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Commentary :: Peace & War

Puppets and Protest at the SOA: Why I keep going back

annual SOA protest an opportunity to create community and strengthen resolve for long-haul resistance work
Several mainstream media articles about the November School of the Americals protest began with the question, "Why cross the line?" For me, after years of driving 12 hours to Fort Benning, GA almost every Novermber, the question is, "If you're not crossing the line, why go?"
Afterall, for most who go, Fort Benning is outsidew our bioregion. Gas is expensive, time is precious, and just about everyone could find somewhere within 2 hours of home to protest militarism and state-sponsored torture. I could go to the Pentagon, where the SOA's torture manuals orginated.
And yet, on November 8th, I piled inot a caravan with 6 kids and 2 other adults to drive not only to Fort Benning, but to Ashville, Knoxville and Nashville as part of a puppet theater troup. After 5 days on the road, performing our circus theater and talking up the SOA vigil and protest at universities and community centers, we spent another 5 days with 20 other puppetistas building over 100 big puppets and teaching a dozen people not only how to walk on stilts, but how to freefall backwards on stilts into the arms of 6 waiting "catchers".
Saturday, watching my 8-year-old daughter Gaby stilt walk and freefall in front of thousands of people, I could see so clearly what an incredible opportunity it was for her. That evening, my 13-year-old son Isaac told me he'd met and talked to a young hip hop artist who'd watched his own father get tortured. The son hasd come to sing on stage at the protest. For Isaac, that experience alone was worth missing 2 days of school.
And my 11-year-old daughter Anna had the chance to be part of a collaborative theater production with a low budget and a deep vision. And all of them got to spend some time hanging out with other kids whose parents shop at the dumsters and go to jail for protesting injustice.
For myself, I relish the opportunity to work with some of the best puppetistas in the country. This year I met Hedctor Aristizabal, a native of Colombia, who, after being tortured and threatened with death, made his way to the US where he rens a theater group in Los Angeles. Hector travelled from CA to join our puppetista crew, annd totally transofrmed our show with his amazing energy and his instant grasp of the deeper meaning of our storyline. On Sunday, as we were preparing to perform ouur puppet extravaganza for 12,000 people, Hector, who should have benn on stage, was no where to be found. As the puuppetistas and the stage manger began to get frantic, we spotted Hector. Behind the stage area, in his stilts and costume, Hector had joined the end of the long, solomn prossession of mourners. He was at the locked gate to Fort Benning, which was now covered by crosses, signs, flowers and photos, all posted there by other vigilers, to make prosent our memories of those killed by SOA graduats. For Hector, those who've been killed are compatriotass, friends, family. And the fact that he took the time to be present to those memories in the midst of our frantic pro-show scrambling may be what I remember most from this year's protest.
I still wonder ahbout driving all that wasy and not tryiing to get up to theschool, which involves threspasssing onto the base (and results in 3-6 months in jail). And I still think that everyone who lives closer to the Pentagon than to the SOA should go there, instead.
But I certainly came home with a head full of resistance ideas, a revived sense of our "movement"; a committment to continue to use art, puppetry, and the creation of community to fight the oppression of the empire in which we live; and 2 new stilt-walkers in the family.

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