Consciousness, conscience, consequence

Chico grandmother Cathy Webster is a peace activist, board member of the Chico Peace Endeavor, volunteer at the Chico Peace and Justice Center, and a founding member of the North Valley Fellowship of Reconciliation.

On the docket: For her arrest during a 2006 protest, Cathy Webster could face three months in federal prison. Her trial is Jan. 29 in Georgia. A “Good-bye Grandma Send-off” will be held on Monday, Jan. 15 at Chico’s City Plaza.

In November, I participated in the 16th annual vigil and protest at the gates of the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Ga. Built upon an old plantation, the huge base houses a training school for Latin American soldiers. This school, which was originally established in Panama in 1946, came to be known as the School of the Americas. Latin Americans call it the School of Assassins because of the history of its graduates’ murderous abuse of citizens designated as “insurgents” by the ruling powers.

In 2000, the name changed to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. This occurred because, after the release to Congress of torture manuals used at the school, Congress voted to close it down. Thus, the new name—this is how Congress eliminates bad institutions.

In 2002, and again in 2003, I went to the gates of Fort Benning to add my presence and voice to the tens of thousands demanding that this training school for terrorists be actually shut down. This past year, inspired by a song by Holly Near, I called for 1,000 grandmothers to come to Fort Benning to help close this school. I aimed to stand in the way of business as usual. This involved crossing onto an Army base through a hole in the fence because the gates were locked against entry by protestors.

I—along with 15 others—was promptly arrested, handcuffed, videotaped and tagged.

Some ask, “What is the point of being arrested? What good would it do? Why would you, a law-abiding person, even think of doing something so futile, and maybe dangerous?”

There really is nothing good about being arrested. The point, though, is not about “being arrested"; it is about resisting an evil. This is done nonviolently by taking a public stand through speech, action or noncooperation. When a thinking person recognizes that a wrong is acceptable to—and even being promoted by—one’s own government with tax money, then that person, in order to maintain integrity, must resist that practice.

Arrest and imprisonment are traumatic, both for the prisoners and their families and friends. Those who are in the frame of mind to choose this action/consequence do so in solidarity with their brothers and sisters who—through no fault, crime or action deserving incarceration (and/or torture, rape, murder, disappearance)—are nevertheless subjected to such treatment.

Sadly, it has come to “laying one’s life down for one’s friends” to get the attention of those who would change systems of oppression. If I am passionate about demanding justice, as I have been taught at home and in American schools, then I bear no shame whenever I experience arrest and imprisonment for the offense of speaking truth to power.