A POLITICAL PRISONER OF OUR OWN
On May 23rd , Rebecca Kanner of the Ann Arbor Ecology Center, and a Steering Committee member of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, was sentenced to 6 months in prison and a $500 fine for her nonviolent protest calling for the closing of the US Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, GA. In the accompanying statement from her trial she explains her actions, and also adds some ideas for others to keep the pressure on the military.
In the same trial, Josh Raisler Cohn, an Ann Arbor native whose parents reside here, was sentenced to 6 months and a $1000 fine for his nonviolent actions against the SOA. He is currently in prison, while Rebecca expects to begin her sentence in late July or August.
In all, 26 people from across the nation were sentenced for political speech on the grounds of a US Army base. Make no mistake; they are political prisoners--arrested for the content of their speech as much as manner of their speech (namely, having "crossed the line" of this military base more than once)--because civilians who support the school are routinely allowed and even invited and even paid to speak on the base, repeatedly. Leonard, meet Rebecca.
BRINGING TRUTH TO THE LIE
by Rebecca Kanner
My name is Rebecca Kanner and I was born in 1957 in Cleveland Ohio. I received a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State University and moved to Ann Arbor, MI to work at the US EPA’s Motor Vehicle Emissions Lab. Now I work as an environmental educator for a non-profit environmental organization, going into classrooms, teaching children how they can make the earth a cleaner, healthier and safer place for everyone.
When I was growing up, I learned a deep lesson from my rabbi that I try to follow in how I live my life. I didn’t learn this life lesson at my synagogue—I learned it at school. My ninth grade civics teacher presented a sermon by my rabbi as part of the lesson plan on how to be a good citizen. This sermon talked about the rights and responsibilities of all citizens, listing ways that each one of us must act to ensure our democracy continues. The first step was voting and other steps included attending public meetings and writing our elected officials. Now, almost 30 years later, I of course don’t remember all the steps listed or even how many there were but I do remember the final one and that was non-violent civil disobedience. I wasn’t surprised to hear this message from my rabbi. I knew that Rabbi Lelyveld had been arrested and terribly beaten for his work in the civil rights movement in Mississippi in 1964. So I wasn’t surprised that my rabbi would give a sermon advocating civil disobedience as one of the actions that may be required of us to preserve our democracy. What did surprise me was that my civics teacher would teach us at my public junior high school that sometimes breaking the law was a viable action by concerned citizens to protect our democracy. My respected teacher taught us that in severe cases it was ok, in fact it is our responsibility to break the law. So when I crossed the line at Ft. Benning (in 1997, 1999 & 2000), I was practicing a lesson that I learned in school.
When I made the serious decision each time to participate in a direct action to close the School of the Americas (SOA), now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), I was inspired by the Jewish concept of tikkun olam—translated from the Hebrew, this means the just ordering of human society and the world—or more literally, the repair of the world. I was also inspired by the Jewish prophetic tradition of social justice. As a Jew, I am moved to work to repair the tragic consequences of the SOA/WHISC.
The three times I crossed the line at Ft. Benning, I have felt what the Jewish theologian and philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel felt when he marched together with Martin Luther King out of Selma. He believed that it was a day of sanctification, filled with spiritual significance and he felt as though his legs were praying. I was praying with my feet during those holy moments as we gathered together to do tikkun olam at Ft. Benning.
This trial is not about whether I crossed that line at Ft. Benning or not—I did cross it. Rather this trial is about bringing truth to the lie that SOA/WHISC helps Latin American governments to promote stable democracies. This is an obscene lie. The opposite is the truth. When Panama kicked the School of the Americas out of its country in 1984, the president declared that the SOA is "the biggest base for destabilization in Latin America." This School is funded by our taxes. Graduates of the School/Institute use the tactics learned, in courses taught by the US Army, against their own people. The victims of SOA graduates are those working for a better life—working for land reform, for better wages, for adequate housing and health care for the poor—and the victims of the SOA graduates are those just trying to simply live.
Over the years, we’ve learned that SOA graduates have been responsible for countless atrocities. The movement to close this School of Assassins has forced the Pentagon to make cosmetic changes to "reform" the School, even changing its name. But we know that past "reforms" have not worked and this latest "reform" is not the answer. The atrocities continue: in Guatemala with the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi by an accused SOA graduate; in Bolivia where the president, a former military dictator and SOA graduate declared a state of siege and ordered troops into the streets against the people; and most notably in Colombia, with over 10,000 troops trained at the SOA and the worst human rights record in all of Latin America. [See page 7.—Ed.]
So I am doing what I can to close this notorious School/Institute. I have written letters to my elected officials; I have helped organize public forums to educate others about the situation; and yes, I have solemnly and sincerely entered Ft. Benning asking that the School be closed. I hope my actions, the actions of my friends on trial with me, and the actions of thousands of others in our movement will serve as a catalyst to others to act to close the School/Institute in whatever way is best for them. Together, I believe, we will bring about justice and that the SOA/WHISC will be closed.
Here are some things you may do to help:
Call or write Congress, tell them you want the School of Assassins (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) to close! Ask your Rep. to co-sponsor House Bill HR 1810 to Close the WHISC;
The Honorable (name)
US House of Representatives (or Senate)
Washington DC 20515 (or 20519)
Organize to come to Ft. Benning this year, November 16-18, 2001 as thousands rally for the closing of the SOA. Call the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (734-663-1870) for more information if you’re in the Ann Arbor area.
Send a donation to help support the work of SOA Watch. This is an incredible organization that used all of its wonderful resources to support me and the others as we gathered in Columbus for trial last week and will continue to support us. Tax-deductible checks can be made to "Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice" with SOA Watch on the memo line and we will send the money on.
Borrow one of the videos or books from the ICPJ’s lending library to learn more. Call ICPJ 663-1870 or visit the office at 730 Tappan, Ann Arbor during office hours.
Invite me or one of the many others who have been to Columbus, Georgia to speak from our experience about why the SOA must be closed.
Signed Elements ©