Students protest in Georgia

Sixty-five members of the Saint Louis University community joined more than 10,000 peaceful protesters last weekend at Fort Benning, Ga., for the annual U.S. Army School of the Americas Watch.

The protest was a chance for attendees from across the country to participate in the protest, which remembers those killed by graduates of the school. Although the protest was nonviolent, 96 people were arrested for crossing the line and entering the school, said Harry O’Rourke, social justice campus minister. No one from SLU was arrested.

“We’ve been going for seven years, and it never fails to be a very powerful experience for me personally and spiritually,” O’Rourke said.

The SLU representatives were accompanied by approximately 2,000 people from other Jesuit universities, high schools and churches, as well as the Provincial of the California Jesuits. SLU sent one of the largest university groups this year and in 1996 was the first college to bring a group to the event.

The weekend included a mock funeral procession at the gates of the school, speakers focusing on social justice and a concert by the Indigo Girls.

“The funeral makes you realize why you’re there,” said junior Dan Malloy. “It’s a mournful experience that turns into a celebration. It’s an incredible sense of hope and inspiration.”

Malloy went last year, as a learning experience. This year he wanted to be more actively involved. “To be there with (about) 12,000 other people, to be united with them on a common front, actively pursuing justice, is a very moving, tangible evidence of the impact we have.”

Senior Kate Linden also participated in this year’s protest.

After taking a few classes relating to social justice, she made the trip two years ago, mainly to observe.

Last summer she spent three months in Nicaragua with people who were directly affected by the SOA and saw those effects first -hand. “It’s a chance to stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves,” she said.

Linden also urged students to educate themselves about issues of social justice. “It’s hard to make a decision on whether something is right or wrong when you’re uneducated,” Linden said.

The SOA, renamed The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation by the Pentagon, is supposed to focus on human rights, democracy, peacekeeping and counter-narcotics training. However, the School of the Americas Watch would disagree.

According to SOAW, the school trains hundreds of soldiers in combat skills, such as commando tactics, mine warfare, military intelligence and psychological operations. In 1996, the Pentagon revealed that the SOA used manuals advocating torture, execution and blackmail.

People first began noticing the SOA in 1989 when six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered at a Jesuit university in El Salvador, O’Rourke said. The murderers were graduates of the SOA.

The first vigil was held on the one-year anniversary of the murders, in 1990.