A blog by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration about justice and peace issues

Posts tagged ‘Ft. Benning’

Bearing witness

“I am crossing today because I am hoping for a resurrection.” Theresa Cusimano

Theresa Cusimano crossed onto Ft. Benning on Nov. 20, 2011, to call for the closing of the School of the Americas and a return to believing that each  of us can bear witness to the struggles we see in the world. To bear witness to harm and suffering as well as beauty and possibility is a path away from the apathy and dis-empowerment that builds fear and hate.  It is a  path toward resurrection.

 Join in bearing witness by watching Theresa’s video.

Returning to Georgia: SOA Vigil

I will return this week to the gates at Ft. Benning to gather and vigil for the closing of the School of the Americas. We will stand together to remember all those who have been victims of the school and their loved ones. We will stand together to call for peace with full justice which demands that those responsible for the crimes of the school be brought to light. We will stand and lean out hearts and souls into the knowledge that another is possible even it is not yet known.  Join me in prayer, in spirit, and enjoy the video below….Adelante!

SOAW Video 2010

From SOA Vigil to jail to court

On Saturday after the rally some members of the School of the Americas Watch community took action within the city of Columbus. They chose to take their message to Columbus instead of the military base. They chose a different space but the reasons for the action were the same: to close the SOA and bring justice to its victims. The police had a strong reaction to what they felt was the abuse of the permit. As people were attempting to leave the vigil site the police responded by arresting more than seventeen individuals who were doing nothing more than leaving the space – all together 26 folks were arrested.

I have attended the vigil for six years and never have I seen anything like what happened on Saturday. The police were directing people to leave and then accusing them of refusing to disperse and placing cuffs on them.  They picked up journalists, high schoolers, and even a member of their own Columbus community who simply stepped out of a barber shop near the road.

We began immediately to mobilize, to gather money for bond. We received our second shock of the weekend: the police had piled charges on the folks they arrested. Even though they were all facing misdemeanors their bonds were set as high as $5500. This would mean that roughly we would have needed over $100,000 to get our own people out of jail. 

Between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we worked to get in touch with family and friends of those who had been arrested and to raise money for bond. By Sunday afternoon, after the vigil as we headed to the court for the arraignment hearings, we had managed to raise close to $20,000. Not all of what we needed but an amazing outpouring from those who were there.

We reached court and received our third big shock of the weekend: the judge!  He  said that if anyone whispered or passed notes they would spend the night in jail. We witnessed an arraignment hearing that was treated as a trial and when the judge was asked about this particular disparity he told us it was his court and he could do whatever he wanted.

After several hours of “trials” the judge retired to his chambers to watch police video footage of the arrests. The defense attorneys went to the back to watch the videos as well. The defendants were never allowed to see the evidence against them and several of them never even heard the police testimony against them.  The judge then came out and found every single person guilty (except one).  He applied hefty fines, sent some of the charges to the State court and  adjusted bonds.

After his threat to give all of them jail time the outcome of fines and a continuance of charges was a relief. However it was very difficult to feel that any justice had been served. Arrestees were denied a right to testify on their own behalf, the police were not made to provide the burden of proof and the judge ran the courtroom like a king rather than a public official.

It was difficult and discouraging. And yet, and yet…

Around ten thousand people gathered to remember those who were victims of the school. Four members of the SOAW community crossed the line onto the base. Seven people were willing to risk an arrest in the Columbus community and the other 19 who were arrested accidentally still stood by the call for justice of vicitms of the school. We raised all the money we needed to bond people out, supported them in court and will continue to support them as they get ready for state court.

Watching people gather in support, pitch in time, money and witness was amazing. It is community and community is the antithesis of arrest and the court process we experienced.  Community is the antithesis of the mindset and logic of the School of the Americas. It is a sacred sense of relationship that opens doors for change.

As Bill Quigley, a lawyer for the movement, qouted St. Agustine, “Hope has two beautiful daughters.  Their names are anger and courage.  Anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” 

We must be angry at the injustice we see but then also have the courage to change it!

Memory and Resistance! 21st annual School of the Americas Watch Vigil

This week I leave for Columbus, Georgia, to join the vigil at the gates of Ft. Benning.  We will gather to remember and resist as we approach the 30th anniversary of the four women who were killed in El Salvador.  We will gather to celebrate and commemorate  as we move forward with the challenge of creating full peace with justice.

This year I will blog each of the days leading up to the vigil. I invite you to journey with the School of the Americas Watch Movement as we ready to Close It Down (subscribe if you want to get my posts right in your inbox)! To get us started I would like to offer the following excerpt from a letter by Ita Ford, M.M. to her niece.

A Letter from Ita to her niece

Dear Jennifer,

The odds that this note will arrive for your birthday are poor, but know I’m with you in spirit as you celebrate 16 big ones…

What I want to say…some of it isn’t too jolly birthday talk, but it’s real…yesterday I stood looking down at a 16-year-old who had been killed a few hours earlier. I know lots of kids even younger who are dead.  This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment is getting snuffed out here now…

Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is at, and at whatever age. What I am saying is, I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you…something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for…something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be – that is for you to find, to choose, to love.

I can just encourage you to start looking and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I am seeing and living things others around you are not.

I want to say to you: don’t waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy…I hope this does not sound like some kind of sermon because I do not mean it that way. Rather, it is something you learn here, and I want to share it with you.

In fact it is my birthday present to you. If it does not make sense right at this moment, keep this and read it sometime from now. Maybe it will be clearer.

A very happy birthday to you and much, much love…Ita

Ita Ford, Presente!

Shallow Grave

Dear All – I apologize for this post being a day late. I was in Columbus, Georgia working with the defendants who crossed the line at Ft. Benning this past November.

I wanted to share the story of one of the “crossers”, Sr. Diane Pinchot, an Ursuline sister who was in community with Sr. Dorothy Kazel who was killed with others in El Salvador. She said in her statement to the court that she decided to cross to both honor Sr. Dorothy’s memory and to call attention to the fact that over twenty years later the School that trained Sr. Dorothy’s killers is still open.

She shared with the court an art piece she had made to help her process the loss of Sr. Dorothy. It was entitled “Shallow Grave” and was a carving of how the four women’s bodies were found after being raped and murdered. The silence at the end of her explanation was total, in that moment those four women were present again.

It struck me how powerful memory is not just to recall those we have lost but to live into that memory so completely we act on their behalf and from what they have taught us.

Sr. Dorothy was committed to crafting justice in El Salvador, so deeply committed she gave her life rather then give up. The power who took her life thought they had silenced the song that Sr. Dorothy’s life sung . And yet the song continues over twenty years later through a friend and a fellow sister who refuses to believe that the best we can offer is violence, poverty, and silence.

How precious are those who we meet, love, work , live, share with and how mysterious the path that can form from the footprints they leave in our hearts. It is dazzling to think of all the different relationships within the FSPA community and how those different points ripple outward and upward and inward lending love and light to the world as Sr. Dorothy and Sr. Diane have done.

Thank you all for all you do, are, create, and share! To learn more about those who crossed the line at Ft. Benning this year go to www.soaw.org  …Much Peace Liz

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