By Sister Marcelline Koch, OP
Dominican sisters and associates from Adrian, Houston, Peace, Sinsinawa, and Springfield were among the 2,500 who braved the rainstorms Sunday, Nov. 23 in Fort Benning, Georgia, to participate in the solemn funeral procession commemorating those murdered at the hands of School of the Americas/WHINSEC graduates. It was 25 years ago that two women and six Jesuit priests were massacred at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador. This event became the catalyst for the SOA movement to protest the ongoing militarization of violence, and to remember the victims.
Eve Tetaz, an 83-year-old author, veteran peace and justice activist and retired public schoolteacher from Washington, D.C., crossed the line onto Fort Benning, carrying with her a poster of one of the 43 students disappeared in Ayotzinapa, Mexico this September, and the prophetic Isaiah verse, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares.” Longtime SOA Watch activist Nashua Chantal, a 62-year-old human rights defender from Americus, Georgia, carried a ladder to the fence erected to keep anyone from entering the base. This is the third arrest at Fort Benning for Chantal, who previously served a three-month sentence in 2005 and six months in 2013 for crossing the line. For those who have been to the vigil, Chantal always dresses in a “Study War No More” message.
The weekend also included a vigil at the Stewart Detention Center on Saturday morning. Lumpkin is a small town of 1,300, 40 miles from Columbus, and home to a privately run detention center. The for-profit center houses 1,800 immigrant men in questionable conditions which have led to the death of at least one detainee. Stewart is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, the same group that tried, unsuccessfully, to build a private detention facility in northern Illinois two years ago.
Five other solidarity activists were arrested at the gates of this center. The civil disobedience action followed a procession of about 1,000 of us from Lumpkin to the center. SOA continues to make connections between issues—in this case between U.S. militarization and forced migration resulting in the unjust imprisonment of immigrants.
We were grateful for the opportunity to be there and experience once again the reverence and profundity of the solemn funeral procession and the solidarity with so many others in the struggle for justice.
Sister Marcelline Koch, OP, is Dominican Co-Promoter of Justice for North America.