Monday, October 08, 2007

Sunday in the Park with Blackwater

xpost at Courage Campaign

Despite widespread outrage about their actions in Iraq, Blackwater USA is still looking toward their future growth as a private army. In response, a Stop Blackwater West educational encampment was held in Potrero, CA this weekend. As you may already know, Blackwater USA is proposing to build a training facility in a peaceful, rural valley east of San Diego and just a smidge north of the US/Mexico border. If Blackwater succeeds in their plans, the peace, quiet and natural beauty of this mostly undeveloped valley 45 minutes east of San Diego will be shattered, and the infamous mercenaries of Blackwater USA will have established their foothold in Southern California. A majority of Potrero residents do not want this facility to be built in their community.

Local residents and advocates for retaining the natural peace and tranquility of Potrero, and keeping mercenaries out of California held an encampment in Potrero this weekend to explore the beauty of the threatened area, and to inform about the hazards associated with the plan to allow a training facility to be built. Saturday was filled with camping, hiking and educational workshops about the drawbacks of such a development in a sensitive and fragile natural environment. Events included a Sierra Club led hike through the beautiful and diverse Hauser Wilderness Area which is threatened by both Blackwater's development, and/or the possibility of a southern route for the unnecessary and unaffordable Sunrise Powerlink project. (For more information about development in California's southern-most wilderness areas, check out Wilderness for All.)

After the morning hike, there were workshops about Blackwater USA, the environmental impact of this invasive and inappropriate development, and the dangers associated with militarization of the US/Mexico border. This location is so completely wrong for a military style training camp. Not only is there a small, rural community that has already been severely disrupted by Blackwater's plans, but this area is a sensitive wildlife corridor, home to Golden Eagles and other threatened species, in the flight path of the severely endangered California Condor, and on land with an already impacted water table. Additionally, this property is a short distance from the Mexican border, and in these xenophobic times there are understandable concerns about the placement of mercenaries on border lands.

Saturday evening's events included music and spoken word performances, and 50 people spent the night at the campground. Over the course of the two days, approximately 400 people participated in the weekend's events.

Sunday's scheduled events included a rally and a one mile walk to the gates of the proposed site. The 1 p.m. rally featured Rep Bob Filner (CA-51) who has recently introduced legislation to stop private military training from occurring anywhere other than on federally owned and regulated property. If successful, this legislation would stop this Blackwater West training camp in it's tracks. Please let it be so!

Other speakers included Raymond Lutz; Citizens' Oversight Projects (COPs), Jan Hedlun; Potrero Resident and Potrero Planning Group Member, Jeanette Hartman; Sierra Club Land Use Committee, Rick Jacobs; Courage Campaign, Billy Crawley; Potrero Resident and Candidate for Potrero Planning Group, and Dave Patterson and Gloria Daviston; San Diego Chapter of Veterans for Peace. The speakers addressed the range of issues that have arisen in Potrero ranging from opposition to the nature of Blackwater's business to the environmental impact of placing a large military style training camp in a peaceful, rural community. Strangely enough, Blackwater employees and a handful of pro-Blackwater locals sat across the street watching us with a "Let Free Market Principles Decide. NOT POLITICS!" sign. Well, they mostly sat across the street until our scheduled walk to the gates. A few came to the rally to glare and mutter and shake their heads, and as we soon found out, a few people headed down the march route ahead of us.

The walk was supposed to be to the gate that overlooks the valley, and our intention was to just get to a place where we could view the area, but we'd been told that sometime early that morning chains had been strung across the dirt road about 100 yards before the gates. Undeterred, we set off on the one mile march to the site. As we headed down the road, several men in a white jeep approached and slowly passed on our left, with one guy pointing his finger and pulling his pretend "trigger" like a small boy playing army men. Some people felt threatened, but if you ask me, it's mostly just very strange and sad behavior for a grown man.

When we arrived at the entrance to the site, Blackwater's Brian Bonfiglio was standing next to his white Hummer, right at the chains. My first thought was, "why is HE here?" but then the light dawned, and I realized it was for the media. They did swarm around him, of course. A number of protestors gathered around him with the media, but most continued to walk up a hillside to an overlook so they could see the valley as intended, and some just started walking back to the rally site. Bonfiglio claims our protest actually helps Blackwater, and doesn't hurt them because it was nothing but a "political circus". He doth protest too much. If we were so insignificant, he wouldn't have bothered showing up. Personally, I think it's telling and a bit worrisome that Blackwater employees seem to not grasp the concept of participatory democracy, and will publicly scoff at people for organizing within their community. It reminded me of the famous saying by Gandhi; “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” It looks like we've made it to stage two. Onward to stages three and four!


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