Fort Benning protesters insist they are still relevant

Fort Benning protesters insist they are still relevant

It's back: The School of the Americas protest is preparing for another event outside the gates of Fort Benning on Saturday.

The "Stone Gate" on Benning Road was closed at 6 p.m. Friday, and that entrance will be shut down until sometime Sunday.

10 years ago, the School of Americas protest boasted numbers upwards of 20,000 and they had big celebrities lending their name to the cause, like actor, Martin Sheen.  The demonstrations used to end with several people climbing fences and trying to break into the post.

But recently, the event has only been a shadow of its former self, and hardly anyone gets arrested anymore.

When we asked protester, Mike Bremer, if anyone is planning to jump the fence this year, he said it's not something that is usually announced in advance.

"So many people come, we often don't know until the last minute," Bremer said. 
Another protester, Mary Dean, said she spent six months in federal prison for trespassing during the 2001 event. 
When Dean was asked if she advises other people to do the same thing, she said, "It's a personal decision.  One has to weigh the consequences of course, but also weigh what is happening in these countries due to our foreign policy."

The annual protest got started in 1989 after accusations that soldiers from Central America who took classes at Fort Benning were involved in the murder of innocent people in El Salvador.

Lee Rials represents the school in question, which is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC.

He said students at the school, "work together, develop relationships, and focus on doing jobs correctly, in accordance with human rights and the rule of law."

When asked to respond to protesters' accusations that the school represents the opposite of all those things, Rials said,

"They need to come see what we are doing, and then they would understand that what we're doing is not what they believe we are doing."

Rials said the school allows members of the public to take a guided tour of the facility.

The protesters setting up the stage Friday contend that the movement is still relevant.  However, few activists encountered by WTVM reporters over the past two years appeared to have more than a passing understanding of the school's alleged connection to atrocities. 
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