Oberlin Activists Protest School of the Americas
Atlanta, Georgia — Just before Thanksgiving break, 23 Oberlin students piled into cars and vans and sped to Fort Benning, GA for the annual protest of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, more recently known as the School of the Americas, a controversial combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Since 1946, this tax-funded institution has taught counter-insurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Its graduates are responsible for many human rights violations in Central and South America of the past several decades.
The School of the Americas Watch, the group organizing the protest, says on its website: “Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, ‘disappeared,’ massacred and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins” — their nickname for the institution.
The Oberlin students attended an exhausting day of workshops the day before the protest that focused on everything from experimental theater to the upcoming presidential elections. The next day they marched with 18,000 students and activists from across the globe in front of the school’s gates, chanting the names of victims and watching a bold few get arrested for deliberately crossing onto government property.
Oberlin Latin American Activists, the student organization that planned the trip, hopes to stay involved in this issue throughout the year and is currently looking into bringing some of their favorite speakers from the rally to campus, specifically a man who survived torture himself in Colombia who now travels around the world giving workshops in alternative and socially active theater.
At a debriefing session on Wednesday, Nov. 28, the rally’s participants met in Wilder to discuss and process what they experienced. One student noted that while it’s impressive that 23 Obies gave up an entire weekend to protest injustice, he’d heard that in the past, Oberlin has sent hundreds of students by bus down to the march. The group discussed the allegedly fading culture of activism on campus, and devised creative alternatives for the future for students who might not want to make the grueling 14-hour trip.
All noted how moving the experience was of hearing the never-ending list of victims chanted by a chorus of 18,000 voices, and how it gave them a sense of solidarity and empowerment. The group only hopes that it can do more, on campus and off, in the future.