Beating to their own rhythm at the SOA

In KSC Top Stories of the Week, News and Features, Politics and Society on December 17, 2009 at 12:09 AM

There is a place in Columbus, Georgia that gets swarmed every year on one weekend in November by thousands of protestors of all types with one thing in mind, shutting down the School of the Americas, but this year was a little different. Rain or shine, the protestors came out to have their voices, and drumming skills heard.

Cakalak Thunder captain Gigi Burkhalter gives a countdown during a puppetista drum rehearsal at the SOA protest at Ft. Benning, GA, Nov. 21, 2009.

One of the major highlights of the protest is the puppetistas and the drums that give it rhythm and help drive and tell the story. The groups that lead the drumming sometimes varies from year to year, but this year the group just happened to be from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Cakalak Thunder, is a progressive drumming group that went down with about eight members and took on the role of rounding up drummers, teaching them the various rhythms, and getting them in shape to perform with the puppetistas and in a massive drum circle.

Cakalak Thunder drummer Chelsea Simpson said, “we called (SOAWatch) and said we were interested in coming, and they said great. They then put us in contact with the puppetistas who asked us to be part of their performance.”

This was the 20th annual School of the Americas protest, and though attendance was down, the spirit was still just as high.

Cakalak Thunder did this for the two days of the protest, and on the second day led a group of over 800 attendees to the protest into the streets, and some of those, including all of Cakalak, went onto one of Columbus, Georgia’s busiest highway bringing traffic to a one lane crawl.

Drummer Biko Casini said, “I was glad we made them uncomfortable for a change and that we shut the streets down and I’m glad life had to alter just a little bit in order to incorporate us. We shut down the traffic, the cops were sort of pulling their hair out in frustration and it really showed them that we’re not just tamed sheep.”

The police flashed their badges and lights, doing everything to blockade, but the drums still beat on and continued to march and create a moving, breathing, beating monster full of energy powered by thunderous drums. Even in the rain, people were having a blast.

Cakalak member Shelly said, “Cakalak often encounters situations where people are considering arrest, and as a teacher that is kind of scary to me because of the fact that I wouldn’t want that to impact my job, but at the same time I feel part of the reason things happen in the United States is because people are not willing to risk arrest or step out.”

Shelly said that this was the second time that the group took the risk, but paid of because they worked together. That, and the sheer number of drummers and protestors versus the police and military prescience, they were forced to just let it happen.

Cakalak was prepared for whatever was to come their way, weather or authority, broken bucket or change in tempo, they were a well greased machine ready to take on anything, regardless of what came their way.

The rain may not have all gone away that day, and the School of the Americas still may be open, but in that glimpse of time nothing else mattered. Cakalak Thunder marched and beat their drums into the streets of Columbus, Georgia, stopping traffic, challenging authority, and prevailing. Even without lightning, there still can be Thunder.


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