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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.

Why civil disobedience?

Prisoner of conscience speaks out

The following is the trial statement of Rebecca Kanner, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Columbus, Ga., May 22, 2001:

My name is Rebecca Kanner. I received a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State University and moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., to work at the U.S. EPA’s Motor Vehicle Emissions Lab. Now I work as an environmental educator for a nonprofit 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 nonviolent civil disobedience.

So when I crossed the line at Fort Benning (in 1997, 1999 and 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 (WHINSEC) …

The three times I crossed the line at Fort 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 Fort Benning.

This trial is not about whether I crossed that line at Fort Benning or not. I did cross it.

Rather, this trial is about bringing truth to the lie that SOA/WHINSEC helps Latin American governments to promote stable democracies. This is an obscene lie. The opposite is the truth. …

This school is funded by our taxes. Graduates of the school/institute use the tactics learned, in courses taught by the U.S. 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. …

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 Fort 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/WHINSEC will be closed.