Monday, November 19, 2007

Free Speech and nonviolence

Although the SOAW and protest participants are permitted to protest the SOA, the Columbus Police and Army don't let them do so without a bit of a response.

As mentioned before, it has become harder to cross the line. Fences have become larger and tighter around the site even as the protest has gotten larger. There are cameras at the entrance and they also have a large crane-type devise that looks like it has a camera in it. There are a few soldiers who watch the activities from inside the gates, and cops line the non-base sides of the roads. There is little interaction between the peaceful crowd and their observers.

There were two situations, however, in which the police did get involved.

The first situation took place when two men hooded themselves at the TASSC booth to protest torture. They were told that he could not protest with a covered face. Therefore, the SOAW brought them to the stage where they announced that this was a violation of free speech and supported his protest. The only thing the police action did was call more attention to the petition to repeal the Military Commissions Act.

The other issue was that they did not allow protesters to bring in objects that could be deemed "weapons." They screened all the crosses to make sure they weren't too large. Many individuals could be seen breaking their crosses at the curb. Others set them out in front of the police trailer at the entrance with signs declaring them "deadly weapons." On Saturday a woman with a cloth sign that read "Grandmothers for peace" was required to dismantle it because it was stretched over plastic tubing that was too large. She had the sign on Sunday, though. I don't know how she sneaked it in.

The "weapons" business seemed to be an intimidation, or perhaps frustration (it wasn't too intimidating), tactic. The movement is committed to nonviolence, and they still allowed puppetistas to carry large heavy signs and puppets that could be "weapons."

After the man flung himself over the barbed wire fences, the crowd, mostly the people with drums, started cheering wildly and shook the fence where the crosses were put. I thought this was a little "violent." It looked like this might have been the same crowd responsible for starting the anti-war protests that included swearing ("we don't want your bleeping war!") last year, to the disappointment of some of the Loyola students.

I do have to say that besides the "God bless Fort Benning movement," I have not personally witnessed either police or local people confronting protesters with anger. One woman selling parking told my friends and me as we passed to have a good time and that we were supporting a good cause. Local people also barbecue for protesters at the site. Certainly, these individuals and businesses benefit from 25,000 people coming into town!

As the crowd grows, the movement will have to continue to fight the pressures to control the crowd, of course, but they will also have to make sure that everyone within the movement understands and upholds the commitment to non-violence and to treating Columbus with respect.


At November 20, 2007 at 4:07 PM , Anonymous dee said...

hi, or 'hola' to all SOA watchers...

just a quicky from a distant Scottish 'sympatico' to say that the Ft B demo-vigil was featured briefly on George Galloway's UK talk radio show on Saturday night [approx 11:40pm GMT -- circa 5:40 Georgia time] just as your demo was raising steam...

the coupla minutes from the caller "Dee in Leith, in Edinburg"'is available at

1hr 12m 12 secs along the bottom blue time-bar [approx]

Its a long way from Scotland to Georgia and as I'm unable to be there [maybe one day?], its my intention to hopefully get Galloway [of US Senate fame] to further discuss the SOA when his show next turns its attention to Latin American affairs...

Meantime, stay well and givvem hell... and God bless all of you



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