Thousands of Protesters gather at Fort Benning - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Thousands of Protesters gather at Fort Benning

November 20, 2004

Columbus-- Saturday, thousands of protesters made an annual pilgrimage to Fort Benning. For nearly a decade, they have gathered at the gates of military base to call for the closure of the School of Americas.

They say the school trained Latin America soldiers responsible for abuse and oppression in South America.

Thousands of demonstrators from all corners of the country travel to the base each November to mark the 1989 slayings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador.

A congressional task force found that some of the soldiers responsible for the massacre had been trained at the School of Americas at Fort Benning. Over the years, the demonstration has also turned into a protest against capitalism.

"The school provides the muscle for US foreign policy. It protects economic interest to companies that we read about today. The ones that go over to other counties to exploit," says Father Roy Bourgeols, founder of the movement.

Amongst the faithful a the protest, a 79 year old grandmother from Iowa, who's been arrested 4 times and spent 3 months in jail for attempting to cross military barricades into the school.

"You get the message across that this is what I believe in and what's more important than standing up for what you believe in," says Rita Hohenshall.

As security gets tighter and the journey gets harder to make a group of fresh faces are waiting to take Hohenshall's place in the crowd.

"I believe there are many injustices that our country does to our own people and people around the world," says Bill Bassinger a college student, who traveled to the protest from North Carolina.

Although a lot of the faces may change the purpose for the protest remains; equality for all and the freedom to speak without a heavy price.

The school is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

About 15-thousand locals and soldiers also gathered Saturday for a free festival called God Bless Fort Benning, purposely timed to coincide with mass protests by School of Americas Watch, which protests a training center for Latin American soldiers at Fort Benning.

posted at 6:50PM by scott.hunter@walb.com

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