Golden Times

DESIREE LECLERCQ


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When my mother first asked me to get arrested with her, I thought she was either joking or going crazy in her old age; this woman looks down on misdemeanors like she does Republicans in public offices. However, she seemed serious, so I played along and agreed. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Columbus, Georgia, preparing to participate in the biggest protest against the School of the Americas in history.

Now, to be honest, I had never hear of the School fo the Americas, had not kept up with the recent tortures in Latin America, nor realized that the trainers of the murderers lived in the United States! The only thing I knew was that I was about to see my fifty-one-year-old mother spread-eagled against a wall and frisked, and with only that image in mind, I grabbed my protest banner, ear warmers and granola bar and joined the other two thousand protesters at Ft. Benning. What I was about to experience there would shock, distress, and impress me sharper than any one event ever before.

The two and a half hours worth of speeches at the gates of Ft. Benning gave me more information about Guatemala, Chile, and the rest of Latin American than I ever thought I would receive. Nineteenth-generation Mayan Indians from Guatemala spoke alongside high school students at the podium, as an even more diverse audience of young hippies to Grandmothers for Peace listened on. It was not long before all of our hearts warmed to the victims of the graduates of the School of the Americas, who, after their "release" into Latin America, raped, abused and tortured the citizens who appeared to be out of line from the military order.

By the time the decision came whether to cross the boundaries of Ft. Benning and get arrested, I jumped to the line, cross in hand. The floating images of my mother handcuffed to a pole was no longer my inspiration; for once, I was doing something I knew in my heart was right, and I was willing to take my chances on what the punishment would be.

As my mother and I followed the line of 595 people through the curvy road of Ft. Benning, we caught a majestic glimpse of Father Bourgeoise, who was leading the line of protestors. The golden leaves of Georgia had begun to fall, sprinkling the air of the protesters with gold specks of light, which my mother would later describe as God's glitter. My chilled heart warmed to all of the participants, whose holy glow led the trail of many to the numerous blue buses which waited further along the road to transfer our freezing bodies to the military police station, where, surprisingly enough, hot coffee and smiling eighteen-year-old privates waited to write us up.

My mother and I, along with the majority of protesters, were first-time offenders; we escaped with a warning not to come on Ft. Benning property until November 19th, three days after the annual School of the Americas protest would take place again. We were the lucky ones.

Repeat offenders got three months in the federal prison as well as a $3000 fine.

Whatever their time in prison may be like, these people proved to me what it means to truly believe in something; to give up your life in hopes of helping others. By far, these were the most noble acts I have ever been blessed to witness, and the imprisonment of these protesters does not indicate an end to the protest, as the legal system which confined them may hope. It is motivation for us all to yell a little louder.


Copyright DESIREE LECLERCQ

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Last updated: July 10, 1998