Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Around 50 Brethren attend vigil against School of the Americas.

More than 11,000 people gathered at Fort Benning, Ga., on Nov. 16-18 for the 18th annual School of the Americas (SOA) Watch protest and vigil, including around 50 Church of the Brethren members. The protest has been held on a weekend in November since 1990, marking the anniversary of the Nov. 16, 1989, slaying of six priests in El Salvador. SOA Watch organizers say 18 of the 26 soldiers involved had attended the School of the Americas.

The SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Protesters say it teaches security personnel from Latin American countries to use repressive tactics, and that graduates have overthrown legitimate governments. They cite a coup against Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973 as an example. SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement to close SOA/WHINSEC and to change the US foreign policy that the SOA represents.

On Friday night various workshops and concerts were held at a convention center. On Saturday, people gathered outside the gates of Fort Benning for a rally, and the street was lined with more than 100 exhibit tables representing various organizations. The Brethren Witness/Washington Office handed out resources about its work, the Church of the Brethren, and the National Farm Worker Ministry, and also promoted Fair Trade coffee and chocolate for Equal Exchange.

Sunday featured a three-hour vigil during which the participants marched carrying crosses while the names of those killed by people trained at the SOA were sung. Fort Benning officials report that 11 protesters were arrested by federal marshals for trespassing, and face up to six months in prison for civil disobedience. Speakers included presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and the founder of SOA Watch, Father Roy Bourgeois.

A Church of the Brethren gathering Saturday evening was hosted by the Brethren Witness/Washington Office. A group of students from Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., were in attendance along with Brethren from across the country. When asked, "What justice issue is most important to you?" the group gave answers including immigration, climate change, genocide, health care, and war. Phil Jones, director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, led the discussion.

The overall feeling of the weekend was one of energy and hope, even with a funeral procession that served as a reminder of the tragedies that have occurred. The SOA Watch vigil was a time to say that human rights violations are not acceptable.

--Rianna Barrett is a legislatives associate at the Brethren Witness/Washington Office of the Church of the Brethren General Board.

Source: 12/19/2007 Newsline

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