Students prepare to converge on the SOA/WHINSEC

Most Grinellians wouldn’t consider taking a 16 hour road trip in the middle of the fall semester practical­–unless it was for social justice.
A group of students will head to Fort Benning, Ga. to participate in the School of Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation(SOA/WINSEC) annual protest starting Nov. 19. The SOA protest is considered one of the largest annual protests in the world and aims to shut down the School of Americas/ Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, a military training institute funded by the United States government that has the unfortunate history of graduates with a long list of human rights violations as dictators in Latin American countries.
The protest, occurring from Nov. 19-23, is organized through the School of Americas Watch, a non-profit organization, with the aims of convincing Congress into passing legislation that will shut down the institution. The conference, also considered a vigil, has lectures and workshops being offered on various social justice and political justice issues. For several years, Grinnellians have chosen to coordinate an overnight trip via charter bus in order to give their voice in the social movement.
Micah Bot-Miller ’11 has gone on the trip for the past two years and plans on attending the protest this year. Bot-Miller decided to get more involved and is responsible for organizing the trip this year.
“Grinnellians for many years have felt that it’s important that we have our voice heard in that call to close down the school,” Bot-Miller said. “That’s why we’re going down there.”
Other participants in the organized protest, such as Evan Hunsley ’11, are going in order to more efficiently utilize how their tax dollars are spent. Hunsley has been going on the SOA/ WINSEC trip since his firstyear, back when the trip did not have a charter bus and students drove down in shifts with personally-owned cars.
“I think it’s a really important ‘cause because a lot political attention in the United States is given to domestic issues. But a lot of people, even on the American left, tend to ignore the fact that our economic and military policies are still resulting in the deaths and tortures and kidnappings and rapes and murders of thousands of people around the world,” Hunsley said. “[It’s a] direct result of the way we spend our tax dollars. To me, that’s the most crucial American policy to change.”
Another dedicated participant going on the trip will be Library Circulation Asst. Reserve Desk Supervisor Chris Gaunt. Gaunt will be the only member of Grinnell staff on the trip. Gaunt has been a part-time librarian in Burling for the past 19 years and has been going to the SOA/ WINSEC protest for 12 consecutive years. “I’m definitely a peace activist,” Gaunt said. “That’s who I am today,”
Gaunt has broken the boundary line by crossing over in the military institute’s grounds. Upon stepping on the military’s ground, it is considered trespassing and a federal misdemeanor. By the crossing the line, Gaunt has served over nine months in federal prison in the last 12 years.
“Now that I’ve taken the worst punishment my government could give me, sent me to jail for a misdemeanor, one of the great benefits for me is that I no longer fear jail,” Guant said.
Despite her arrest, Gaunt still plans to attend the protest with Grinnellians next week as she believes protesting has been an integral part of her life.
“This has transformed my life, actually,” said Gaunt. “Starting to go to the protests and crossing the line really changed things.