Impressions of a First-Timer at the SOA Rally
By Cindy B.
Have you ever spent time with a group of people who are advocates for justice for oppressed people?
Have you ever gone on a road trip with a group of sisters to participate in a non-violent protest against a military machine that is training soldiers who return to their own countries to kill and terrorize their own people.Have you ever lain down on the ground in symbolic solidarity with victims of these attacks?
Have you ever carried a cross with the name of a victim that you do not know and placed it on the fence of the military base where this training is taking place?
Have you ever touched that fence that separates you from the people who teach war?
Have you ever seen so many wooden crosses cover a fence that you can’t even see the wire mesh anymore?
Have you ever participated in a protest that was carried out in the non-violent spirit of Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day?
Have you ever seen so many non-violent people in one place, and in that same space as so many military personnel and police armed with so many weapons?
I experienced all of this and more at my first School of the Americas rally at Fort Benning, Georgia, Nov. 16-18. Advocates for non-violence came together again this year for the annual protest of the School of the Americas, which has been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) by the U.S. Army but which is called the School of the Assassins by many who want it closed.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas were a part of this protest and I was honored and humbled to be able to participate with them. I think that much of the protest is symbolic of opposition to American militarism in general, but in the symbolism is the ability to raise awareness about what goes on specifically at SOA/WHINSEC. There are so many voices reaching out in word and song to call out and demand the closing of the School of the Americas. That weekend I saw a strong presence of Catholic Social Teaching wherever I turned, whether it was talking to the Sisters, watching the actions of the protesters or listening to the speakers and musicians.
I think it is good for us to remember the quotation from Archbishop Oscar Romero that was on a banner above the street stage in front of the gates of Fort Benning. “Those who have a voice must speak for the voiceless.” That is exactly what these protesters have done and are continuing to do every year.