"Crossing the Line" for Peace
by Julienne Oldfield

The “SOA 16” in a moment of solidarity, the night before their trial. Photo: John Oldfield.

Why were some 20,000 people standing vigil at the South Gate of the Fort Benning Army Base in Columbus, Georgia last November 19?

Why has the Peace Movement embraced the issue of closing the School of the Americas (SOA), recently renamed the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)? Why have over 200 individuals submitted themselves to prison sentences of up to six months for merely crossing a line? Why did I choose to cross onto the base last November, fully comprehending that I would go to trial and be sentenced to jail time?

The answers lie in the passion of a remarkable man, Father Roy Bourgeois. He witnessed with painful clarity the utter debasement of human life taking place in Central America, a travesty not just condoned but manipulated and funded by the United States. As the knowledge spread of the atrocities taking place, so has grown the anti SOA movement, spearheaded by the passion, tenacity, dedication and plain hard work of Father Roy.

Many US citizens have lived and worked in Central and South America and have very personal experiences which mirror Father Roy's witness. Many of these are nuns and priests supported by their religious orders. Others have traveled with delegations hosted by communities suffering the impact of US foreign policy in the region, a suffering that encompasses displacement from their homes and ancestral lands, being forced to work long hours for pitiful wages, and rape and murder of family members.

Multinational corporations are responsible for population displacement from vast areas of rural South America. These companies include various oil companies, the Drummond Coal and Natural Gas Mining Company, Smurfit and K Paper who plant acres of eucalyptus, a fast growing, alien species on the South American continent which wreaks havoc with the water table. Small community coffee and sugar beet producers are bullied and pushed out of the markets by massive corporate interests. It is not a pretty picture.
SOA Resources

Website: www.soaw.org

Books: The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas, by Leslie Gill. A comprehensive portrait of the notorious institution.

School of the Assassins: Guns, Greed, and Globalization, by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Looks at the SOA in light of its name change and places the present school's role in the larger global context.

Videos: Hidden in Plain Sight. Illustrates the tumultuous reality of Latin America and reveals some of the most urgent and complex issues and problems facing us today.

Journey to Awareness. In 2006 a group of Richmond High School students produced a documentary about the SOA and their trip to the November Vigil to shut it down.

Get active locally: SOA Abolitionists meets with the Caribbean / Latin America Coalition on the second Sunday of each month, 4-7 pm at 208 Slocum Ave., Syracuse. Please call 478-4571 to confirm.

My own experience grew out of a need to put a face on the SOA Watch campaign and the need to educate myself and try to understand the history, politics, and cultures of our neighbors in South America. This effort has been enormously helped by the energy and dedication of our local SOA Watch members, most of whom are equally involved in the Syracuse Peace Council. A key event in deepening our connection to Latin America was the formation of a local chapter of the Colombia Support Network. Now, Syracuse, Cortland, and Ithaca have a Sister community relationship with Cajibio in the Cauca region of Colombia, southwest of Bogotá.

Our oldest son Ed works in Lima with indigenous Peruvians whom I met as he included me in his normal day of work. I went with a plan to have SOA Watch bandanas made in Lima. Together we found family workshops where we first purchased the fabric, then took it to be cut and washed, then to another to be sewn and lastly to the printer, negotiating the price and the details of each part of the process, building relationships as we went. The culmination came on my last evening: the heat ,the moonlight, the rows of "Close the SOA" bandanas hanging on clothes lines, the extraordinary willingness of the printer to go the extra step to complete the project as his team helped us pack and insisted on carrying the bag down five flights and into our taxi on our way to the airport. On each square, they had printed 100% cotton made in Peru for SOA Watch Central New York.

With a strong support group in SOA Watch CNY, the loving caring congregation of Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church in Dewitt and my own dear family, I took on a proactive role in the national campaign to close this institution that trains Latin American military officers in the "murderous techniques of counterinsurgency and low-intensity warfare." Now I am preparing myself and my family for April 17th when I will report to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Philadelphia to fulfill my 90 day sentence. More to come.

Julienne is a long-time supporter of School of the Americas Watch. On April 17th, she will start a prison sentence for illegally "crossing the line" in nonviolent protest of the SOA.