Back at Union

We have arrived safely back at Union. Thank you all for your support in following the blog, car care packages, crosses, phone calls and more. The four of us each intend to write and post a follow up to our experiences in the next few days after some more prolonged reflection. Thank you again for all the ways that you have supported our trip. Specifically, we would like to thank the Student Life Office, all the Students for Peace and Justice, the Worship Office and the entire Union Community, as well as Nancy Allison our host in North Carolina, and CB Stewart for the use of the car. The four of us who traveled felt deeply blessed by the generous communal outpouring of support that carried us through this past weekend.

“We go with you”

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” -Mark 8: 34

As the Union community commissioned us on our journey we all took up crosses together in James Chapel to bear witness to the death dealing power of injustice, oppression, and war in our world. Tonight those same crosses, lifted up and placed in sand in James Chapel, are wedged in the fence surrounding Ft. Benning as our community’s witness against the violence that facility represents.

Today we joined your chorus to our own as we sang ¡Presente! and invoked the memory of the martyrs as a peaceful means to resisting violent oppression. Thank you for all the ways that you as a community have come with us on this journey.

Transgressing Spaces

The gates of Ft. Benning demarcate a striking contradiction of spaces. They embody how the military claims its space in contrast to how activists outside create their own space in a hostile environment. The military defines its space in terms of exclusion and the fence is the central symbol of this orientation. With overwhelming police presence, fortifications, and recorded messages the military creates their space as isolated from the realm of the gathered activists and as impermeable to the radically distinct logic of justice and peace that breathes and grows just outside their walls.

In contrast, the space of the vigil is held open by activists who bring their discourse to a creative expression of remembrance and resistance. The space invites new expressions and experiences into the movement, it allows for the creation and experience of radical symbolic and ritual witness. Our witness at the School of the Americas is liturgical, symbolic, and ritualistic. It evokes the presence of those who have been killed by SOA graduates and assumes a posture of resistance

Because of the real differences between these two spatial realities, an extraordinary thing happens when our funeral procession reaches the Ft. Benning gate and activists place crosses in the links of the metal barrier to invoke the presence of SOA victims: we claim the central symbolic element of the military’s space as part of our own creative witness. As the fence becomes populated with memories and prayers it ceases to be a barrier keeping our message from penetrating the grip of militarism and is transformed into the living presence of victims, it is assumed into the creative space of the resistance.

When viewed in these terms it is clearer both why the military has placed such steep penalties for transgressing their boundary (6 months in federal prison) and why so many are called to assume the risk to cross it. The power of the military is threatened by the presence of peaceful people in its space. People who cross the boundary peacefully are refusing to accept the military’s logic that transgression is violent and will be met with violence. The transgressors show us with their bodies that the logic of the creative peaceful space can pass into the military zone. The speedy arrest and removal of these transgressors shows us that, just as the world could not tolerate the presence of Christ, so to the military fears the activists’ very presence as that presence represents an alternative logic that threatens to upset established military control.

When people cross the fence they are taking a great risk for the sake of revealing a great lie. Despite the intentionally bifurcating way the police seeks to define space, the logic of peace and justice can and will transgress into and transform the social space currently occupied by the military. By their action, activists embody the faith and hope of our movement in the power of an alternative presence to transform what a space like Ft. Benning has come to represent: domination and injustice.

And so we pray for our brothers and sisters, imprisoned now for undertaking this bold act of transgression, we honor their courage and faith in the power of peace to prevail, we witness with them to injustice and pledge ourselves to continue the work that begins in their sacrifices.

This is My Body

There is a three-headed hydra imposing its insatiable appetite on Mexico, Honduras and Columbia. He wanders through the pueblos of these countries, viciously lifting arbitrary inhabitants into its jaws. Their family members scream in protest as they watch the bodies of their sisters, fathers, children, brothers, and mothers disappear into the belly of the beast. Broken bodies are poured between his lips.
As the hydra moves through these countries, paying no heed to the desires of the people on whom he treads, simply lifting them from the ground and throwing them into his mouth, the protests of the inhabitants grows louder and louder, stronger and stronger. Despite the hydra’s attempts to tear the people in these countries apart, they come together stronger and stronger until they have surrounded the beast.

