Perhaps that was the case on Nov 19-21, 2010; but the numbers were still far smaller than previous years as advocates of peace hope to find it in their checkbooks as well as in US foreign policy. I fear that they may not find it in either, but like them I’m also banking on hope – that the School of the Americas (renamed WHINSEC but operating under the same principles) will soon close and that the money spent to keep it running, along with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the countless other military programs that cost us a couple billion dollars a day, can be spent in more constructive and productive ways. Until then, we can expect graduates of the SOA to use their expert military training against the poor in Latin America.
So those of us with less financial scruples will insist on making our presence known. This year I did so by performing on two separate occasions and leading a workshop.
On Friday night at the Columbus Convention Center I played “Pax Americana” and “Why Lie (I Want a Beer)” for the largest crowd GioSafari has ever played for. About an hour later I led a workshop based on "Why Lie" about how we can better love, serve, and understand the homeless in our midst. There were about fifteen folks who joined me for that and we had a great discussion! I learned so much myself!
When the night was done I made my way to a farming community called Koinonia in Americus, GA. This community is responsible for the development organization Habitat for Humanity and for leading the way for integration, tolerance, and love during the Civil Rights movement in central Georgia, an otherwise racist part of the country at the time. I had the privilege of staying there for the weekend two years prior with my friend Sam and I was overjoyed to stay again, sleeping in the MLK room (all the rooms are named after heroes in the struggle for peace and justice). I had secured rides back and forth with two other gentlemen who were also spending the weekend at the rally and vigil in Columbus.
Saturday is when the big demonstration happens. I walked around for a bit til I ran into a charismatic young woman who asked me whether I knew about what was happening in El Salvador. I had seen a documentary film about it the night before (Return to El Salvador) so I said yes. She was with an organization called CISPES (Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), who was supposed to be sharing the table with the SOAW NYC group, the folks I went to the rally with last year. So she invited me to sit at the table with her and educate people about the situation in El Salvador. How could I refuse?
I later joined the Puppetistas, marching and drumming with them in the dramatic show that always draws the protest to a close; but this year the plan was to take the show to the streets, an act of civil disobedience. The problem was that only a minority of the demonstrators were fully aware of that plan. Most were just making their way back to their cars to go to the convention center or their hotels. Meanwhile the police monitored the action and didn’t let us get too far before closing in. A frenzy ensued, marked by the insolence of demonstrators, confusion of passers-by and authoritarian machismo of the city police and SWAT. Twenty-six people – demonstrators, journalists, by standers – were arrested.
Back at the convention center, the fund-raising was already underway to bail out those arrested, an effort that would continue through the following day’s vigil.
We arrived rather late on Sunday but with plenty of time for me to make my way solemnly to the gate of Ft Benning, guitar in hand. Names of victims of the SOA were read aloud. After each name the crowd would lift a fist and sing “Presente.” I prayed for the dead and tortured; the missionaries, university professors, community and labor organizers, targets of the SOA; for the children whose mothers and fathers have died at the hands of SOA graduates. And I prayed for something radical like world peace.
Then I watched in admiration as brave souls climbed over the barbed wire fence, an act of civil disobedience and federal crime for which they could serve six months in prison – while the murderous graduates of the SOA live free with impunity. Something is rotten in the justice system of the state.
It was soon my turn to perform again for those left at Ft Benning. I played Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind, a song that is deeply meaningful to me and that I have played every year at the gates of Ft Benning. This was the first time it was amplified. It was a great honor to finally take part in the events of this weekend besides spectator. I can only hope they will allow me to return next year and share the radical music I will write until then.
Catching us up…
The last show on the FREE Radical tour was in Vero Beach with Among Giants and some other great local acts. I lucked out with a ride to Boynton Beach and rode the Tri-Rail train the rest of the way to Miami. I spent a couple days there with family for Thanksgiving. On the evening of Black Friday I took a Greyhound bus up to Orlando. The next day we held the Eagles & Snowbirds Tour kickoff show at Raphsodic Cooperative Company, where Noah and Amber Eagle joined me, along with Among Giants and Alex Clements. By all accounts it was a great show! We are now in St Petersburg awaiting our turn for a show at Fubar. More on the E&S tour soon to come!