put aside? In my mind and in my heart, I have no doubt that this would be the right direction to go.
And so... I stop here... for now... more to come...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fast approaching the finish line

It's 8:40 p.m. on the last day of my fast. My tummy is actually saying very little to me right now. It seems to have adapted.
Doing the fast has been a good experience for me. I hope that everyone participating in this fast has found it to be a positive experience. Although the cause that motivated me to fast centers on Latin America, I did spend much time thinking about and reading about other parts of the world that are in conflict and where people are victims of human rights violations. These include situations that, most likely, had very little to do with U.S. military training of foreign troops.
I do not believe that the United States is responsible for every bad situation in the world. It is not that powerful, after all.
My sister lent me a book to read, called A Long Way Gone:Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah. He was a child soldier in Sierra Leone during the civil war. He tells his shocking story in a very matter of fact way. That makes the story seem even more shocking and even more horrifying.
In the course of reading the story, I found out that I had met the American woman who eventually adopted Ishmael Beah. Her name is Laura Simms, and she is a professional story teller. I met her a few years ago at a story telling retreat, called "Keeper of the the Flame," at the Chautauqua Institution. She and I bonded and, although it has been a few years since I've seen her, I feel that we would connect instantly when we next meet. I said "when" and not "if" because I have no doubt that we will meet again at some point.
Sierra Leone went through a terrible civil war that lasted eleven years. For someone who was a child at the time, it must have seemed as if the war would never end. But, fortunately, the war did come to an end and a truth and reconciliation commission was established to find out what exactly went wrong and to try to make sure that this horrible history would never be repeated. You can find out more at
I also think about the story told by Dominic Ding at the Lenten Luncheon last month here in Grand Island. Dominic Ding is a young man from the southern part of Sudan. He and his brothers ran away from their home in 1986. They were running for their lives. Just a year later, the Sudanese government ordered all boys in southern Sudan to be killed. So many boys fled. These boys were called the "lost boys of Sudan." They walked for many miles and, along the way, quite a few of them died. Dominic Ding was one of the survivors who found their way to a refugee camp in Kenya. A number of the lost boys, including Dominic and one of his brothers, came to the United States in 2001.
Some of the Lost Boys traveled to the United States on September 11. When they saw the news of the terrorist attacks, they were horrified and thought that they had brought their war with them to the United States. The Lost Boys who came to the United States have been very focused on their education, and many of them have graduated from college. Dominic Ding is now a graduate student. He wants to be a teacher and he has teaching experience. He did some teaching at the refugee camp in Kenya and he works with refugee children in Buffalo, New York, helping them get adjusted to a different culture. His photograph is above.
Dominic Ding and Ishmael Beah are two amazing young men who have endured things as children that are beyond the comprehension of most of us.
I have the deepest admiration for them.
So... it's getting late and soon, my fast will be just a memory.
This will be my last "fast report."
I'm headed to Washington, D.C., on Friday, and will update this blog after I return from that adventure.
Ciao for now.

day three, 1:00 p.m.

This morning, I noticed that my tummy had stopped complaining. That's a good thing. Tomorrow, I'll break my fast and give it some well-deserved attention.
I decided to go to a drug store where a free blood glucose and cholesterol screening were being offered. The nurse gave me a form to fill out, which I did, and then, I waited for my turn to have my little pin prick. That didn't take long, as there was only one person in front of me. Once I was seated in front of the nurse's table, I informed her that I was on a three-day fast. I told her that because that does affect the results of the blood tests.
"Why are you fasting?" the nurse asked me.
I told her that I was fasting to close the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.
"What's that?" she asked.
I told her about the school and that it had been in business for sixty years and that it is in Fort Benning, Georgia. I told her that it used to be in Panama until a few years after the renegotiated Panama Canal treaties went into effect. The Panama Canal treaties were renegotiated in the late 1970s and went into effect in the early 1980s. I told the nurse that the Panamanians renamed the school, "the school of the assassins."
The nurse said that was not a good thing.
Five minutes after the test was done, I got my results, which were not particularly good for cholesterol. I arranged with my doctor to have a follow-up test.
Could I be consuming a little too much chocolate???
Hmmm. Maybe a fast is a good thing for me.
I'll write another update later.
Ciao for now.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Day two, 9:00 p.m.

