U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia
May 22, 2001
My name is Rebecca Kanner, and I was born in 1957 in Cleveland, Ohio. I received a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State University, and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan to work at the US EPA’s Motor Vehicle Emissions Lab. Now I work as an environmental educator for a non-profit 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 non-violent civil disobedience. I wasn’t surprised to hear this message from my rabbi. I knew that Rabbi Lelyveld had been arrested and terribly beaten for his work in the civil rights movement in Mississippi in 1964. So I wasn’t surprised that my rabbi would give a sermon advocating civil disobedience as one of the actions that may be required of us to preserve our democracy.
What did surprise me was that my civics teacher would teach us at my public
junior high school that sometimes breaking the law was a viable action by concerned citizens to protect our democracy. My respected teacher taught us that in severe cases it was OK, in fact it is our responsibility to break the law. 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 (WHISC) – I was inspired by the Jewish concept of “tikkun olam”. Translated from the Hebrew, this means the just ordering of human society and the world – or more literally, the repair of the world. I was also inspired by the Jewish prophetic tradition of social justice. As a Jew, I am moved to work to repair the tragic consequences of the SOA/WHISC.
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/WHISC helps Latin American governments to promote stable democracies. This is an obscene lie. The opposite is the truth. When Panama kicked the School of the Americas out of its country in 1984, its president declared that the SOA is “the biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” This School is funded by our taxes. Graduates of the School/Institute use the tactics learned, in courses taught by the US 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.
Over the years, we’ve learned that SOA graduates have been responsible for
countless atrocities. The movement to close this School of Assassins has forced the Pentagon to make cosmetic changes to “reform” the School, even changing its name. But we know that past “reforms” have not worked and that this latest “reform” is not the answer. The atrocities continue: in Guatemala with the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi by an accused SOA graduate; in Bolivia where the president, a former military dictator and SOA graduate, declared a state of siege and ordered troops into the streets
against the people; and most notably in Colombia, with over 10,000 troops trained at the SOA and the worst human rights record in all of Latin America.
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/WHISC will be closed.
Rebecca Kanner of Ann Arbor, Michigan is one of the 26 School of the Americas protesters who were convicted of criminal trespass last summer. Rebecca received a six- month sentence and a $500 fine, and is currently serving her sentence at the Women’s Work Camp in Pekin, Illinois. She is due to be released in January.