Some empty-nesters garden. Some golf. Some move to Arizona.



Diane Lopez Hughes gets herself taken into custody

Some empty-nesters garden. Some golf. Some move to Arizona.

Diane Lopez Hughes gets herself taken into custody.

“I have time to get arrested and go to jail,” said Lopez Hughes, who was one of more than a dozen people arrested Sunday during annual protests against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga.

Eleven people, including, Lopez Hughes, were arrested for entering the military base. Four others were arrested outside the base fence for obstructing police officers, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Police said they refused orders to clear an area. Protest organizers say they were carrying crosses deemed too large by authorities, who have grown accustomed to protests marking the anniversary of the 1989 slaying of six priests, a housekeeper and the housekeeper’s daughter in El Salvador.

Lopez Hughes’ arrest in Georgia marked the second time in as many years that police have handcuffed her for acts of civil disobedience. Last year, she was sentenced to 30 hours of community service and fined $100 after she entered a Chicago-area military processing center and read the names of soldiers who have died in Iraq. This time, she could go to jail.

Lopez Hughes, a retired social worker, faces as many as six months in prison. She doesn’t think an eloquent plea will sway a judge she expects to face in January.

“If that does happen, I’ll lose an opportunity to meet some wonderful people in jail I wouldn’t otherwise meet,” said Lopez Hughes without a trace of sarcasm.

Protestors arrested with Lopez Hughes ranged in age from 25 to 76. They traveled to Georgia from New Mexico, New Jersey, Wyoming and points in between.

Sunday marked the 17th annual protest at Fort Benning to draw attention to a military training center that activists say helps sustain dictatorships in South and Central americas.

The center switched its name from School of the Americas to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001, but the moniker has stuck among activists.

The center has admitted to past mistakes, including the use of training manuals that advocated torture, blackmail and kidnapping in dealing with insurgencies. Its graduates include former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, who is now serving time in the United States for drug trafficking. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives came within six votes of approving a measure to cut off funding for the center.

A decade ago, nearly 600 protestors were arrested during the annual protest. The number of arrests has dwindled in recent years, thanks to improved fencing, protest organizers say. But the event still draws thousands of activists from across the country, and a handful of protestors still finds ways to get inside. Joao DaSilva, communications coordinator for Schools of America Watch, confirmed that fences are cut.

Lopez Hughes, 58, said her group split up after entering the base. She said she and her colleagues formed a prayer circle under a tree. They were on the base for 10 or 15 minutes before military police arrived, she said.

“One of the soldiers asked how we got onto the base,” Lopez Hughes said. “We said we walked. It was like anyone else who gets arrested: You don’t talk too much.”

The soldiers zip-tied the protestors’ hands together in front of their bodies instead of in back, which would have been uncomfortable, Lopez Hughes said. The bus driver who took them to a processing area introduced himself as Michael. A radio on the bus was playing when she boarded.

“John Lennon was singing ‘Imagine,’” she recalled. “Someone was paying attention.”

Lopez Hughes holds no illusions.

“One of the quotes I’ve been really struck by lately is a Zen Buddhist saying, ‘The seed never sees the flower,’” she said. “I won’t have that ‘Gee, it was worth it’ feeling. I think there’s been progress made. It may be small bits of progress.

“There are people in Springfield who may know of me who will say ‘She’s not a goofball.’”



Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542 or bruce.rushton@sj-r.com.