Crowd of 1,750 calls for closing institute at Fort Benning

benw@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 23, 2013 

After 23 years of protesting to close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, former Georgia NAACP State Conference president Edward DuBose used words from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to energize a crowd Saturday outside the Benning Road gate.

“I don’t care how many years it takes, I don’t care how few people are left when we get to the end,” said DuBose, a Columbus resident and former NAACP branch president. “Dr. King understood something that you understand now. The ark of the moral universe is long and it always bends toward justice.”

DuBose was among a list of speakers joining School of the Americas Watch founder, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, for the annual protest calling for the closure of the institute formerly known as the School of the Americas. The school operated at Fort Benning under the name for 16 years before closing in December 2000 and reopening with its current name in 2001.

DuBose told a diverse crowd of 1,750 on Benning Road the name change made no difference. “I don’t care what you say, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” DuBose said.

Standing on the stage, DuBose said he is with the group to also end immigration policies, profiling of Latino brothers and sisters and abolish stand-your-ground-type laws blamed in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.

Bourgeois, 74, said the gathering is to keep alive the memories of the thousands of people who have been forced to suffer, been killed or disappeared. “We are here to speak for people who can’t come here and tell their stories,” he said. “We are not going away. We are going to stay here and keep coming here until this school is shut down.”

Protesters against the school included students, teachers, ministers and others.

Angeline Walczyk, a nun from Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters in Albuquerque, N.M., said she has been coming to the protest since 1998.

Walczyk said she is concerned about American tax dollars used to train Western Hemisphere soldiers at Fort Benning and some have been linked to human rights violation.

“It’s a terrible witness,” said Walczk, who was dressed in jeans and green coat instead of a blue and white uniform. “It’s a horrible witness.”

Nashua Chantal of Americus, Ga., has been attending the protest for 13 years and crossed over the fence in 2004 and 2012. The 61-year-old protester said he served a total of nine months in federal prison for trespassing.

“It’s about the sacrifice and knowing what is going to happen to us when we go to prison,” he said. “It is the despair, the ugliness of loss of families. The police officers are sometimes very disrespectful and sometimes they are not. It’s a lot of self examination as we walk the trek together.”

Chantal, 61, said soldiers who are trained at Fort Benning should be held to the same morals that are taught to U.S. soldiers.

Tom Baxter of Tallahassee, Fla., said he has supported the protest for the last 20 years. He first felt something was wrong with the military after women and children were killed in Vietnam.

“When I came out of Vietnam, I knew something was terribly wrong with my government,” he said. “Stop my government from killing children. That is the bottom line.”

The Vietnam veteran and member of Vietnam Veterans For Peace said he is opposed to wars in Asia and Africa.

“I won’t support anybody that’s doing that,” Baxter said of the deaths.

Columbus Police Chief Ricky Borne said the crowd Saturday was smaller than the 2,200 that were at the rally last year.

The protest continues at 9 a.m. today with a mock funeral to remember those who have died.

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