If Baranwal and Sprout developed theory before
action, Jackie Downing '02 and Laurel Paget-Seekins '01 jumped into
action first. Within Downing's first year of college and Paget-Seekins'
second, they had already co-founded the Oberlin Peace Activists
League and organized a group of students to attend a protest against
the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S.-run training
academy for Latin American soldiers and military leaders at Fort
Benning, Georgia. But it would be several years before they would
realize how the foreign policies they protested could really hit
Since 1998, when the first organized Oberlin contingent
at the annual SOA protest drew 40 students, the SOA has become a
cause celebre on campus. The size of the Oberlin contingent nearly
tripled in three years, numbering around 110 at its height in 2000.
In the week between finals and graduation that year, nine Oberlin
students protested by themselves on the steps of the SOA. And in
2001, a student completed a month-long juice fast at the gates of
Fort Benning as a winter term project.
The SOA campaign is an easy sell on a campus like
Oberlin's with no ROTC and a history of anti-militarism. For SOA
critics, the issue's morality is relatively unambiguous. Records
show that a large percentage of recent Latin American civilian massacres,
plus assassinations of priests and human-rights leaders, involved
SOA graduates, and that the school used training manuals that instructed
students in torture, assassination, and the targeting of civilians.
The anti-SOA campaign's nationwide constituency is diverse, representing
indigenous people, Latino communities, and devout Catholics. The
campaign is nationally coordinated with pre-arranged roles for student
groups and a vast, stately demonstration each November.
The clear-cut, accessible SOA cause won the devotion
of Downing and Paget-Seekins and spurred their further study of
U.S. involvement in Latin America. By Downing's junior year, she
felt that military aid going to Colombia to fight the drug war resembled
the U.S.'s disastrous mid-1980s involvements in Central American
affairs. Downing and Paget-Seekins, with four of their housemates,
targeted the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a manufacturer of the helicopters
used in Plan Colombia. Sikorsky had lobbied heavily in Congress
for the Columbia contract and netted more than $200 million from
the operation. In April 2001, the six Oberlin women entered Sikorsky
headquarters in Connecticut and chained themselves to a pillar inside
a conference room that was about to hold an opening reception.
For hours, the women talked politics with company
vice presidents and conference-goers before unlocking themselves.
When their case went to court last July, the "Oberlin Six"
opted to defend themselves so they could discuss Plan Colombia in
their testimonies. The group was found guilty and fined, but their
stories landed prominent articles in The Washington Post and the
The Boston Globe. "It was a success because we drew attention
to the issues," says Paget-Seekins.
The activists, some of them in a courtroom for the
first time, noticed that many of the cases before the judge involved
young black and Latino men accused of nonviolent drug crimes. Many
could not make bail; others accepted plea bar gains with one- or
two-year jail sentences. "The other side of the war on drugs
became clear to me that day," Paget-Seekins says. "It
made me think about who's fighting for which issues and about who
can afford to go to protests that might get them arrested. Here
we are, white activists doing actions for the victims of the drug
war in Latin America, and every day hundreds of youth of color here
get sentenced to jail in the same war."
Page 1 |
2 | 3 |
4 | 5 | 6
of A New Age of Activism