Today we, Students for Peace and Justice from Union, got back from the School of Americas Vigil. The drive was long, from New York to Columbus, Georgia and back in four days, but it was worth it. I got some pretty good pictures while there. Some are from our overnighting at a campground where the leaves were turning and others from the vigil. I’ve kept some pictures off the net, but I think the pictures I do have would give someone a feel for what it was like, so go check ’em out here.
I do have some other thoughts about the vigil. I was pretty damn happy to see nuns and old people there. You see, part of the nature of these vigils is that they cultivate hope in those protesting, while they also function as a public shaming. I think that older clergy still hold a special position in society and one that is looked up to, insomuch as they are people who have committed their lives to their work. They’re still trucking, some were even dancing during the giant puppet show, and it was heartwarming to see.
By our group’s estimation, there were 10,000 to 15,000 people there on the Sunday protest. A peaceful and liturgical protest. It was discipleship in action. It was a sacramental protest. Interestingly, the presence of an armed military force was, to put it mildly, overkill. There were plenty of local cops (seemingly for back up), state troopers, at least one K-9 unit, constant surveillance recording, and of course the military presence who seemed to not be hiding all that well in the bushes and those I am sure who were unseen. The protesters – a great many were Roman Catholic – were quite literally boxed-in. Strategically I suppose if the people were to become violent, squashed would be the operative word to describe the result of an uprising. But to respond as such is to entirely misconstrue what the SOA Watch is about and how it acts, and I think the military knows it.
At the beginning of the Sunday vigil, we were informed that 11 people had crossed the line into the base and will probably go three to six months in a federal penitentiary. I have no idea how many people actually did and in fact, I have no idea where the line is. From what I understand, the military has moved the protest, fenced it in and hidden the line from view. Simply the military has attempted to subvert the act of witnessing the civil disobedience by making it look as if it never happened, because we never saw it happen – we couldn’t see it happen. Funny enough, disappearance is part of the idea behind kidnapping and torture that the American government now admits to doing (at least tacitly), while the old tactic of visible, brute force does nothing to the crowd. It would not be able to hem in 10,000 determined people.
We were surrounded? So what? And while it is somewhat irksome that the crossing of the line was happening out of view, it changes nothing. This is still an alternative social body of people, though not entirely Christian anymore, that condemns the idea of war as foreign policy and more specifically stands against America spreading the tools of violence and puppet governments throughout Latin and South America. And the military responds with a propaganda tour through the school, an armed force (though lax, because if we are anything, we’re passionate and nonviolent) and an attempt at subversion. I don’t think they quite get us. Changing the name from SOA to WHINSEC, creating more schools elsewhere and discouragement through overt force won’t stop us. We seek the end of imperial America and for those of us resisting as Christians, we’ve got a longer history and a social body to root ourselves in. Protesting, vigiling, critiquing, prophecy, and sacrifice will not be stopping anytime soon, because there is a greater Kingdom to embody. I don’t believe in destiny. I believe in God’s grace to help some of our decisions and actions to succeed and that kind of empowerment will not be killed or imprisoned. And that is what the military just doesn’t get.