The Saturday Protest at WHINSEC: Fort Benning, Georgia

(Written by Timothy Wotring)

“I am open and I am willing
For to be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change” – from George Mann’s “I am willing”

I sat on a median of dried yellow grass as a choir of folk singers belted out these lyrics on stage. The surrounding crowd was full of the bright-eyed college students, older peace and justice activists, nuns and priests, peace-loving hippies, and every leftie in-between. I sat there grateful; indeed, keeping in mind the activists that have paved the way for us to demonstrate.

We participated in the rally on Saturday at Fort Benning. We shared stories with other activists about foreign policy, drones, activism and hip-hop, as well as immigration policy, liberation theology, and the Catholic Worker. We arrived onsite at noon and walking onto the premises, we were invited by puppeteers to join their play that would take place both days. More than half of our group took up their offer. The play comprised of trees, cornstalks, the four elements of the Earth, and chainsaws representative of the military, Congress, the NSA, and money. The four elements: water, wind, fire, earth stopped the chainsaws from chopping down any more trees and presented the crowd with alternative visions of the world. It was such a beautiful performance and it concluded with my favorite chant, “The people united will never be defeated!”

The puppet performance ended the rally at Fort Benning. So we headed to the conference center and attended workshops, listened to speakers, and engaged with booth venders. A few of us attended John Dear’s workshop, which had a wonderful and wholesome message on nonviolence. How one can practice it personally, interpersonally, and globally. Other students, such as Alejandro Escantle and Emily Hamilton were involved in serving communion at the Inclusive Catholic service. We, Union students, were deeply involved in the activities at the SOA protest and enjoyed every minute of it.

My time there was transformative. It was a wake up call for me to find a community of activists in NYC. I have lacked in my once aggressive fight for social justice and know I need to return to my roots. Although, the SOA protest had fewer participants than it had in previous years 1,750 persons, still an energetic spirit of hope and love that transcends any number of people was present. The challenge of justice is that it never rests until it is fulfilled. I pray that I may seek more intensely while at Union and beyond.

Samantha Gonzalez-Block  with Emily Brewer and Elizabeth Assenza in the background, participate in the SOA Sunday Vigil, remembering those who have died at the hands of SOA graduates

Samantha Gonzalez-Block with Emily Brewer and Elizabeth Assenza in the background, participate in the SOA Sunday Vigil, remembering those who have died at the hands of SOA graduates

The Twelve Arrive!

At our commissioning service on Thursday, Tom Driver reminded us that although we worship a God who died, our God is not dead. Jesus lives on in the suffering and injustice that surrounds us, and in the movements that strive for peace and liberation. Janet Walton invited us to break bread together and the wider Union community offered us messages of safe-travels and hope in a laying-on-of-hands.

After 20 hours of driving yesterday, all twelve of us made it safely to Fort Benning. We are looking forward to a weekend of protesting, learning, andphotophoto_1 community-building as we envision the possibility of a new world.

Singing in Resistance

I was struck this year during the School of the Americas protest at the power of music in a movement that calls for justice and peace like the one to close down the School of the Americas (SOA).  In the commissioning chapel service at Union on the Thursday before we left for the SOA, we shared stories and we broke bread together and we sang.  We sang “This is My Song” we walked into the space together calling for “peace for lands afar and mine,” and to close the service and send all of us out into the world we clapped and danced and sang “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield down by the riverside; ain’t gonna study war no more.”

With these songs in my heart and still on my lips we gathered with 2,000 others at the gates Ft. Benning, where we sang more songs together–songs of resistance and of sadness and of hope.  In minor and major keys we cried out for justice, we remembered those who have died, and we envisioned peace.

¡No más! No more! We must stop the dirty war
Compañeros, compañeras we cry out ‘No más, no more’

Almost two weeks after the School of the Americas demonstration, I am still humming some of the songs we sang outside the gates of Ft. Benning, and the echoes of the chanted names of hundreds of victims still ring in my ears.  Neither the words nor the tunes are happy or light ones that I especially want to go around singing as I walk to class and go to the grocery store and share meals in my community.  But the somber tones of the songs and chants stay with me and remind me to remember the feeling of hope I felt at the protest and to resist violence and imperialism in small and big ways, and to hold in my heart those who are victims of the violence of the SOA and those who are jailed for standing against it.

On Becoming a Peace Church

This evening some of us went to a workshop led by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) called “Creating a Peace Church.”  Within the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is helping to guide a 6 year discernment process around the discussion of being a church that is a self-proclaimed “peace church,” as opposed to the Presbyterian Church’s current “just war theory” position.  Currently, the PC(USA) is a phase of the discernment process where individual churches can do a study of what it might mean to be a peace church in their local contexts.  The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship provides a curriculum to help guide a conversation that can be done in either 4 hour or over the course of 6 weeks.

During the workshop, people were invited to share ideas and experiences about working toward social justice within faith communities.  There were several denominations represented, including some that are historical peace churches, such as Mennonites, as well as others that have a long tradition of activism, such as the Jesuits.  While everyone at the SOA demonstration is committed to peace and non-violence, it was meaningful to be in conversation with people who are committed to peace and non-violence from a faithful perspective and from many generations.  There were people in the workshop who spoke about the civil rights movement in churches and current college students who spoke of organizing faith communities around the issue of illegal gun sales.  While the peace movement as a whole and the movement to shut down the SOA is not explicitly religious, the contribution of people of faith to the movement is invaluable, and it is inspiring to think about what power churches could lend to the movements of non-violence if we take seriously a commitment to peace.