Then goddesses of hope, imagination, and resistance join them. The hydra begins to tremble in fear as the heartbeats of the people grow louder and louder, as their strength grows before him and he can no longer consume their bodies. He will burst before their energy.

And burst he does. His chest cracks open with an explosive drum beat, and a brilliant blue goddess of liberation comes pouring out of him, trailing behind her all the living bodies of those he had consumed. These bodies, broken before, yet now somehow whole, go forth to the people, who dance before crumbled body of the hydra; who dance with the goddess which had been living within him. The people dance with their sisters, fathers, children, brothers, and mothers now restored to them. They dance no longer in the imposing shadow of the hydra, but instead in the joy of the hope, liberation and resistance that pours out of his now broken state.

We stand at the mouth of the School of the Americas and give witness to bodies that have been broken and consumed by the overwhelming greed of American foreign policy. We give witness to these bodies as the body of Christ, and we give witness that this way of consuming the body of Christ is betrayal of Eucharist.
The body of Christ remains within the belly of the beast, and if Eucharist is to be shared with God’s people, then it is that beast’s body that must be broken open, and the bodies that it has consumed must be remembered to the people. We are called to break that body open – the body of evil and empire – and to share the liberation that pours out of such a body with our brothers and sisters. -Lucas Milliken

Sitting at the Gate

 

It is a strange feeling to drive 17 hours over the course of two days to arrive at a chain link fence. The gate of Ft. Benning has become a heavily militarized line, where military police and activists simply stand face to face, soldiers and protesters separated by a thin membrane of steel. The military’s strategy is clear, intimidation through overwhelming display of force. As we watched the puppetista’s a helicopter repeatedly buzzed over the crowd, police and soldiers lined the fences separating our two-block “demonstration zone” from the remainder of the base, temporary watch towers peered over the gates, and a man in plain clothes with a camera stood just inside the base photographing activists.

Standing at the gate I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I had come so far only to be stopped in my tracks, that I had traveled nearly 1,000 miles only to stop in front of a fence a short distance from where new tragedies where in their incipient state. So after days of endless traveling, I began the process of becoming content with a motionless witness.

I sat on the ground, with the fence right in front of my face and placed my hand on the white line in the pavement, a line that many had given up so much to take a few steps across. I placed my hand on the fence as a police officer came and stood on the other side, directly in front of me. For the first time in days I was still, my presence rather then my journey was the witness. As I sat I prayed for God’s peace, and was intent that my peaceful presence in this militarized space embody resistance.

And as I sat in silent presence, I listened to a recorded message blared through loudspeakers from inside Ft. Benning, over, and over.

“No demonstrations, marches, or organized political activities of any type will be permitted on Ft Benning, GA. If you enter this installation you will be in violation of title 18 United States code section 1382 and subject to fine and imprisonment.

The proper forum for such activities is provided and available in the civilian community. The sole purpose of this installation is to provide for the military training of soldiers. This policy is completely consistent with the American constitutional tradition that military must remain politically neutral and under the control of a democratically elected civilian government. “

I do not have loudspeakers, or fences, or a police force to support my goals, but I do have the voice God gave me to speak, and so I say to those still teaching torture and assassination at the School of the Americas:

“No oppression, injustice, or systematized violent activities of any type will be tolerated anywhere in God’s world. If you continue to participate in these atrocities you will be in violation of God’s law, and the divine intent for the liberation of the oppressed toward peaceful life on this Earth.

Everyplace where injustice is done is our God-ordained forum for resistance, the sole purpose of our witness is to evoke the Spirit present in every life, and deny the lie that any value can be higher. This attitude is completely consistent with the reflection of faithful people throughout time and across space, who stand with us today to pronounce our voice and reclaim control of the structures of this Earth to steer them towards God’s justice and peace.”

May this be our witness tomorrow, and may it be so.