November 21, 2007

SOA Watch (Leg 1 of the Journey)

So, here I sit at the computer at the motherhouse in St. Louis. It has been quite a whirlwind trip getting to this point. Stacy and I left Friday by plane through Dallas to Atlanta. Then by shuttle from Atlanta to Columbus. We got on the van shuttle at 1:15 a.m., so I was a bit disturbed as I watched the driver's head drop a couple of times. People were probably a bit annoyed as I chose to talk to him for the last half an hour of the ride as they were trying to sleep, but I thought that would be better than having him nod off at the wheel. It was also an interesting ride in that we ended up on the bus with a few of the soldiers headed to Ft. Benning. They, of course, asked what we were doing in the area and I was surprised that they were oblivious to the march that was going on. The papers in Columbus don't cover the protest even though all of the hotels are sold out and traffic is detoured all over the place. It was a good conversation for both groups I think. We crawled into bed at about 4:00 a.m. knowing we were waiting for a morning phone call from one of our LA sisters with whom we were to be sharing a ride. We thought we were staying at the same hotel, but somehow there was a missed e-mail somewhere in there, so the phone call did eventually come as the miscommunication was figured out. Thankfully everything was pretty close proximity wise, the LA gang was very laid back, and everything was pretty smooth from there.

We spent Saturday morning at the convention center with programs set up by the Jesuits for the young adults in attendance at the protest. There was singing and prayer as well as input on various social justice topics: unaccompanied minors immigrating to the U.S., the war in Iraq, trafficking, etc. It was awesome to be with other committed young people en masse, to get to know the college students travelling with us from LA, and to see others from St. Louis and elsewhere whom I knew.

After we left the convention center we went to the Ft. Benning gate where the protest was being held. The actual, official protest wasn't until Sunday, but there was lots going on Saturday as well. It was like a big social justice flea market--lots of organizations with information, t-shirts, buttons, flags. One of my favorites was a button that said, "Will work for peace." A large stage was set up and we alternately listened to songs, presentations, watched puppet shows, etc. Eventually we headed back to the convention center for mass that night. Stacy and I turned in relatively early as our few hours of sleep from the night before were wearing off quickly

After a good night's sleep and a bagel nabbed from the other hotel's continental breakfast it was off to the protest site for what they call the funeral procession. Before the planned events began, all of the Sisters of St. Joseph from across the federation and those who were travelling with us, met for prayer. It was great to know that connection and to bring to the march all of those who weren't physically present with us. The estimate for the overall crowd gathered was 25, 000 people. We first gathered near the stage to recite our pledge of non-violence, again to pray, to sing, and to prepare ourselves to remember all of those who have been killed in Central and South America by persons linked to the School of the Americas, trained here in our own country. Everyone carried a white cross bearing the name of a person who was killed. The names on the crosses that our group carried were very personal. The group of college students that was with us gave us names of relatives and persons from their own family villages who were killed by persons trained at the SOA. Needless to say the day was very overwhelming for them. From the stage name after name was sung. After each name the crowd lifted their crosses and sang "Presente" in response. As we remembered we marched to the gate. Each person put the cross he or she carried in the fence. The naming and processing went on for over two hours. I am sure that the list of unnamed persons who have been killed could have been sung for hours more.

There is lots of hope for change. Six countries no longer send persons to the SOA for training. And last year, I think, we were six votes shy in congress from having the school shut down. Hopefully there will be no march to attend next year. There are other pictures and information on the SOA Watch website.

More on the other legs of the journey later. Off to mid-morning prayer.



  1. Sarah,
    I'm so glad to hear about the SOA protest. One of my grandnieces was there. She's a junior or senior at Cor Jesu; she heard about the march from some DeSmet students, and decided to go. It's in her genes, as her mother used to protest outside Schnucks for the farmworkers.
    Mary Ann H.

  2. It really was good to see you at Carondelet!, Amy. Thanks for your rendition of the SOA protest; your telling makes it so much more personal to me. Amazing that the soldiers didn't have a clue! Thanks, too, for keeping that driver awake. I'd hate to lose you and a few others!!!

    Pat M

  3. Sarah, thanks for keeping us posted about your experiences. It's very interesting and makes me feel as though I'm experiencing the events with you. Liz Ahrens

  4. So glad you went to the SOA. Barbara said she saw you there. I was so impressed by the presence of all the Young College/high school students who were there last year. Glad so many were there again this year. Stay well and hope to see you sometime soon.
    Mary Lou Basler