Today was a good day. I finished my work for my Big Media Job, and I got to go to Stella Niagara in Lewiston for my friend Jinni's watercolor painting class. Lewiston is a beautiful village, with lots of interesting shops and a state park dedicated to visual and performing arts (Artpark). It's also right on the Niagara gorge, and that is always a stunning sight, winter or summer. Springtime is best for me. I was well distracted from the yelps of my tummy by the beauty of the hyacinths, forsythia, jonquils, and daffodils. Also, I've noticed some azalea bushes starting to blossom. The trees are turning green again.
Hmm, well, I learned a lot about horticulture when I was in prison and working in the greenhouse (which has since fallen over in a windstorm).
But I digress. The painting class was great fun. We all made paintings with people in them, which was good because last week, we found drawing people to be a bit nightmarish, and we started to rebel. This week, we learned a new technique, which made drawing and painting the people to be a whole lot easier. My painting featured a couple dancing on water's edge beneath a full moon. In the background, there was a lighthouse on a hill.
Sister Celia looked at my painting and said, "Love is in the air."
I'm not entirely sure of what motivated me to choose this romantic theme but I did...
... and I'm glad that I did...
I'm thinking that my choice of themes to paint may have been a reminder to myself that my protest isn't just about getting rid of the negative... the violence of wars that leads to torture and assassination... it's about saying that all people deserve to have positive, life-affirming experiences... which they can't really have if there are military trained to commit human rights violations running around their countries!
My tummy wasn't really growling while I was painting... I was probably well distracted... so all is good... I'm feeling strong and happy that I chose to make this statement for human rights.
I hope that you are feeling well and, if you're fasting, too, I hope that you're feeling strong...
I'll post again tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

turning into a pumpkin

It's midnight, and I'm turning into a pumpkin. Day one of my fast is complete. I'm thinking about a world in which torture doesn't exist, where no one would even think that torture is the way to "get information" or, even more shocking, "to protect our freedom."
I'm thinking about a world in which governments admit that they made mistakes and where truth and reconciliation commissions dig deep into past injustices so that they don't become present injustices or future injustices.
I'm thinking about a world in which diplomacy is used to settle international disputes and war is not seen as a first-choice in exercising foreign policy.
It's late... and my tummy is still growling... but I really don't think that I'm asking for too much... when I ask for governmental leaders to act in a mature way... to practice diplomacy and nonviolence... to work for peace... and to say torture and assassination and massacres are never acceptable...
... on the other hand, when I listen to the presidential candidates bash each other and avoid discussing the issues...
Enough said. I'll write more tomorrow...


I'm working on my articles for Friday's edition of the Island Dispatch.
I'm being good and keeping hydrated by drinking my water, not just keeping a bottle of water next to me as a visual aid.
My tummy is demanding attention.
My head and heart understand what this fast is all about...
... and my head and heart ask readers of this blog to please call their congressional representatives and ask them to co-sponsor HR 1707, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2007. This legislation would call for the suspension of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning. It would also call for an independent commission to investigate the instruction at that school. It is very similar to the recommendation made by Amnesty International in its 2002 report, Unmet Principles, Unmatched Power.
It is a very good idea.
My tummy is still complaining.
Time to drink some water.
I'll be back later.

Day one, 2:00 p.m.

I was watching television earlier this afternoon. I couldn't help but notice how many commercials there are for food. Even the food that I don't like looked so tasty. It was bright and colorful, surrounded by happy people. I'm probably noticing it because of my fast. Come to think of it, even when I don't fast, which is most of the time, I notice food.
So... when I'm not fantasizing about food, I'm thinking about the ten folks who are currently in prison for crossing the Fort Benning fence on November 18, 2007. At least some of them are fasting. I am grateful for their witness and their determination.
So... it's afternoon on the first day. I've done three-day fasts in the past, and the first day is always the most challenging.
I'll drink some more water... and juice... and go back to work on my Big Media Job. More later.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Upcoming fast!

I start my fast tomorrow. For someone who is as food oriented as I am, fasting is a big challenge. But, when I think about the massacres and the torture and all of the human rights violations that occur in this world, either directly or indirectly because of military aid and training provided by my government, my sacrifice seems very small indeed.
Although I have been part of a movement that has focused on one military training school for foreign troops in the United States, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas), I am well aware that the United States runs many of these schools. They train troops from around the world. Troops are trained in the United States and in the home countries of those troops. The U.S. government tends to provide military aid and training to the dictator or thug who is serving U.S. interests best at any particular time. The example that is usually cited is the aid provided to the Taliban when the former Soviet Union was bogged down in its war with Afghanistan. When the dictator or thug stops serving U.S. interests... well... gosh, it's hard to untrain those bad guys...
So... I'm fasting to send a message to the government... stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again... stop training foreign troops to do things that U.S. troops would get court martialed for doing (although, sometimes, they do it, and only the lower level troops get punished).
Gotta get some chocolate while I still can... I'll write again tomorrow!!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fasting for human rights and life

I invite anyone reading this blog to join me in fasting from April 23rd through the 25th to say yes to human rights and to life and no to torture and assassination!
My fast is in conjunction with a nationwide effort by the School of the Americas Watch to focus attention on the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. My hope is that Congress will implement Amnesty International's recommendation of suspending operations of the school, pending an investigation by an independent commission. It is only by learning the truth, whatever it may turn out to be, that healing can begin.
The upcoming fast will be my second fast with SOA Watch. I participated in my first fast last April, while serving a six-month sentence for crossing the Fort Benning fence in November 2006. Fasting in prison was not a very difficult chore nor did it seem like a huge sacrifice, as the food served in federal prison is... well... OK... but not too awesome! Fasting at home... well, that's a different story... because the food is awesome!
So... please join me; I'll be posting regular updates on what it's like to fast when surrounded by delicious foods and wonderful aromas! And, if you do join me, make sure to consume plenty of liquids! Getting dehydrated is not part of the plan!

