If freedom is in danger, that is because we have fences to protect ourselves from it. The School of the Americas (now retitled the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHISC) has trained men from Central and South America who went on to commit genocide, terror, rape, and torture. Since this makes us 'free,' we must protect it behind a three-layered chain-link gate. We must patrol the other side with four-wheeled vehicles, establish a command post in view of the gate, and place an ever-enlarging number of civilian and military uniforms around it over the weekend.
Against this, veterans and faith organizations and artists have deployed an annual festival of peace and freedom. Much more after the jump, if you're curious:
Along one side of the free speech zone at the School of the Americas Watch is open green space. Invitingly grassy, cool, and shady in the surprising heat of a November afternoon in Georgia, it is all off-limits. Five law enforcement agencies patrol the other side of a nearly two-thousand foot fence.
Along the other side of the free speech zone at the School of the Americas Watch is a residential neighborhood; uniformed and plainclothes police have a building behind the row of barriers that mark off the last six hundred feet of territory. Constant patrols through and alongside the crowd secure a perimeter here, too.
Free speech is not allowed in the confines of that outer domain. Like the ravening wolves of Yellowstone, the sheep outside these limits must not be awakened; we cannot take ideas into the base or the streets. Toward this end, we are under constant surveillance in the free speech zone at the School of the Americas. Most police have gas mask carriers on their thighs. Plainclothesmen enter the crowd, taking pictures and video. A helicopter without markings whirs overhead in irregular rhythm. The local police have a mobile command tower; it is less menacing than the one behind the aluminum curtains of Fort Benning.
Behind the first fence, a monumental entry sign lies under thick military tarps. A very loud PA (is this why the organizers have the double-PA that makes filming conversations anywhere close to the stage nigh impossible?) projects the orders of the post commander and a litany of possible legal charges with off three-second halts of cadence. I am reminded of everything I learned of psyops while inside the SCIF (Secure Compartmentalized Intelligence Facility): the halts are aggravating, and so is the whimsy of broadcast. We will make sure you cannot tune us out. The watchtower goes up and down at random behind the second fence. You are under observation at all times here.
Veterans and faith organizations have built the School of the Americas watch, but students and artists have contributed a culture of courage and creativity. Watching the three-headed titan eat victims of the School of the Americas graduates (their names inscribed on silhouettes, as well as chalk body outlines), I remarked that nothing remotely like it has ever appeared at a tea party. On their way out of the free speech zone, the Puppetistas paused to carry the message to the streets; police reacted by sweeping the parking lots for anyone walking the wrong directions, especially those with cameras. This is another part of progressive protest curiously missing from the tea parties, as though the issues that movement represents were not as altogether serious as progressive ones.
I caught video of RT America reporter Kaelyn Forde's dramatic arrest, also captured by her cameraman (who was also arrested). Legal advisers were targeted for arrest as well. As Puppetistas continued apace at the civilian end of the free speech zone, police officer instructions came with more aggressive pitch and a series of mobile PAs ordered dispersal. I must point out that the crowd was attempting to leave or take advantage of vendors, and only two people actually tried to cross the line this year at either end of the free speech zone at the School of the Americas watch. Of two dozen arrests, only four intended arrest.
But like any actual, real, not-imaginary human rights movement, the youngest volunteers from the free speech zone at the School of the Americas Watch answered the call of nonviolent resistance. What I captured an hour later as about two hundred people took part in a (mostly) silent demonstration between Columbus police headquarters and the Muscogee County jail. Freedom is not dead: the youth always lead, and the wise will follow.
The free speech zone at the School of the Americas Watch has diminished in recent years even as Plan Mexico and Plan Colombia have redoubled America's involvement with horrors unfolding in those countries. This is real. This is what democracy looks like; America needs reminding, and I hope the Watch continues.