A report from School of the Americas protest vigil

By Phyllis Zimmer

If it weren’t for the tremendously grave reason for the gathering at the gates of Ft. Benning, one would almost get the feeling that it was a festival.  Participants of the School of the Americas protest vigil, held Nov. 18 and 19 in Columbus, Ga., were encountering friends from across the states giving greetings and hugs.  There was laughter, cheering, singing, applauding the puppetistas, and dancing to the incredibly beautiful music of the Andes.

The spirit and energy of the thousands of college students was tremendous.  They piled out of buses, school vans and rental vans.  It seemed to be roll call at the Jesuit Mass on Saturday night when the college and university names were read and the students cheered as their school was called.

There were also the older people, some in wheel chairs, who have no doubt been working against injustices for years.  There were groups of religious sisters, wearing identical t-shirts. There was a sense of unity and hopefulness, an understanding between the young and the old, and everyone else.

The underlying reason for our presence, the reason each of us made the journey to Ft. Benning came through with each witness we heard, panel discussion we attended or film we watched.  The bloodshed, the torture, the killing that has occurred in countries that send their military leaders to the SOA is ugly and despicable. We came to say, “ No mas! No more!”

The most dramatic reminder of the reason we were all there was the funeral procession on Sunday morning.  Leaders of the procession, with faces painted white and wearing black shrouds, carried black coffins.  As we processed slowly towards the gates, carrying our white wooden crosses on which we had written the names of victims who have died at the hands of SOA graduates, we responded, “presente,” to the litany of victims sung from the stage.  One couldn’t help but feel a lump in the throat as the name and age of a two year old or an eight month old or name “unknown” was sung.

Although not all 22,000 of us were called to cross the line, we came away with a new energy, a calling in our hearts, as individuals and as groups, to bring about change, to stop the killing and to close the source of the atrocities, the SOA.

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