About 60 people marched from the University of Oregon to the Federal Building in downtown Eugene today to demand an end to the U.S.'s military response to the Sept. 11 attacks on NYC and DC, and to call for the closing of the School of Americas (SOA). This weekend, hundreds of people will descend on the School of Americas in Georgia for the annual protest against the terrorist-training that takes place there. Solidarity actions were planned in dozens of cities across the U.S. today, so Eugene was not standing alone in its vocal and visible opposition.
Citizens who support justice rather than war hold protests at the Federal Building in Eugene every Friday. Support for the cause from passing drivers was strong, as the protesters chanted, "Stop the war, make some noise!" among many other slogans. Many people honked their horns, shouted and waved. Only a handful of individuals made derisive remarks or squealed their tires.
Police presence was heavy, in all likelihood due to last week's civil disobedience that resulted in the arrests of seven passionate individuals who took over an intersection. Police followed the march on bicycles and shadowed it in cruisers. In a parking lot around the corner from the Federal Building, officers suited up and awaited orders, testing the weight of billy clubs in their hands. At least three different cops videotaped the march and the rally. Activists ignored them and concentrated on expressing their messages instead.
More people were in attendance this week than last, perhaps as a result of SOA education that took place at the University the day before. Leafleting, tabling, and a die-in sponsored by the (unofficial) campus chapter of SOA Watch helped bring attention to worldwide effects of the SOA. During the die-in, people laid down by crosses that bore the names of people killed by SOA graduates. Educational materials highlighted specific atrocities, naming names, places and dates. That so many people still know nothing about the SOA, and the U.S. government's complicity in the international terrorism network -- including those accused of attacking NYC and DC on September 11 -- shows the alarming efficacy of the propaganda machine in this country. How many people, for example, know about Oscar Romero, an Archbishop in El Salvador, who was killed by an SOA graduate in 1980 (during Jimmy Carter's administration)? Romero paid the ultimate price because he supported the criminal and murderous government that had been installed by the U.S. at the behest of private corporate interests. A Thursday evening showing of the movie "Romero", depicting his life, struggle, and death, was one attempt to bring such stories to light. Friday's public action was another.
A few people spoke at the Federal Building rally, mostly on the topic of the SOA, during an open mike. A Latina woman and a girl who appeared to be her daughter were there, specifically to call attention to the deaths of Archbishop Romero and other Catholic activists in Central America. They were not the only people there who were not "your typical activists", which shows the breadth of a movement that is still trying to find the courage to come out of hiding and express itself. The woman held a large, framed photograph of Romero. The girl had a painting showing Romero and other murdered priests. Both presented their subjects as martyrs worthy not just of respect but veneration. This faith-infused view brought a sense of the mystical/mythical potential of humanity not often expressed in leftist circles.
Wanting to take to the streets, but lacking the large numbers required for a decent traffic-shutdown, a group of activists at the Federal Building action skipped from corner to corner -- always on the Walk signal !! -- to show their presence without risking arrest. One policeman, observing this creative choice and smiling, commented, "what a great idea!" Another policeman laughed and goodnaturedly turned down an activist who asked if he would hold his sign. For the most part, the cops kept their distance, though one officer with a video camera frowned down upon the crowd from one of the windows in the Federal Building during the entire action. Such tactics can make a scene more adversarial than it needs to be. I mean, what do they need those tapes for anyway? Do they actually sit and watch them all later and take notes and make files? Do they really have time for that? Government budgets these days are so stretched, it's hard for me to imagine them actually doing anything with all this footage. But I suppose it could all turn out to be very "useful" in court at some point, especially if the current erosion of civil rights continues unabated.
The bulk of the crowd -- which rose to 75 at the Federal Building -- was in force through rush hour. One activist who attends weekly noted that not only has the number of people attending the Friday action risen over the last few weeks, but the amount of support shown by the community -- drivers, passers-by, etc. -- has also been growing steadily. Perhaps more people are seeing that protest and peace are truly patriotic.
Local activists are encouraging you to come to the Lane County Courthouse next Wednesday, at 1:00 p.m., to show support for the seven people who were arrested at last week's peace vigil. Watch the newswire for details.