In the spirit of tradition and solidarity, the Sojourners interns once again traveled to the annual SOA Watch protest and vigil this past weekend to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas. Officially named the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation", the school provides combat training for Latin American soldiers at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Graduates of the school have committed atrocities against their own people in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, and others. This year, more than 25,000 people made the trek to the gates of the SOA/WHISC to call for the complete closure of the school and an end to the repressive policies it embodies. Two busy days of uplifting music, speakers, teach-ins, and activist networking ended with a solemn mock funeral procession honoring by name the thousands of victims who died at the hands of SOA-trained military personnel. White wooden crosses inscribed with the names and ages of martyrs were placed at the heavily secured gate on the base. The atmosphere of the vigil was saturated with holy respect for those who had gone before us in the work of peace and justice. Although the school still remains open, the ongoing work of raising awareness and political pressure are complimented by this large-scale demonstration of defiance and dissent.
The majority of our group had never attended an SOA protest, and experiencing a powerful event of this size and intensity was a bonding experience for us. In our many hours in the van, we debated issues of U.S. militarism, our nation's corrupt foreign policy with regard to Latin America, and the very nature of democracy. We also spent time evaluating what it meant for us, individually and collectively, to be present at such an event. As Sojourners, we are called to do direct social justice work from a perspective of faith, even if results are difficult to see. As Christians, we stand in solidarity with fellow believers in Latin America who were and continue to be persecuted because of their beliefs in a gospel of liberation, justice, and freedom from direct violence and structural poverty. As people of faith, we stand with the rest of the world in calling for peaceful solutions and an end to the violence taught by our military institutions. As individuals, however, we vary in our own religious traditions and perspectives.
Allison Johnson is the policy and organizing assistant for Sojourners.