Monday, March 24, 2008


March 19th was the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. People had their say on the streets of Washington, D.C., Syracuse, N.Y., and other places. And March 21st was the anniversary of the day last year that I self-surrendered to the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, to begin my six-month sentence for crossing the fence at Fort Benning, to say no to torture and assassination and yes to human rights and to life. I marked these anniversaries quietly and sadly, but with a little bit of hope for the first time in a long time.
After so many years of feeling horror when listening to and watching news of war, torture, and violence, I am looking forward to a future in which human rights may once again be respected. Although I did not support Barack Obama when he announced his candidacy, I now feel that he may be the best hope that this country has of ending that disastrous and pointless Iraq war. I have hopes that he will use the presidency to say no to torture, assassination, and war and yes to human rights and to life.
Of the three candidates who are left in the race, I see Barack Obama as the best choice. The candidate whom I had supported at the start of the campaign, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, has also thrown his support behind Barack Obama.
I am hoping that a president Barack Obama will work hard for human rights throughout the world... in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Darfur and Tibet, in Burma and Colombia, and right here in the United States. Implementing Amnesty International's 2002 recommendation for Congress to suspend operations of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and appoint an independent commission to investigate the school and its alleged connections to human rights abuses in Latin America. These human rights abuses include massacres, assassinations, and torture.
These things have no place in a civilized society. Yet they seem to be the topic of today's discourse. We have a president who gave the message that torture may be necessary to protect us against terrorists and rogue governments that harbor weapons of mass destruction. Ugh! Might that have been something that Vlad Dracula would have said? There is a story that, back in the 1400s, Vlad Dracula invited all of the beggars into his castle for a meal. After the beggars had enjoyed their food, Dracula then burned down the castle so there would be no more poor people in his realm. We're supposed to be more civilized than that. We're supposed to leave that sort of barbarity in the past.
But have we?
Our government has vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons, stashed all over the country. Yet we have a president who started a war against Iraq because it supposedly had "weapons of mass destruction," despite the fact that the weapons inspectors couldn't locate them. Our government refuses to have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba because it says that Cuba does not honor human rights. Ironically enough, the chief symbol of the U.S. government's lack of regard for human rights, Guantanamo Bay, is located on the island of Cuba.
Will an Obama administration do better?
I believe that it will.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lobby Days in May

The School of the Americas Watch will hold Lobby Days in Washington, D.C., from May 4th through the 6th. I intend to be there, to visit Congressional offices, to encourage Congressional staff members to ask their bosses to use their votes to say no to torture and assassination and yes to human rights and to life!
There is no place for either torture or assassination in a civilized society. I'd like to encourage everyone who reads this blog to write or call your Congressional representatives and ask them to co-sponsor HR 1707, the bill to suspend operations of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and to put in place an independent investigation of the instruction that has been offered at both that school and the school that it claims to replace, the School of the Americas.
The public relations staff at WHINSEC continues to claim that their school has no connection with the former School of the Americas. They claim that they are a new school for a new century and that they don't teach any of the bad stuff that was taught at the School of the Americas. On the other hand, they are spending an awful lot of time and money to prevent HR 1707 from being passed. So... why are they working so hard to prevent an independent investigation?
The PR staff of WHINSEC has all sorts of tricks at their disposal to influence Congress and the media...
... but we have our passion... some of us have first-hand experience of the brutality of some of the SOA graduates... many of us know someone who was a torture victim, who was related to a torture victim, who witnessed a massacre...
... and we need to share that with our Congressional representatives.
I am looking forward to going to Washington, D.C.
I could not go to Georgia in November. I chose not to take such a long trip or to be with a lot of people just two months after being released from prison. And, as it turned out, I was not healthy enough to travel. A sinus infection somehow developed into pneumonia, and I was a very sick Alice for more than a month.
I am feeling much stronger and much better now, and I am looking forward to going to Washington, D.C., in May.
No, I don't have any extravagant gifts for the Congressional offices. No bouquets, no paintings, no musical compositions commissioned especially for them. But I do have my passion and my determination to continue to say yes to human rights and to life and no to torture and assassination.
Please visit the School of the Americas website (there's a link on this page) to read about the SOA 11, the folks who are on trial next week for crossing the Fort Benning fence to say no to torture and assassination and yes to human rights and to life!