After a four-year absence, the protest against Fort Benning’s training of Latin American forces will return to Columbus this weekend.
SOA Watch has scheduled a three-day protest that will culminate with a “Walk of Peace” outside the gate at Fort Benning Road.
This was an annual event in Columbus that drew thousands to the city to protest the School of the Americas (SOA), which was later renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC.
SOA Watch has pulled two demonstration permits for the weekend near the Benning Road gate. On Friday night there will be a gathering on the sidewalk and will not impact access to the road, Columbus Police Lt. Lance Deaton said.
On Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., a portion of Fort Benning Road will be close, Deaton said.
Police do not know how many protesters to prepare for, Deaton said. They could be as few as a 100 or as many as a couple of thousand, Deaton said.
At its peak, the SOA Watch protest drew more than 20,000 people. Columbus police are uncertain how many people will attend the 30th anniversary of the event.
The Benning Road gate is being voluntarily closed by post officials beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday. It will remain closed through the event on Sunday.
The final Soldier Marathon will be run on Saturday. The gate closure should not impact the marathon, Deaton said.
Fort Benning’s spokesperson Ben Garrett released this statement:
Fort Benning is aware of the demonstration permit approved by the City of Columbus for the School of Americas Watch scheduled for this weekend. This annual SOAW protest marks its 30th anniversary.
Fort Benning’s Directorate of Emergency Services is well prepared to provide a safe and secure atmosphere for the installation as well as for all organized activities.
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) provides tours during normal operating hours and with prior coordination.
It is very important for commuters to know access to the installation via the “Stone Gate” on Benning Road will close at 6 p.m. on Nov. 16 and is scheduled to reopen at 5 p.m. on Nov. 17.
All other regular access control points will be open under normal operating hours. Entry to the installation is strictly controlled and all vehicles entering the installation will be stopped with a 100% ID check in effect. Drivers and adult passengers in the vehicle will be asked to present identification, and vehicles are subject to search.
No demonstrations, marches or organized political activities of any type are permitted on military installations according to Title 18 of United States Code Section 1382.
Fort Benning’s purpose is to provide military training to Soldiers.” Ben Garrett, Fort Benning spokesman