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.