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News and reports

December 3, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11

No to war and occupation
Defend gay rights

Shut down the School of the Americas
By Eric Ruder

THE LARGEST demonstration yet against the U.S. military's notorious School of the Americas (SOA) took place at Ft. Benning, Ga., November 17. Some 16,000 protesters, including celebrities such as Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen, marched on the SOA, and at least 20 demonstrators were arrested for crossing onto SOA property.

The SOA, which was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation to avoid the stigma that activism has attached to its former name, "trains" Latin American military officers in the fine art of "democracy," according to U.S. officials. But activists have worked tirelessly to expose the classes that use the CIA's torture training manuals and to show that the school's "graduates" have been involved in scores of high-profile human rights abuses in their home countries.

In silence, the crowd stood as the names of all the people killed by SOA graduates were read aloud. Then, the protesters laid a cross representing each of the victims at the fence that surrounds Ft. Benning.

"How do you teach democracy behind the barrel of a gun?" asked Rev. Roy Bourgeois, the founder of SOA Watch, which has spearheaded the campaign. "If they are so concerned about teaching democracy, then why not close this school and send these students to some of our fine universities?"

At the first protest in 1997, 2,000 protesters came to Ft. Benning, and last year, about 10,000 joined the annual event.

If Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld's speech in Quito, Ecuador, last week before defense ministers of the Western Hemisphere's nations is any indication, the U.S. intends to fashion its Latin American policy as another front in the "war on terror." Rumsfeld argued that Latin America's militaries should take on new domestic functions to thwart terrorists--and of course he never uttered the phrase "human rights."

Chilling words, in the view of Gaston Chillier, an Argentine lawyer with the Washington Office on Latin America. "They were essentially saying, 'Terrorism is the priority for the region, and international human rights law is not a requirement in combating terrorism,'" said Chillier. "This is exactly the wrong message in a region where militaries used this philosophy during the dirty wars to commit gross human rights violations."

To some, it seemed even absurd. "In Latin America, there are no terrorists--only hunger and unemployment and delinquents who turn to crime," said retired Gen. Rene Vargas, the former head of Ecuador's military. "What are we going to do, hit you with a banana?"

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No to war and occupation

SEATTLE--Some 200 students rallied on the University of Washington campus to oppose the U.S. war against Iraq. Sponsored by a new, mostly undergraduate student coalition, Rally for Change, the rally was addressed by several speakers from student and community groups.

Speakers included Bert Sacks, an anti-Iraq sanctions activist recently fined $10,000 by the U.S. government for bringing humanitarian supplies to Iraq; Dustin Washington of the American Friends Service Committee; and Jesse Hagopian of the ISO. Other speakers included representatives from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Not in Our Name and Radical Women, as well as an eyewitness from Baghdad.

In Providence, R.I., nearly 30 people attended the first meeting of a citywide antiwar coalition November 17. The meeting was called by members of the American Friends Service Committee and the International Socialist Organization to address the lack of any existing broad-based coalition in Providence. The next general body meeting will be December 1 at 7 p.m. at Beneficent Church in Providence.

In Cincinnati, antiwar activists met at the University of Cincinnati last month to plan new actions. Activists will post an Iraq occupation "scoreboard" with the numbers of Iraqis and U.S. military personnel killed in the lead-up to a lunchtime antiwar speak-out December 2.

In Madison, Wis., A group of four students were arrested after staging a sit-in at the army recruitment center on campus last week. While attempts to escalate protests are welcome, it's important that organizers reach out to other groups and try to build the biggest actions possible.

Meanwhile, the Madison Area Peace Coalition organized a picket at a busy intersection downtown. The group will picket in Peace Park downtown over the next four Saturdays to build support.

Steve Leigh, Shaun Joseph, Shane Johnson and Kevin Prosen contributed to this report.

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Defend gay rights
By Stephanie Jung

MADISON, Wis.--More than 200 people showed up November 20 to protest Fred Phelps and his posse of anti-gay bigots.

The demonstration was held outside Madison East High School, where the drama department was showing its production of The Laramie Project, a play that documents the brutal beating and murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student from Laramie, Wyo. There were two showings of the production on Saturday. Phelps' crew showed up for both of them with a small number of right-wing fanatics.

The Civil Marriage Equality Coalition (CMEC) and other concerned community members turned out to show that hate is not welcome in Madison and to show support for the school's drama students. With our larger and more vocal presence, we drove them away after only 37 minutes.

However, this was 37 minutes too long. This was a big step for kicking off the post-election fight for a civil marriage equality movement.

In January, the Wisconsin state legislature will vote to put forward a statewide referendum against same-sex marriages. Community and campus activists are organizing against the ban, and CMEC will be sponsoring a rally on December 11.

For more information, contact Terry at 608-259-9409.

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