“We know we are going to jail,” Nashua Chantal, who was arraigned on Jan. 9, said.
“Our sacrifice in solidarity, we give, I give, to all the families in Latin America, and around the world to stand up against the continuous murders of children, women and men of all ages. They are stripped from their farmlands, of resources that enrich their lives. Their dignity and bodies lie in unmarked graves, and these graves of the lost souls, were taken away by the School of Americas training at Fort Benning.”
From Thursday, Nov. 21 until Sunday, Nov. 24, seven Cabrini College students and two Cabrini Mission Corps missioners traveled through eight states and over 15 hours to arrive at the gates of School of Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, in Fort Benning, Ga.
According to the mission statement, SOA/WHINSEC “shall provide professional education and training to eligible military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel of nations of the Western Hemisphere within the context of the democratic principles set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States (Reference (d)). The WHINSEC shall foster mutual knowledge, transparency, confidence, and cooperation among the participating nations and promote democratic values, respect for human rights, knowledge and understanding of U.S. customs and traditions.”
However, multiple warlords and dictators graduate from SOA/WHINSEC every year and the reality of US taxpayers’ money going towards the continuous funding of this military training is the cause of frustration and anger amongst everyone who attended the weekend protests.
The Pentagon was forced to release the training manuals on Sept. 20, 1996, that were used at the SOA/WHINSEC that showed exactly what the military was doing. These manuals advocated targeting civilians, extrajudicial executions, torture, false imprisonment, and extortion.
On April 22, United States District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton from the Northern District of California ordered the Pentagon to release the names of current trainees and graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC.
One of the graduates and infamous warlord, Efrain Rios Montt, is known for his Guatemalan genocide where he went on trial in January 2013 for the 70,000 accounts of murder of unarmed civilians.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that before and it sounds straight up wrong,” Lance Corporal Andrew Smallacombe said. “I would have to look it up because I don’t truly understand, but I can speak for the Marines saying that is not right and in no way do I support it.”
The United States essentially funds the education of warlords that have graduated from this school. Therefore, the SOA Watch is an independent organization that seeks to close the US Army School of Americas, under whatever name it is called, through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protests, as well as media and legislative work.
Friday Nov. 22
“Your presence is very important,” founder of the SOA Watch, Roy Bouregois, said.
Students, staff and protesters gathered at the Columbus Trade and Convention Center around 2:00 in the afternoon to go to multiple workshops and listen to different speakers talk about a wide variety of issues that continues reoccur in not only America today, but internationally as well.
Seventeen different workshops were available to choose from, multiple at the same time ranging from different topics, opened to anyone and everyone. Cabrini students picked the Project Unspeakable, a scripted play where staff members spoke about different conspiracy events within the American history from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the towers falling on Sept. 11, 2001.
After the first couple of workshops including the powerful and inspirational Gun Violence Has No Room panel, the Cabrini group went to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. This workshop moved many to tears because of the stories people shared who had been affected by the crimes committed from the graduates of SOA/WHINSEC.
Specifically a story from a man who has asked to be unnamed talked about his time being imprisoned and the electrocution and physical torture that he faced.
“We are here to fight back against the pathetic giant of imperialism, the youth are the most progressive force in society today.”
Saturday Nov. 23
Students gathered again at the convention center for the People’s Movement where over hundreds of people met in smaller groups to talk about why the SOA Watch was established and what they hope to come of it.
“I learned that no government is perfect, not even ours,” a junior communication major and history minor from Manchester University, Timothy McConville, said. “I found it interesting that people didn’t know about this school that is being paid for by US tax dollars.”
From 12:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. people gathered at the gates of the SOA/WHINSEC to listen to speakers and personal stories of loved ones who had been lost to those graduates and trainees who continue to commit unjust crimes, some people even chained themselves to the fence.
Later that evening, Cabrini students went to a concert where they watched a performance by Kuumbalynx, an urban arts and cultural organization presented the audience with dance and poetry slams about injustices that they have faced everyday since they were young children on the streets of Chicago. Followed by many different artists where they interacted with the audience asking them to dance.
“It was a very eye-opening experience,” sophomore criminal justice and psychology major and sociology minor at Cabrini College Mariel Delacruz said. “To see that it’s not just about getting involved in your community but going out there to different states to actually experience the different issues that are going on.”
Delacruz also spoke about a key piece of information from the man that asked to not be named, “You cannot just read books but you have to take your time and experience everything yourself.”
Sunday Nov. 24
The last and final day of the weekend protests, everyone gathered at the SOA/WHINSEC gates for the second time with white crosses with the names of those who had been killed from the trainees and graduates of SOA/WHINSEC. This vigil and nonviolent protest was bigger than any other event of the weekend. Over thousands of people traveled from all over the world to stand together in solidarity with one another.
The SOA Watch leaders and members rang a bell 11 times, an annual tradition that made an ample amount of the audience choke up.
After some music was played and people sang, the audience gathered together where they put the crosses up onto the fence, painting a white wall of emotion. The walk followed prayer and chants again to the fence.
This was an inspirational and motivating weekend for Cabrini College students and the missioners and for everyone else that came from all across the country and the world to protest.
“Solidarity combines our heartbeats into one cause, one beat,” Chantal said. “Sacrifice goes beyond fear and giving up our freedom to face our government’s wrongs in court.”