Remember School of the Americas? School of Assassins? Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation? Some of us will never forget our experiences at Ft. Benning or the U.S.-sponsored atrocities that made us passionate about being there, but we might forget our country still maintains a facility to perpetuate terror against impoverished Latin Americans who dare to act, or even speak, against their own oppression.
Perhaps you get emails from SOA Watch and know that thousands of opponents of our anachronistic U.S. policy on Latin America gather each November to observe the grim anniversary of the massacre at the University of Central America and try to shame our military into eliminating our own haven for state terrorism.You may know our tax dollars pay for this institution of human misery which has few enemies in Congress and a ‘wall of honor’ for many of our hemisphere’s worst abusers of human rights.
No history of PJALS is complete without recalling the delegations we sent to the SOA or the witness and sacrifice of Paddy Inman and Eric Robison, among heroes from around the country, but we reduced our efforts when the results of risks and rallies became completely predictable. A few women and men of conscience go to prison each year. Congress pays no attention, and the army is unmoved. I believe faithfulness is more important than success, but we felt we could be more faithful and come closer to success by changing our venue, reducing the expenses of individuals and groups anxious to participate, and enabling more activists to take risks which don’t involve consequences as dire as six months in prison.
Closing the SOA is still urgently important, and the facilitators of SOA Watch are courageous advocates of truth and justice who deserve your support. The issue is often obscured by the latest malfactions of our military misadventures, but we who demand justice cannot ignore Guantanamo, Gaza, Bradley Manning, and the other elephants roaming our living room. I hope you will be aware of the events of November 16-18, in Columbus, GA. The protests and processions of thousands once elicited national news coverage and dialogue. This year, you may have to go to soawatch.org to keep posted, but do that.
If this is a new area for you, please learn about the SOA and what you can do about it. If it opens old wounds and reminds you of failed campaigns, check out the good things happening because of SOA Watch; gains made for Central American communities, new awareness for a few members of Congress, and interventions for peace in Colombia. And tell your congressional delegation to “Close the SOA!” Politicians often must be hounded to do the right thing, no matter how good their intentions.
Speaking of politicians, this is an election year, in case you need reminding, and elections are another common November theme. Most of you have probably voted before reading this, but I have to add a few reflections
One observation is that most of us with PJALS never have the luxury of voting for a congressional candidate or incumbent interested in the demise of SOA/WHINSEC. We don’t get Green or Socialist candidates, even in the primaries. Senators Murray and Cantwell are about as likely to rile, restrict or criticize the U.S. military establishment as they are to put strings on military assistance to Israel. I expect Rep. McMorris Rodgers and her opponent, Rich Cowan, are both intentionally uninformed on the issue, each claiming to be a stronger supporter of the military than the other. Michael Baumgartner might be one to call for closure of the SOA, but I have reasons to deny him my vote and, if he somehow won, Republican senators would steer him away from any such good instincts. Jay Inslee is an easy choice for governor, but his resignation from Congress cost us his important vote against the SOA. He was usually a co-sponsor of legislation to close or defund the SOA, and later, WHINSEC, and he will have to be creative to continue that good work as Governor of Washington.
I’m delighted to vote my conscience and passion on several ballot issues, but with my reactionary state legislators unopposed, there’s not much excitement regarding candidates, except that I don’t ask my friends for permission before writing them in. Maybe that’s why I can’t go Green in the presidential race. If I can suck it up and vote for Cantwell, I can vote for Obama, too. He’s in a closer race, hasn’t had time to disappoint me as often as Cantwell, and their shortcomings are similar. It’s just that I expect my vote for Cantwell to count, while my vote for president is something much less. Don’t tell me you forgot about the Electoral College, again.
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who thinks the Electoral College is retained a century past its usefulness out of sheer, anti-democratic perversity. I’ve actually had people try to explain how this dinosaur makes sense in the 21st Century, and these were not folks who want a return to having U.S. Senators chosen by state legislatures. I detest the Electoral College, and I think that’s healthier than hating Ohio and Florida or the voters who live there and are told their individual votes will count. Unfortunately, there is no will to change this system among mainstream Republicans and Democrats because the misbegotten, two-party system would be unlikely to flourish without it. After all, it can be manipulated by the money and power of a few people who don’t have to bother to vote.
By the way, I love to vote, and I’m proud that my state can handle voting by mail. I don’t want to discourage anyone from voting, even if your only incentive is voting against a slate of candidates or issues. I’m happy that I can vote for marriage equality in Washington. I hope someday to be able to cast a vote that will say, “Close the SOA!” or “Peace, not war!” or “No state killing!” Until that fine day, I’ll just have to keep pestering officials someone else has chosen, trying to make political progress and preserve some of the gains made in my lifetime.
May your vote be counted and your political aspirations realized. – RN