Willy and the Dam

Sunday morning languid tourists inch past lycra-clad cyclists along the Riverwalk.  Watching a great blue heron scan the mirror for the ten thousandth time, a man on a nearby bench announces, “Usually there’s a hawk fishing here right about now.”  Willy introduces himself, and explains the Eagle and Phenix Dam’s fate. “They’re going to dynamite it.”  According to a 2009 Army Corps of Engineers ecosystem restoration design proposal, “The recommended alternative for this project included the breaching of both dams and the construction of a series of environmental, recreation, safety, and aesthetic features. The overall goal of the project is to restore riverine and shoal habitat on the fall line reach of the Chattahoochee River from directly below North Highlands Dam (a Georgia Power Company operated hydroelectric facility) downstream to backwater sections of Walter F. George Lake.”  Read the entire proposal here.

Willy says a comprehensive whitewater rafting facility will draw enthusiasts from around the world, then asks if I go to church.  The innocuous question segues the conversation into a current of tragic events.  The Army veteran sleeps on the Riverwalk men’s restroom floor at night: a cold, brick building behind the green bench where he spends most mornings.  Valley Rescue Mission, the local shelter, requires a $20 background check obtained from the department of public safety.  “If I had twenty dollars, I’d get something to eat!”

His mother died 14 years ago the day after Thanksgiving, and his father died a few months later.  A mild seizure grips the left side of Willy’s body as he stands and steps closer.  The conversation intensifies.  Shortly after a stroke, his wife left.  Restless tears well-up when he says how thankful he is to be alive, having experienced so many things.

The human right to housing is denied to an Army veteran sleeping on a bathroom floor a few miles from the gates of Fort Benning, while the city spends $23 million on the Chattahoochee Whitewater Project.

Red Maple, Acer rubrum

I ran into a former student and his family Friday evening while rounding a sharp curve along the Greenway.  The oldest of four under ten was riding a blue mountain bike.  I challenged him to a race, so we peddled furiously down a straightaway for a hundred yards or so, then slowed in the forest under a shower of maple helicopters.

I remember throwing handfuls of twirling maple wings into the air as a child, imagining a dizzying ride aboard a miniature single-seater.

Flanked by maples, the Dillingham Street bridge spans the Chattahoochee River, connecting Columbus, Georgia and Phenix City, Alabama.  Each November, thousands converge in solidarity at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus in an effort to shut down The School of the Americas, now called the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.”

Below is a recording taken while leaving the solemn procession which ended in approximately 20 indiscriminate arrests, including journalists, a 90-year old Jesuit priest, and a local barber who stepped out of his shop to watch the march.

Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.

Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.

SOA Watch

Each year the Puppetistas testify for memory and creative resistance.

On March 7th, 2011, WikiLeaks released two cables from the U.S. embassy in Costa Rica “that offer insight into the U.S. pressure tactics to keep the SOA/ WHINSEC in business” (SOA Watch).

Read the cables here:
Cable 1:

Cable 2:

All The People Who Are Now Red Trees

By Martín Espada


When I see the red maple,

I think of a shoemaker

and a fish peddler

red as the leaves,

electrocuted by the state

of Massachusetts.



When I see the red maple,

I think of flamboyan’s red flower,

two poets like flamboyan

chained at the wrist

for visions of San Juan Bay

without Navy gunboats.



When I see the flamboyan,

I think of my grandmother

and her name, Catalan for red,

a war in Spain

and nameless laborers

marching with broken rifles.



When I see my grandmother

and her name, Catalan for red,

I think of union organizers

in graves without headstones,

feeding the roots

of red trees.



When I stand on a mountain,

I can see the red trees of a century,

I think red leaves are the hands

of condemned anarchists, red flowers

the eyes and mouths of poets in chains,

red wreaths in the treetops to remember,



I see them raising branches

like broken rifles, all the people

who are now red trees.