Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SOA Watch - Part Two

After finishing my post on my experiences on Saturday, I went to a workshop on “Depleted Uranium Weapons: Why Not Believe the Pentagon?”. The speaker (who’s name I did not catch) said that there are over 700 tons of depleted uranium in the US, and these were first used in weapons in 1989 bombing of Panama. They were also used in the 1991 Gulf War. In 1991, we shot 350 tons of DU. The Doha fire caused radiation weapons to go off in that conflict. Just last winter the US military dug up contaminated sand in Kuwait to be buried in Idaho, again from the first Gulf War.

He talked about the experimentation in the 1940’s on US troops with exposure to nuclear radiation. He said that starting in 1984, DU was used as a counter balance weight on planes. The problem is when they crash and catch fire, the burning DU causes irradiation of internal tissues. He also talked about how the EU has demanded a stop to DU weapons, but NATO just says it is not a problem. Underestimating the health effects of radiation from exploded DU has been consistent with NATO. Cancer usually occurs 20 to 30 years after exposure. Over a half million people in the US die from cancer each year. DU is very effective against tanks, since it is a very heavy metal. It also alters DNA alteration.

Later that evening, Rachel, Oliver, Tim and I went to see the movie “Soldiers of Conscience”. This is a powerful movie, showing how four soldiers/Marines who were sent to Iraq came to realize that they could not continue with the assault on the Iraqi people. It also includes some soldiers who say that it is their duty to kill, but their arguments are pretty weak. It covers how the military turns young men and women into killing machines. I know I would never make it out of basic training – they have to go stab dumbies and yell KILL, KILL, KILL! It is sickening. More information on the movie, and to see the trailer, go to Soldiers of Conscience website.

Sunday morning started early – we were one of the first cars in the parking lot. I’m not sure why Rachel wanted to get there so early, but it did give us time to connect with Claire and transfer her luggage to my car. There were some speakers and music at the beginning of the day, and this included guidelines on non-violence and prayer readings. Father Roy Bourgeois, a founder of SOA Watch, also spoke for a brief spell.

And then there was a solemn procession with the white crosses. The reason for the SOA Watch started with the killing of six Jesuit priests in 1989 in El Salvador. And there are many other victims, and they try to make sure that ALL the victims are remembered. Since it was Christians that were mainly killed, there are crosses, reflecting the fact that most of the violence was directed against Christians. The roots of the violence also came from a nation – the USA – that considers itself Christian also. Pretty bizarre, considering that Christianity was founded by a totally non-violent person.

The reading of a name was followed by the entire crowd singing “presente” after each name. This was beautiful, and took about two hours. As this event was going on, people walked with their crosses and put them on the fence, in one fashion or another. I put mine in the farthest left reaches of the fence. I think some people walked in the slow procession the entire time, but I went up a driveway and took some photos, and later sat down on a chair. It was a draining experience. It is something to hear all those names – and I wish we could do something like this for the victims of America’s recent wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

This was followed by the Puppetista Pageant, and then musical acts. I walked back to my car to put away some books I had purchased, and I left my camera and coat there. As I was walking back, I saw a large group of young adults walking down the street, outside the protest area and headed towards Victory Drive.

I walked with them. It was really, really fun because this was spontaneous and totally a surprise to the police there. Helicopters had hovered overhead nearly all day long, and they followed this march into the streets too. The protesters blocked most of the traffic on one side of the road (a six lane road) and all the walkers were busy shouting chants like “hey hay, ho, ho, the SOA has got to go”. This is the first time ever that the protest left the designated area, and there were thousands of protesters on the street. I dropped out fairly early, and walked back to my car. I did see about seven police cars on a side road. They were clearly thrown for a loop! I wish I had my camera at that point to take pictures, but I didn’t. Anyway, the group walked down a long block of Victory Drive, turned right on a side street, and the turned again on a side street that brought them back to the rally area. This was the best part of the weekend for me – because we took back the streets, if only for a few minutes. Considering where this country is headed, I am beginning to think that we will have to have many mass protests in the streets, and occupations of our cities, in order to turn things around. I am proud to say "I went with the kids". I know they were young adults, but once you pass fifty, they somehow become "kids".

Here is one of many songs to close the SOA:

Now is the time for us to raise our voice;
Hasn’t there been enough that’s been destroyed?
Now is the time for us to use our hands;
So we can spred the truth throughout the land.

And another one:

No mas, no more, shout the hills of Salvador
Echo the voices of the world, we cry out “NO MAS! NO MORE!”
No mas, no more, we must stop the dirty wars,
Companeros, companeras, we cry out “NO MAS! NO MORE!”

This post is dedicated to those who died or suffered from the SOA, and all those who crossed into Fort Benning and got arrested for civil disobedience. It is the later group of Americans that will one day change things. Here is a link to a Washington Post report on the protest on November 23, 2008.

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