Returning from the SOA Watch

“We who have a voice must speak for the voiceless.” –Oscar Romero

Never has this ethos spoken to me as clearly as it did this past weekend, standing outside of the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia.  The School of the Americas continues to operate in secrecy, as have many of its graduates returning to Latin America.  As evidenced by the blank stares and questions from friends and families about the SOA, it seems that, indeed, it is crucial to educate others about the atrocities committed by graduates of this school.

My time at the SOA Watch has helped reinforce the passion that led me to Union.  I have always desired to live my life in service of others. However, it wasn’t until I spent two years teaching in a low-performing, high-need school that I realized my calling.  And, Union has encouraged me to embrace this idea…to provide a voice for the voiceless and uncover oppression in its many forms.

If we are to follow in the words of Señor Romero, it is crucial to become a voice for those without one.  Drawing inspiration from our faith, no matter the tradition, is crucial in this quest.  Standing with my brothers and sisters at the protest, my faith became even more central to my desire to serve others and to be a voice for others.

Thank you to all of those who made this trip possible. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. Paz.

Interfaith Engagement and Peace-Building

          Visiting the SOA protest for the first time in six years, I am struck by two things: the absence of the Jesuits priests and the feeling of an interfaith movement at the gates.  Both updates mark noticeable shifts in the movement as it seeks to change US policy in LatinAmerica, especially in terms of US militarism.  For me, as I grow in my faith and understanding of interfaith at Union, these two notes are particularly important.

The Jesuits have moved the bulk of their protests to Washington, DC. As the vote on closing the School of the Americas approaches a more-equal vote in our nation’s capital, it seems that the SOA Watch, the organization that sponsors the SOA protest has focused much of its energy on this important vote in DC.  Indeed, this focus is a huge shift—from solidarity to effective, political engagement and action.  Activism is re-envisioning itself. And, progress can be seen, including the withdrawing of numerous counties recently (Nicaragua in October 2012).  However, the absence of the Jesuits at Ft. Benning has been particularly notable.

The other big update has been the growing interfaith movement at the SOA protest. In addition to an interfaith service, numerous symbols and signs from other (non-Christian) traditions can be spotted across the protest. This emphasis on peace and justice across faith boundaries is inspiring. Moreover, it reflects the broad religious landscape of the United States and a greater movement for peace.  Now, more than ever, is it important to recognize our commonalities and to organize to recognize the inherent human rights of all peoples.  It seems that the School of the America Protest and Watch is coming of age.