On a weekend in November, the city of Columbus, Fort Benning officials and the noisy demonstrators of School of Americas Watch gather for a protest that never seems to end. Mayors come and go and commanding generals are reassigned but still the protesters come.
Since 1991, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois and his dwindling band of college students and senior citizens have carried symbolic crosses and marched down Fort Benning Road. As the nonviolent funeral procession approaches, police rally on one side of the fence across from soldiers in uniform -- just in case.
But as another protest of a school that officially doesn't exist draws near, once again it has come down to a scrimmage between lawyers, a chance for one side or the other to brag that their attorney is smarter than the other guys.
Lawyers bickered and now, after the annual exchange of opinions, we're back where we started. The protest will be held and the gates will be closed.
This whole exchange is a throwback to other years. There was a year when the commanding general surprised trespassers by loading them on buses that dumped them in a park near where they started. There was a year when police used hand-held metal detectors on everyone who came. There was the year the CG became a DJ and used an Army sound system to pipe in patriotic music that tried to drown out the protest songs.
This year's effort to relocate the protest is a spinoff of 2003. That was the year the city wanted to relocate the event to Golden Park. U.S. Magistrate Mallon Faircloth listened to the lawyers then ruled that SOA Watch's continuing use of that area outside the main gate had established it as a platform for public dissent.
It appears the issue is settled for now without going into a federal courtroom. The main gate will be locked. Traffic will be rerouted and a stage will be built just as it has been for years so Father Roy and his followers can sing a chorus of "This Land is My Land." All sides will claim victory, waving the same U.S. Constitution.
On Nov. 21, neither side will like what the other group is saying but hopefully they'll be able to sit down and talk.
As long as the lawyers stay home and count their fees.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org