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Solemn, joyous procession remembers lives lost

In a gathering that was both solemn, remembering people killed, tortured, oppressed and violated by graduates of the School of the Americas, and joyous in expectation that the center will one day close, more than 150 people met at Gonzaga University, heard speakers and processed to Riverfront Park.

Group rallies against School of the Americas.

SOA Watch
Local protestors join procession.
Coming from Bend and Portland, Butte and Seattle, Castlegar and Republic, Coeur d’Alene, Newport and Spokane, participants gained a micro-sense of what about 10,000 protesters experience when they gather each year in November at Fort Benning, Ga.
Several students from Gonzaga Prep will join others from the Peace and Justice Action League in Spokane to make the annual trip.

A high school teacher and leader in the national SOA Watch, Paddy Inman served several months in prison for trespassing there a few years ago.  He considers the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC)—the SOA’s new name—as a “haven for terrorists and a detriment to peace and justice.”

The United States trains terrorists there, Paddy said.  Many Latin American families have suffered since U.S.-sponsored civil wars began in the 1960s, because their efforts for self-determination were considered communist and then terrorist.

Paddy then listed activities he considers terrorism: U.S. arms manufacturers provide 70 percent of the world’s arms.  Sidestepping the State Department, the U.S. Southern Command uses the SOA to enforce policies that encroach on civil rights, defining political opponents as enemies.

SOA watch in Spokane
School of the Americas marchers carry crosses to remember those who died.
SOA graduates target union and health-care organizers, educators and religious groups as threats to national security.  Innocent civilians become “collateral damage,” he said.
“That’s terrorism,” he said, repeating those words in litany fashion after he gave descriptions of 18 U.S. policies and actions he considers terrorist.

 Paddy called for participants to add their voices “to others throughout the world who stand up to injustice and honor victims of terrorism in Latin America.”

Jesuit Father Michael Cook’s commitment to protest the SOA arises
from the 1989 assassination of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador by members of SOA-trained forces. 

“The Jesuits spoke the truth to power in the name of the dispossessed.  For that, they were told that if they did not leave El Salvador, they would be killed.  They did not leave.  After their murder, Jesuits from every country wrote the father general, volunteering to go to El Salvador.  He chose some to go there to continue to seek and speak truth.

“Jesus came to bear witness to truth,” Father Mike said.  “Jesuits seek truth and seek to liberate the oppressed from suffering in El Salvador and throughout the world.”

SOA marchers
SOA march occurs in Spokane.
Sister Alice Ann Byrne, OP, joined the protest because four Maryknoll and Dominican sisters were raped, tortured and killed in 1980 by people trained at the SOA.

“We need to tell their stories on behalf of the thousands of unnamed people who also have been killed,” she said.

Archbishop Romero had said anyone staying in El Salvador would experience what the poor experience and might “be disappeared”—captured and killed.  The nuns stayed and lost their lives.

Before and after their deaths, their friends and families in North America told their stories.  Their “subversive activities” consisted of falling in love with the people of El Salvador, caring for them, sheltering refugees, educating people, taking medical supplies to villages and telling stories through letters to their families and friends, Sister Alice Ann said.

Cathy Gunderson of the United Steelworkers learned about free trade agreements when the rug was pulled out from jobs in Spokane.

“We care about the SOA because we care about better employment conditions and because union leaders are among those targeted,” she said. “American taxpayers pick up the tab of $20 million a year to train people,” she said.  Eight of 10 who killed 20 striking banana workers in Latin America were trained at the SOA,” she continued.

Natalie Voykin of British Columbia read a message from the president of the Doukhobar community, expressing “solidarity and support for ongoing nonviolent efforts to close the SOA, applauding the courage and conviction of those speaking and acting to defend people suffering in despair.”

She said that for 700 years, her people have refused to take guns in their hands to destroy life.  For that, they have been punished and killed.
“We believe life is sacred,” Natalie said.

Eric Robison, imprisoned after participating in a nonviolent protest at Fort Benning, said people wage war wholeheartedly but wage peace halfheartedly.

“Making peace is as costly as making war,” he said.

We have been blessed with knowledge, resources and technology.  Scripture says of those to whom much is given, much is required.  If you want to make lasting changes for good, where do you put your belief into action daily?” Eric challenged.

“For some, the witness may be going to prison.  For others, it may be being a voice for reconciliation at work. Our actions have a ripple effect for good or ill,” he said.

“If love motivates my actions, people around me will be affected,” he added.  “As we sow, so shall we reap.  If we sow violence and hatred through the School of the Americas, why should we be shocked when we reap violence and hatred against us.  If we want to live in a world without anger and hatred, we need to sow seeds of love.”

Magdeleno Rose-Avila, director of the Northwest Immigration Project in Seattle, urged people to speak truth about the SOA every day.

As a Mexican, he was previously called a “communist” if he stood for unpopular causes.  Now he is called a “terrorist”—the new name for “the enemy.”

Living in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, he saw and shed tears over bodies of people killed by SOA-trained military and police.  Some of them mocked his tears.

Having taught gang members in Los Angeles alternatives to a violent response to their poverty, Magdeleno followed them when they were deported to El Salvador.  He took gang members to the church built near where the nuns were killed in 1980, and told about their nonviolent witness.

Working on immigration rights in the Northwest, he still encounters people who know people killed by the SOA.

“When our government commits atrocities or trains others to commit them, people affected or their families may eventually come here.  So immigrants are often suspected of being terrorists.

“We cannot get rid of terrorism when we teach and replicate it around the world,” he said, urging people to promote policies that will help victims of torture to heal.

Magdeleno proposes having a U.S. School of Human Rights to teach police and people here and abroad to protect human rights.

At a closing ceremony in Riverfront Park, Raymond Reyes, vice president of diversity at Gonzaga University, prayed that people not be in need or want, that people live like there is heaven on earth. 

He told a story of Truth and Lie going for a walk and stopping to swim.  While Truth was underwater, Lie took his clothes and went to the market, where everyone thought he was Truth.  Seeing his clothes gone, Truth had the courage to go to the market naked.

Raymond prayed for people to live the law of love, to serve out of gratitude for life and to speak the truth to power so people will choose truth.

Recognizing that the SOA comes from a historical legacy of violence and death, he prayed that all lands, cultures and people would lay down their arms and lift up peace.
“World peace begins with us.  We can’t give what we do not have,” said Raymond, who believes in the “100th monkey” idea of educating people to change one heart at a time [until a certain critical mass is reached and] world peace is built by the   inner peace of people.

“It’s how the Berlin Wall came down and how Nelson Mandela was released and became a leader in post-apartheid South Africa.  The world changes one person at a time.  Are you at peace with yourself?  The peace available to all is contagious,” Raymond concluded.

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