Professors, Students Protest SOAby Elizabeth Heron (4/14/00)
The Oberlin Peace Activist League is sponsoring "Close It down Fast", a two-week program advocating the closure of the School of the Americas (SOA). A number of students, faculty and staff have chosen to fast to show their opposition of the U.S.-funded military school that has been accused of training some of the worst human rights abusers in Latin American history.
"Each day you fast, you call your senator to voice your complaint," said sophomore Jackie Downing. "We wanted to make it clear to our senators how Americans feel about the SOA."
"You're not just fasting, you're telling them you fasted," said Junior Rachel Fessenden.
The SOA debate has become heated in the past few years and protesters believe it is especially important to be in touch with legislators now. "For the last four years, an amendment has been offered to Congress to cut funding for the SOA. Last year it passed in the House of Representatives," said Downing. "It didn't make it to the Senate because it was cut by a conference committee, which is one of those things I didn't think could happen. But this summer, it will be introduced again."
Between 25 and 30 Oberlin students, faculty and community members are participating in the fast. "I fasted on Sunday, and it really made me think. For that one day, I felt constantly aware of what I was protesting," said Fessenden.
"No one in Oberlin is fasting for the whole two weeks," said Downing. "Most people will fast for one or two days. Some of the professors are more hardcore, though."
"I chose to fast for three non-consecutive days this week, primarily to support the Oberlin students involved in the movement," said Associate Dean of Students Bill Stackman. "I believe they have done an absolutely outstanding job in creating awareness and I am grateful for their energy and commitment."
In addition to the fast, the Peace Activist League organized two weeks of lectures, films and other informational activities designed to make the campus more aware of the SOA's involvement in specific countries in Latin America. "It gives people an opportunity to do major education in our own community," said Downing. "We basically set out to do the most amazing things we could each day."
The events began on April 6 with a candlelight vigil on the steps of Wilder main, and will continue until Wednesday. Most lectures focus on the role of the United States in the politics and economies of various Latin American countries. Professor of History Steven Volk spoke about his personal experience in the U.S.-supported coup in Chile, and explained the steps the U.S. government took to ensure that the socialist government of Salvador Allende would fail. Melanie Bordelois, co-founder of the Santa Elena Project of Accompaniment, an Oberlin program in which students accompany Guatemalan refugees, discussed the role of the CIA and the SOA in the military regime that ruled Guatemala for more than 40 years. Also discussed was the U.S. government's recent involvement in the Drug War in Colombia in the context of counter-insurgency tactics taught to the students of the SOA.
The speaker who has received the most recent press is 62-year-old Sister Marge Eilerman, a nun who spent a year in a Lexington, KY prison for non-violent action against the SOA. "I went from one act of civil disobedience to the next until the government said, 'That's enough from you for a while' and they socked me behind bars," Eilerman told the Plain Dealer. She will speak in First Church at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The Peace Activist League will also be showing films and documentaries, including a film on the Zapatista uprising in Mexico. "The Zapatistas get a fair amount of coverage, and people are interested," said Downing. They will set up a table at the Oberlin Post Office from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, Tax Day. Students will allege to tax payers that 50 percent of their tax dollars go to funding past and present wars.
"We wanted to do more than just speakers," said Downing.
The events will come to an end on Wednesday at a potluck celebration for the fast participants.
Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
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