For regularly updated information about Chani, visit the SOA 37 webpage of Oregon Peace Works.
When Chani was sixteen years of age she began seriously questioning the public school system, especially what was being taught in history books. She decided to explore other (alternative) options. She recalls that at the time she kept seeing things around about the School of Americas (SOA) and thought to herself that it must be something cool since everyone was talking about it. Chani thought that perhaps this was the school for her.
While she now laughs at her ignorance then of what the SOA was all about, in some ways it has become her "school". Chani, now 19, and on staff at the Oregon PeaceWorker, is preparing for her upcoming federal trial for which she, along with 37 others, is being charged with ?crossing the line? and getting arrested at Fort Benning, Georgia, the home of the SOA.
The SOA, a U.S. based military training school for Latin American soldiers, was established in Panama in 1946. Sources say that it was to promote stability in the region, but the SOA trained soldiers have waged war against their own people, with hundreds of thousands tortured, raped, assassinated, massacred, "disappeared", and forced into refuge.
Sixty-thousand Latin American troops have been trained in SOA?s 55-year history, with between 900-2000 new soldiers trained each year. Taught combat skills such as commando tactics, military intelligence, and psychological operations, a (1996) White House report revealed that the SOA training manuals advocated torture, execution and blackmail.
An estimated annual sum of between 10 and 20 million dollars is the tab to the American taxpayers to run the SOA, which now operates under the name "The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" (WHISC) ? same as the old school, just a new name. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced a bill (HR 1810) in May 2001 to close the SOA/WHISC. The SOA Watch is asking that we contact our representatives and urge them to support the bill to close the SOA.
Chani and a group of others, who went to the SOA rally last November, spoke about their experiences to a room of about 50 people last evening in Eugene. The educational/fundraising event opened with a few moving Latin musical songs by Jessie Marcquez, the first of these (translated to) ?Have no Sorrow?.
Donna Frazier, event coordinator and an SOA activist, who traveled to Fort Benning last year, spoke briefly, telling us that they were 10,000 people strong, but represented ten of thousands of voices that were not in attendance. Oregon has a strong showing of people at the SOA action in Georgia, according to Donna.
Peg Morton, local SOA Watch activist, who was arrested but recently had her case dismissed, (six of the 43 cases have been dismissed) told us of how she and a 67 year old nun crossed the line at Fort Benning. They found themselves, two elderly women, (Peg is 71) handcuffed and surrounded by EIGHT guards. Peg says that she is giving serious consideration to going to the SOA action this year and crossing the line again. She realizes that this time she would go to prison because she has been banned from entering the Ft. Benning Military Reservation for a period of five years. Doing so would command a charge of six months imprisonment or a $5,000 fine, or both. While Peg suffers from back problems and knows that a six month stint of prison time would be a hardship on her health, she is feeling compelled to join the current group of (seventy) prisoners of conscience for this important cause.
Bonnie Tout shared her story with us next, assuring us that going to Ft. Benning was "so worth it". She said that those in attendance were absolutely peaceful and beautifully organized, that everyone had complete integrity with their whole heart and soul. She feels that it is important to take a stand and be unified against the SOA.
Michael Carrigan, director of The Oregon PeaceWorker, told us that he was inspired by Peg Morton to attend the SOA protest last year. He reports that after decades of activism and numerous arrests, this was one of the most emotionally powerful experiences of his life, especially the reading of the names on the crosses of all those who have died at the hands of the SOA. He also urged support for Chani - whom he described as someone who leads with compassion - for her pending six months jail time and possible $5,000 fine.
Nick Routledge says that his deepest impression of the events surrounding Ft. Benning is how faith based the action was, that the power of the holy spirit was so evident and so real. Nick said that there was a profound deeply felt optimism in the face of the obscenity of Ft. Benning, what he described as a "hope born of sorrow".
Josh Raisler-Cohn, a Portland resident, has already served his six month prison sentence. He was arrested for hanging a banner above the SOA building at Fort Benning last year. Josh, who says he?s just a "regular person" who knows what?s important, told us that it is important to stop our government from training people to become terrorists. When the judge sentenced Josh he said that he wanted to give him more than six months but that he was only permitted to give the maximum allowable sentence. While imprisoned he (and other prisoners of conscience) received a letter from a group of nuns in Central America who thanked them for what they were doing. They also said that the United States is the only one who can get the SOA closed. While incarcerated Josh wrote (as well as received) between 700-800 letters. He urged financial support for Chani, for the postage and phone expenses that she will incur if she goes to prison.
The evening ended with the group Urgent Carnival performing a few of their political satire skits. They then led us in a sing-along: "Have you been to jail for Justice". The last verse of the song summed up the event well: "There?s lots of ways to take a stand and make our voices heard. I know we can?t all go to jail; that would be absurd. But we?ve got to stand together. That?s the only way. Cause it?s going to take all of us to close the SOA!" The next ?Close the SOA Rally? is November 15-17, 2002.
article published by Barbara Raisbeck on Portland Indymedia
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