SOA Vigil 2015

For 25 years, the SOA Watch has been a consistent and powerful movement calling for a close of the School of the Americas and an end to the training of Latin American soldiers by the US Army. They organize around a common vision of an end to militarism and empire by focusing specifically on closing the School of the Americas through nonviolence.

Chereth Brook at SOA 2015

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship was present again this year at the School of the Americas protest in Ft. Benning, GA for the 18th year in a row. This year, about fifteen people went with PPF, including Marilyn and Will White, Christine Caton, MaryAnn Harwell, and Bill Galvin who have gone for many years as a faithful and deeply committed witness to the violence of  empire as manifested in the actions of the SOA/WHINSEC. This year we were also joined by members of two of the Peace Communities--Cherith Brook in Kansas City and Mercy Junction in Chattanooga. In our group many had been to the SOA before, but for some this was their first time at the SOA and at a protest. We gathered in Georgia again this year to march, chant, sing, and learn together to resist militarism and empire.

Singing at Stewart Detention Center, 2015Stewart Detention Protest 2015For the last nine years, the SOA Watch has also held a protest on Saturday morning outside the Stewart Detention Center, located in a nearby town, where thousands of men are detained each year to await deportation hearings. The conditions inside Stewart are deplorable, as we heard from one young man who had spent time inside Stewart, and it is run by the Corrections Corporation of America. The SOA Watch emphasizes the links between migration and US Policy and believes that the military training at the SOA is one of the root causes of migration of Latin Americans to the US due to the violence and instability created in large part by SOA graduates in their home countries.

On Saturday afternoon, PPF hosted a workshop called “Soldier Stories” in which PPF Executive Committee member Bill Galvin and Maria Santelli from the Center on Conscience and War (CCW) led a discussion on the unexpected realities of military life and some of their work with conscientious objectors. They were also joined by a recent veteran who was just released from military service two months ago after a long and difficult process of trying to obtain conscientious objector status. Robert’s story was a powerful testament to the work that CCW does and to the need for more awareness about conscientious objection. Moreover, Robert, Bill, and Maria’s stories and experiences were a testimony to the need for an end to militarism that injures and dehumanizes everyone.

SOA Vigil 2015The vigil was held, as it is each year, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Together, we marched, sang, and called out “presente” for those killed by graduates of the SOA, and PPF held communion at the gates. We also learned from Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, that the SOA has begun to train US Border Patrol agents. For this reason and to make other connections between the SOA and the root causes of migration, SOAW has decided to move the vigil next year to the border. The exact location will be announced in January, and there will still be a smaller vigil at Ft. Benning as there has been for 25 years, but the majority of the energy and focus next year will be on the border to raise awareness and deepen our understanding of the interconnectedness of US foreign and military policy on the lives of those who are forced to migrate to the US to flee the violence caused by the US.

Together, we sang and we will continue to sing “no mas, no more!” to the kind of violence of empire that is embodied in the School of the Americas until it is shut down.

Bill Galvin at the Gates of SOA PPF Sticker on the gate of Ft. BenningCommunion at the gates