A travel bus rolled down the cobble stone streets of St. Kate’s in the early morning of Nov. 21. Campus Minister Sam Kelly, and Katies Fatima Calderon ’15, Anagloria Quintanar ’15, Johannah Wyrick and I boarded. We began the 28 hour journey to Fort Benning, Georgia to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or, as it is better known as, the School of Americas (SOA).
SOA opened in 1946, and it trains Latin American soldiers in ways of military strategy. The soldiers take these lessons back home, where they abrasively force citizens into a violent government. The SOA Watch (SOAW) reports that over 60,000 students have graduated, including some of the worst “human rights abusers in Latin American History.” Believing in human dignity and the right to life, Campus Ministry provided this trip in hopes of shutting down the school and advocating for justice.
The protest was kicked off on Nov. 22 in Lumpkin, Georgia: home to the U.S.’s largest detention center, the Stewart Detention Center. Ran and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Stewart holds illegal immigrants until a safe passage is found for them to go home. It is a for profit prison system that receives money from the government to take care of the people within. However, at Stewart, the people are not being taken care of. Eye witnesses testify that maggots are found in meals, and CCA makes budget cuts anywhere possible to turn a profit. More on prison system profit can be found here. At this demonstration, four people were arrested for trespassing by walking through the gates to pray over the buildings.
The next major demonstration took place on Nov. 23 in Ft. Benning. Standing in solidarity with all the SOA victims, protestors hung crosses on the fence blocking the entrance to Ft. Benning. A drum beat for each person who died, and we all sang ‘Presente!’ remembering the lives that were lost to senseless killings. Carrying the cross felt as if we were carrying the burdens of the world, and we were making people acknowledge them by putting them on the fence. It was a reminder that the world is broken, but we can still fix it with love and humanization. Here, two people were arrested for jumping the fence. A statement of why one of them, Nashua Chantal, chooses to jump the fence year after year can be found here.
Attending the protest stood a statement of recognition. We, the people, recognize that there is something wrong happening right here, in our country. The only ones who have a power to make a change are us. This does not mean getting angry at the government. This does not mean engaging in violence to fight fire with fire. This means standing up and being critical of the world we live in. This means humanizing all people and doing small things with great love, as Mother Teresa would say. This means doing something- anything- to make the world a place that you are proud to call home.