the lax blogger recommits…

Dear readers,

I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving.  I always remember how the holidays are a time of abundance and hope for many, yet there are just as many who are hurting and grieving what is lacking or missing in Life.

I had the privilege of traveling to Columbus, Georgia to attend with School of Americas Vigil 2008.  I was among 20.000.  The biggest honor was to travel with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a coalition of dedicated folks who are farm workers and service workers in Immokalee struggling for fair wages and advocating for justice in the face of modern-day slavery happening right here in Southwest Florida.    This past weekend begins the forging of a new relationship that I hope will one day connect with the ministries of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers.  But for now, I want to take time to say how I honored I was by the level of hospitality the Coalition extended to me- I was provided transportation, food, and housing by these good people.  Now that is radical hospitality.

In the past, I have gone as  “free agent” and this time it was a different experience to travel with an esteemed group of people whose lives are deeply affected by the presence of this school that teaches tortures, this school that has graduated perpetrators of genocide and paramilitary operations that terrorize villagers, leaving many killed or “disappeared.”  The Coalition was a presence of solidarity, as well as providing education at one of the SOA workshops about the finer points of immigration and the effects of NAFTA (particularly regarding corn in Mexico and subsidized corn from the US outselling Mexico’s own corn agriculture economy) that result in: forced migration into Mexican cities, into the US, as well as forcing farmers to consider growing more lucrative crops (drugs) in order to survive.

Always, always, I have more to learn in terms of the tangled web the US has woven in terms of global policy.  More often that not our US policy has been based solely in the interest of the great god of money over the more humble god of right relationship.

SO, what is this Vigil I speak of?  Every year, with a coalition of organizers working with the not-for-profit School of Americas Watch, several thousand people come to protest the presence of the School of Americas, which in 2001 changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institure for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC or WHISC).  Supporters of the school believe that they are not to be held accountable for the one in a hundred graduates that have gone on to be perpetrators of torture and genocide.

The School of Americas protest and vigil itself spans over three days.  On Friday, various groups offer educational workshops at the Columbus, GA, convention center, including a mandatory workshop for those coming for the first time about nonviolence and nonviolent protest.  Other presentations span from civil disobedience to peacemaking to feminine spirituality.  The daytime Saturday programming is at the Fort Benning site.  A stage is set, equipped with loudspeakers, and Spanish-only speakers can pick up translator radios to wear for any speeches in English.  Groups and individuals share their points of view of why the school should be shut down, some because they themselves are survivors of torture, others because they speak out of solidarity for our brothers and sisters in Mexico South America and Latin America.  There is singing, praying, chanting Si Se Puede! Yes we can! For a better feeling of what it is like, watch a clip from a previous year here on Youtube.

Lining the road (that dead ends at the triple-fenced fort entrance) are tables.  Locals sell food.  Equal Exchange and Cafe Campesino sell fair trade coffee.  Various organizations give out fliers to raise consciousness around issues ranging from the Coalition of Immakolee Workers; to the Abolition group out of Berkeley, CA, that seeks to end the present prison-industrial complex model; to the Chicago Theological Seminary (a fond neighbor of my alma matter, Meadville Lombard) who is hoping to attract future seminarians.

Sunday morning is solemn- a vigil that names out loud all those individuals who have died or disappeared at the orders of a School of Americas graduate.  After each name is sung out, the gathered body of several thousand responds with, Presente, meaning,

present,

here,

with us.

Not forgotten.

An artistic and moving remembrance of the El Mozote massacre that took place in the village of El Mozote, in Morazán department, El Salvador, on December 11, 1981

An artistic and moving remembrance of the El Mozote massacre that took place in the village of El Mozote, in Morazán department, El Salvador, on December 11, 1981

Picture of the stage set in front of the gates of Fort Benning Nov. 2008

Picture of the stage set in front of the gates of Fort Benning Nov. 2008:

The Coalition of Immokalee workers are speaking on the stage…


The CIW queues up for the Sunday vigil.

The CIW queues up for the Sunday vigil.

There is a strong Catholic presence here at the Vigil.  The founder of SOA Watch is Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who just came out in favor of female ordination in the Catholic church.  As you can guess, he is in hot water with the big-hat boys.

There is a strong Catholic presence here at the Vigil. The founder of SOA Watch is Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who just came out in favor of female ordination in the Catholic church. As you can guess, he is in hot water with the big-hat boys.

I just have to say, the sisters here rock!  Props to the many orders of Catholic brothers & sisters who show up in solidarity for those of their friends and parishioners who they lost to death or disappearance.

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