“Close The SOA”: Reflections from Rally Attendees Roger and Marilyn Yockey

By: Roger and Marilyn Yockey

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“Close The SOA” and “Presente!” resounded loud and clear from thousands of students, nuns, veterans union members, migrants, torture survivors, prisoners of conscience, artists, musicians at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia on a chilly weekend, November 22-24, 2013. Roger and Marilyn Yockey, OFS, Secular Franciscans, from Lynnwood, Washington were blessed to be there.

The demands were straight, to the point: CLOSE THE SOA (the School of the Americas) and resist militarization and change United States Foreign Policy.  The infamous SOA (now renamed or branded as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) is where soldiers from Latin America and the Caribbean are trained.

“The SOA is a stark example of anti-democratic influence the U.S. continues to exert on Latin American countries which has resulted in thousands of needless deaths,” Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of the nonviolent resistance group, SOA Watch, said.

SOA graduates have gone from Fort Benning to their countries to lead military coups, massacres of civilians-innocent men, women, children, nuns, priests. These “grads” led and were involved in bloody wars of repression, killing of their own people—especially indigenous people.

There were many yellow UAW (United Auto Workers) Union t-shirts with the UAW emblem and an outline of North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. “Solidarity Has No Borders: Solidaridad No Tiene Fronteras” and “Labor Says Stop the Killing and Torture-Close SOA/WHINSEC-SOA Watch 2013.” The writing, the emblem, the map all stood out in black as dark as the bloody record of SOA graduates.

There were also the bright red hats and shirts of CPT.  CPT is Christian Peacemaker Teams which is “partnering with nonviolent movements around the world. CPT seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love. We believe we can transform war and occupation, our own lives, and the wider Christian world through the nonviolent power of God’s truth, partnership with local peacemakers and bold action.”

It was clear that CPT and SOA Watch were natural partners in nonviolence and direct action. One of the SOA Watch nonviolence guidelines for the November vigil and direct action was “we will struggle for a world free from violence and we will use actions, words and symbols consistent with this struggle.”

And nonviolence and peace was all around. Veterans for Peace, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Providence Peace Community, Baptist Peace Fellowship, the Unitarians, Columbia Peace Project, the Buddhists, Pace e Bene and many more groups dedicated to peace and nonviolence.

There was a workshop with John Dear on “Living the Nonviolent Life” as he spoke “about how we can practice nonviolence towards ourselves, others, and all creation as well as be part of the growing grassroots movement of nonviolence.”

The contrast between the huge Fort Benning with thousands of soldiers, tanks, weapons, the many police from local, state, county, marshal’s  office on both sides of the road that SOA Watch vigil participants walked for two days stood out as clear as night and day. But there were no jeers, threats, angry gestures from those with guns and those armed only with hopes for teaching war no more.

The students, high school and college and university were there as always. Loras, St. Joseph, Marian and other schools were there with the quick steps, enthusiasm, laughter, and conviction of the young. Many older SOA Watchers this memorable weekend remarked how good it was to see young people there, especially many there for the first time.

And the nuns-they were there as they have always been. Franciscan Sisters, Dominican Sisters, Maryknoll Sisters, Mercy Sisters, Sisters of Providence, and other orders. The Maryknoll Lay Missioners were there also.

Network-the Nuns on the Bus were there.  I smiled and thought, the nuns came on the bus, in cars, trains, planes and on foot this year as they have for many years. And women priests made it known they “are here to support SOA Watch.”  The conversations I had with so many folks. The UAW members, the Haiti Action Committee, so many Sisters and Brothers united in solidarity!

There were prisoners of conscience there at this year’s SOA Watch anti-militarism gathering. SOA Watch activists numbering 300 have been sentenced to prison and probation for nonviolent actions to expose the horrors of the SOA and to express solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Latin America, according to SOA Watch.

Sunday was the end, the climax of this weekend. The procession of thousands carrying white cross with the names and ages of victims of the senseless killing , the genocide the repression in Latin America. As each name is read, the crosses are raised by every marcher and ‘Presente!’ is proclaimed. I was not the vigiler with tears as I heard name after name, ages from the sixties to two. Some victims’ names were announced as “unknown” and “infants” killed in various Latin American countries.

The crosses and flowers were placed in the fence at Fort Benning with care and a sense of reverence.  This year after crosses were put in the fence, later soap bubbles were blown silently through the fence as a sign of hope.

Artists, art, culture, music are an important part of what makes the movement to close the SOA so unique, enduring. The Puppetistas on stilts, the indigenous blessing, the Buddhist drumming, the white faces dressed in black carrying coffins, the “shrouded mourners” will stay with me for a long time.

As I walked the long way back from the fence of Fort Benning where so many white crosses were hanging to the parking lot I thought of many things such as martyrs, killing drones. But then the music I had heard for three days   came into my mind. Charlie King, Emma’s Revolution, Holly Near, Francisco Hererra,  Mary  Fromer, and talented singers, musicians..

Some of the words from those songs are: “We have come to this place to denounce this disgrace. One by one, One by one.” And “not in our name; not in my name.” Maybe I didn’t have the lyrics just right, but I got the message. The SOA Watch folks were gathered at the gates of Fort Benning where there is a place of disgrace-the School of the Americas and we are denouncing its existence. And we do that one by one, each together. And the United States government trains soldiers from other countries to kill their citizens. But we are saying NOT in our name and NOT with our taxpayer money. No mas muertes! No more deaths!

Presente!

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Published in: on November 28, 2013 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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