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SOA Watch

A first time for everything... This first being the first time I'd get off my butt and do something somewhat activist-like. Though radical thoughts course through my mind constantly, I'm not the type to get out and raise my voice or my fist in any kind of real resistance. Much easier to sit in front of a computer or three at the house and complain in IRC about how the world's going to hell.

In years past, the SOA vigil was always a tempting place to get a little active. Not much of a drive to head down to Columbus, Ga. to peacefully protest the U.S. Army-operated School of the Americas (or its new moniker, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).

The School of the Americas (SOA), a military training school for Latin American soldiers has pumped out death squad leaders and military dictators while undermining democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere.

. . .

While SOA graduates are engaged in activities like the attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Venezuelan government and the killing of Colombian unionists, human rights activists are facing prison for speaking out against SOA Terror.

from the SOAW web site

Though I've read about the demonstrations for the past couple of years, I'd lacked the motivation to make the journey. This year I was considering going down even more than in year's past...vacillating...knowing I'd miss my dogs and cats, miss sleeping all day on Saturday. But a fortuitous contact with someone I went to school with provided just enough impetus to put me over the edge.

So a day of vacation ensues... I throw one of my computers in the truck and off I go.

Unfortunately, mapquest.com gave me poor directions, and upon arriving in Columbus I was immediately quite lost. A sign informing me I'd just entered Fort Benning loomed as I wondered if I should've taken that last exit...

I should also mention here that I've neglected to renew my driver's license since it expired over two years ago. I'm just not into giving the gubmint my fingerprints. That's something they do to criminals, right? [Though I imagine I was probably fingerprinted as a wee lad also for one of those things about keeping kids safe...]

Anyway... I'm waved up to a base security person who asks for my license. Which is, of course, very expired. I'm told to pull up and wait while he walks off with my license to talk to some other soldiers.

Shortly another Army person approaches. He also asks for my proof of insurance and vehicle registration. Another Army person approaches. The only insurance card I could find was four-days expired... d'oh! He also asks if I've got any weapons, asks if I've been previously arrested in the demonstrations, and reminds me that if I try to run, I'll be chased down. 'We won't shoot you,' he reassures me, 'but we'll catch you.'

Shortly I'm told to turn off my truck, remove the keys and hand them to one of the soldiers. I'm to step out of the vehicle and walk back to a small room next to the base gate. Nervous by now, I do.

They're checking lists, probably checking my driving records, who knows what else. A female soldier talks me down, saying I know how this works - know I shouldn't be coming on base. I attempt to say that actually I didn't know that, that I'd never even been to Columbus, much less to one of these demonstrations, but she informs me that she'll do the talking.

But in the end, they let me off after making sure I clearly understand that if I step foot on post again, I'll be 'processed.' Yet another soldier escorts me back to my vehicle, stops traffic and waves me on to turn around. I'm trying to put my license and insurance back in my wallet, but I see him glaring... so I put my wallet down, fasten my seatbelt and go.

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