A friend of mine wanted to know why I wanted to go to the SOA protest vigil in November. I figured I’d also post my response here on the blog to let my followers know.
I first heard about the School of the Americas some time in my undergraduate college years. Getting involved in political activism on global issues, it was on the periphery of my interests but never seriously involved (and the organization SOA Watch wasn’t formed until 1990, when I was a junior). A few years later, Martin Sheen was arrested (again) at one of the vigil protests in acts of civil disobedience. The protests were held every year in order to mark the assassination of 6 Jesuit Priests, their coworker and teenage daughter in the University of Central America massacre in San Salvador by graduates of the SOA. The more I learned about the school and its role in Latin American politics over the years, the more I got upset. It struck home after realizing Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was a top graduate. Noriega was a horrible man who was heavily involved in the drug trade while leader of Panama; but he was also on the CIA payroll, which is how he got put into power. All the money and effort to capture Noriega were wasted because we set him up in that situation. We were training soldiers to wreak havoc on civilian populations in Latin America all for the sake of corporate interests, and because of it we bear a huge portion of the blame for the economic destabilization of the region.
I went to my first SOA vigil in 2001 right after the 9/11 attacks. I felt it important to say that if we were fighting terrorism abroad, we have to stop sponsoring terrorism and training terrorists in the US. It was an amazing event in both its solemnity and scope. It has grown from a simple memorial of six Jesuit Priests to become a remembrance of all the disappeared and dead in Latin America at the hands of a war machine of which we are a part. It is a gathering of human rights activists of all stripes—Veterans for Peace, anarchists, puppeteers, antiwar protestors and religious leaders of most denominations. They are there to stage die-ins, walk to the fence of Ft. Benning to place crosses with names of the victims, sing cultural folk songs for peace, and try to bring attention to the school that exports death to countries below our southern borders.
Unfortunately this year will be the 25th such vigil. Each year there is a growing call from politicians to close the school, but the bill never passes the Congress. In 2007, after the last time I went to the vigil, the bill to close the school failed to pass by 13 votes. This was disheartening to me because a number of those 13 votes were because the Congressmen who would have voted for the bill were absent from Congress. Still the people who attend this vigil and its founders know that this is a long term fight. It works when people are willing to not only stand up and fight, but to keep standing up when it is needed. Seeing that we are on the brink of war with Syria and again in Iraq, and because of what happened in Ferguson, MO this summer, I think it is more important than ever to stand up to the military machinations now. They may seem like separate and distinct events but they aren’t. Each one sees human beings as disposable, dehumanizes people into being “the enemy” (or worse, “customers”), creates opportunities for the elites to make money off of the dead, and keeps power centralized with the people with guns. I want this to end and I want to be on the side of justice and light. To me it is a part of being a patriot: in this case we must protect our country from itself. We are much better than this and those on the outside of the gates at Ft. Benning protesting are the proof. For this reason, I want to be at the SOA vigil this year in November.
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