New York Times has a funny way of defining protests as "news" or "not
news" depending on who is being protested. For example, they've entirely
ignored the March for Life against abortion in Washington in 2008 and 2009 (and in 2010, gave it part of a sentence).
But in Monday's paper, they openly worried that a left-wing protest is
dwindling in popularity. They sent Times writer Kim Severson and a
photographer to Columbus, Georgia for a protest against a U.S Army
training center for Latin American military leaders. The headline was "A
Protest Dwindles, If Not Its Passion: Activists Once Flocked to Fort
Benning. Now It Seems More Like a Straggle."
The story stood at the top of the National section on page A14 with a
large color photograph (about six inches high, nine inches across)
of leftists marching with large circular flower signs. Severson began with wistful memories of a larger protest:
COLUMBUS, Ga. - The annual November protest here at the gates of Fort Benning used to really be something.
its peak a few years ago, more than 17,000 people streamed into town,
united in their effort to shut down the School of the Americas, a United States Department of Defense center that they believe has trained Latin American military leaders to torture and murder.
Hundreds of people would cross onto the base and get arrested in mass
acts of civil disobedience. Catholic groups staged workshops. Old
lefties treated it like a family reunion. Vendors sold bumper stickers
and Guatemalan hacky sacks.
So many people from so many left-leaning organizations began showing up that School of the Americas Watch , which runs the protest, rented the local convention center for seminars and concerts.
But this year's protest, the Times reported, was the smallest crowd
ever, and "fewer than 5,000 people showed up." Apparently, it's a little
heard to rally against the Murderous American Imperialist Juggernaut
when Barack Obama is the imperialist-in-chief:
Maybe it was the economy, some said. Others said that rallying liberal activists after the election of President Obama had become more challenging because many thought the fight was over.
The protest began after six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her
daughter were killed in El Salvador in November 1989 by a group that a
Congressional task force connected to School of the Americas graduates.
On the anniversary the following year, a small group led by the Rev.
Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic priest, held a water-only fast at the gates.
He has since become an internationally known peace advocate and still lives in a small apartment near the gate.
"Most of the young people in the crowd don't even know who he is," said
Liz Loescher, 68, an eight-time veteran of the protest who runs the Georgia Conflict Center in Athens.
The Times ignored the fact that Bourgeois was excommunicated in 2008
for supporting the ordination of women as priests. Severson concluded
that the dwindling numbers don't hurt the importance of the left-wing
For the old-timers, the arrests were a distraction, and the smaller crowds beside the point.
Lisa Porter, 45, had traveled from Berkeley, Calif., the seventh time
she has done so. She spent much of her time sitting in quiet
contemplation inches from the fence that separated her from the base.
"I believe torture is wrong, and I won't tolerate it," she said. "If
there were only four people here, I'd still be with them."
- Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.