Victory in Miami - Remembrance at Ft. Benning
by Dwight Stevenson
Toward the end of November, the southeastern United States had its share of major political actions. From November 1821, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) ministerial in Miami, Florida, according to FTAAIMC (Independent Media Center) estimates, drew over 10,000 demonstrators from organizations as diverse as the protesters themselves. From students participating in the black bloc, to retired unionists marching with the AFL-CIO, it was a triumphant display of opposition despite major police harassment during the buildup to the three major days of opposition.
There were many calls for direct action on Thursday, November 20, a long and chaotic day. The group I was with got an early start, up and out of the hotel by 5:45 am. The main call was for a mass gathering at 7 am at the Government Center, just blocks from the perimeter fence that surrounded the meeting site. However, when 7 am came the only people that had arrived were a handful of protesters and easily hundreds of riot gear clad officers surrounding the park. The day continued as a cat and mouse game between protesters and police, with the police always seeming to be one step ahead.
The first big push by police in containing the mass protest came around 9 am as they pushed protesters from the intersection of E. Flagler St. and 2nd Ave., to Biscayne Boulevard. Around 10 am activists threw a grappling hook over the fence in an attempt to tear down the wall. This action immediately caught the attention of the police, and soon a haze of smoke from two concussion grenades filled the air. For the next several hours as the AFL-CIO march was led into the area, all was calm. But it was just the eye of the repressive storm. The AFL-CIO permit was only until 4 pm. As soon as 4 pm arrived, the police cleared the area. Without warning, lines of fully clad riot police marched closer and closer to the groups, firing rubber bullets and pepper spray-filled projectiles at protesters sitting in the streets. As protesters began dispersing, they were shot in the back and then routed yet another way by another line of officers. This continued for the next two hours or so until all the streets were clear of protesters. All in all, hundreds were injured through some form of police repression and violence, as well as over 200 arrested by the end of the second day of protests.
Many feel that although the fence remained standing, Miami was a great victory in the global justice movement. We opened the eyes of many people that the FTAA and repression go hand in hand. The ministerial ended a day early with an extremely watered-down agreement, which did nothing to advance the FTAA agenda.
Remembrance at Ft. Benning
The second major action in the Southeast was the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) vigil and nonviolent direct action in Columbus, Georgia at the gates of Fort Benning, on November 22-23. This is an annual action. The puppetista parade was a Saturday highlight, featuring stilt walkers, puppets and a slew of makeshift percussion instruments. Saturday night the SOAW concert provided hours of entertainment for a donation. It featured a wide array of music, everything from Andean folk music to hip hop.
The funeral procession on Sunday was perhaps the most overwhelming political action I have ever taken part in. The procession up to the gates of Ft. Benning commemorated all the victims killed in Latin America by graduates of this terrorist training facility. A somber attitude prevailed as thousands of white crosses and other symbols were held high, then placed onto the fence. All the while the names of the victims were sung out. I held back tears as the fence began to fill, and soon all you could see were crosses, pictures, rosaries and at the top, barbed wire. During the traditional civil disobedience following the funeral procession Sunday, there were 29 people arrested. Overall there were 44 arrests made for crossing the line, including 15 accidental trespassing arrests.
You can learn more about these events by visiting: <www.ftaaimc.org> and <www.soaw.org>
Dwight is a student activist, eagle scout, and patriot based in Syracuse.