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Published: November 23rd 2003
I rode my bike from my hotel to Fort Benning Drive, the site of the Saturday SOA Watch rally, and arrived an hour before it was scheduled to start, but as I rode my bike closer to the front gate I thought it odd that I could already hear music. As I got closer I wondered why “God Bless the USA” was being played, but it was not until after I had locked up my bike and passed through the police checkpoint that I realized that the music was not coming from the stage set up in front of the main gate of Fort Benning, but rather from behind the gate. The Army had set up their own P.A. system just inside the gates, and had pointed the speakers straight out towards the stage. When one patriotic hymn ended, another would begin, once more invoking God’s imprimatur upon American military endeavors. Technicians were scrambling about the stage, trying to get all of their wires connected to their own speakers. The Army’s P.A. system could be heard a good mile away, and it seemed as though they were intent on drowning out the rally. And as I walked along the line of half-empty tables along the street, it looked as though my table was to be the closest to the two sets of competing speakers.
I had contacted SOA Watch a couple of months before and had arranged to rent half of one of the many tables that lined the edges of the rally. I had wanted to man a “Quaker table,” with Friendly literature and bumper stickers. But since I did not have space to carry boxes of pamphlets and stickers with me, I arranged to have all of my materials mailed ahead to Father Roy Bourgeois. As it turned out, only the literature arrived, the stickers were returned to the sender because of an address problem, so my table was more scantily covered than anticipated. But I found Father Roy and picked up an armful of boxes before heading off to my table.
By the time I started arranging my brochures and pamphlets, the technicians at the SOA Watch stage had their P.A. system up and running in competition with the Army loudspeakers. Every time the stage speakers would be turned up a notch, the Army would turn their speakers up one notch louder until it became painful to stand with a hundred feet of the stage. I was sharing my table with the Tallahassee chapter of Veterans for Peace, and after a few minutes of raucous cacophony, my fellow veteran shouted above the din, “LET’S MOVE THE TABLE!!!” We offered up stickers and goodies to a couple of kids hanging around in front of the table, and in short order our bags and table were being carried to a quieter spot farther from the stage. As we settled into our more quiet abode, I observed to my fellow veteran Tom, “We’re victims of psychological warfare.”
While some of the rally attendants were shocked and agitated by the Army’s sonic disruption tactics, I was only surprised that it had taken the Army fourteen years to think of it. After all, the Army was supposed to be well-versed in psychological warfare, and had demonstrated in previous conflicts that they would use obnoxious music to demoralize their opponents, as they did to Manuel Noriega when he retreated to the Vatican Embassy in 1989. For fourteen years the SOA Watch had held an annual rally outside of Fort Benning, and each year music and speakers had been the focus of the rallies. What better way to disrupt the rally than to disrupt the message?
According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer the next day, http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/mld/ledgerenquirer/news/local/7329131.htm, the commander of Fort Benning, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, personally approved of the proposal to play competing music during the rally Saturday. Furthermore, the music “came from a CD made by the wife of a soldier serving with the Fort Benning-based 988th Military Police Company in Iraq. The soldier's wife proposed giving soldiers and post law enforcement working the protest an alternative to music from the demonstration,” according to a Ft. Benning spokesman.
The SOA Watch has looked at the issue as a civil rights violation of the Bivens Act, and it may well be. But when I learned that the music had come from a CD made by a soldier’s wife, my mind was drawn to the question of copyright violation. I would be extremely interested in who made the CD, and if the proper royalties were paid. Furthermore, the CD was publicly played, and such a performance would thus count as a second copyright violation, assuming that royalties were not paid. Consequently Brig. Gen. Freakley could have been a party to criminal conspiracy. It is disheartening to me to even consider that the leaders of our country’s great military would even consider violating our blessed American laws.
After moving away from the dueling P.A. systems, I was able to actually converse with the people who came by my table, and I met many Quakers surprised to find an “official” Quaker presence at the rally, and they were excited at the prospect of a Meeting for Worship at the front gates on Sunday morning. Many Friends had heard about my trip, but many more had not. Time and again I was asked if I was going to doing another ride next year, and if the ride would be open to other people.
So now I find myself considering the possibility of riding to Ft. Benning again next year with more friends, although on a shorter, supported trip. Fifteen or twenty people who came by my table expressed interest in joining such a ride, and so I’m now thinking about a ride to the SOA from a more centrally-located state, such as Kentucky or Tennessee. I think that a future ride could be no longer than fourteen days to accommodate most people’s schedules. Support vehicles would allow riders to travel faster since they would not be concerned with carrying their own luggage, and would also offer the opportunity for the less exercise-inclined to participate. The daily mileage could not reasonably exceed 50 miles per day, and the route would need to be planned and scouted in advance. I believe that any future trip to the would need to include a large dose of outreach to the communities that we would pass through, an attempt to educate people about the School of the Americas.
So I’m looking for riders, drivers and anybody else with experience or suggestions. If you’re interested, or know someone who is interested, please let me know.
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