by Abbey Schumacher, Loretto Volunteer
As I reflect upon my fourth experience at the gates of Ft. Benning this past November, I am reminded of a sticker I saw on the back of a man’s jacket during my second visit to Georgia. It read: “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this crap.”
I am also reminded of Amy Goodman’s interview with Frida Berrigan on the 64th anniversary of the nuclear bomings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 2009. Speaking about a speech her father, lifelong peace activist Philip Berrigan, gave in 2002, Frida said, “At the end of that speech…my dad says, ‘Don’t get tired. Don’t get tired.’ And I think that’s really an important message at this moment… And so, activism, being out in the streets, being with other people, is part of not getting tired. And it is what enlivens and enriches and motivates us to continue going, even when things are bleak.”
People have been gathering outside the gates of Ft. Benning for decades now, demanding an end to war, occupation, imperialism, and impunity in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere. I myself have only stood at the gates of the School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Insitute for Security Cooperation) four times, and already I feel the gnawing twinge of exhaustion that comes with being “prophets of a future not our own.” Each year, we chant the same chants, sing the same songs, write the same letters, hold the same signs, make the same pleas, and cover the fence with our crosses. For each burst of renewed energy, there is also the pang of pessimism, a frustrating sense of repetition, and blaring reminders of limited progress.
Yet there are bursts of energy, hope in our vigilance, remembrance in our songs. In Spanish, the word for remember is recordar, its Latin roots being re- (again) and cor- (heart). Therefore, to remember essentially means to put into our hearts again.
When I recall this deeper meaning, the repetition I encounter at the School of the Americas protest and vigil grounds me in purpose and place. I know where I stand, and why, and for whom. Furthermore, though it may not seem as evident amidst the multiplying fences, hovering helicopters, and armed police, there has indeed been progress in the struggle against militarization, and the movement still draws from deep wells of creativity.
This year, although a significant setback and a great deal of confusion resulted from the indiscriminate arrests of 26 people (most of whom did not intend to risk arrest), many others willingly participated in creative acts of nonviolent resistance throughout the weekend. About 10 to 12 people were arrested after briefly blocking a road into Ft. Benning with a large sign that read, “Stop: This is the End of the Road for the SOA.” Father Louis Vitale and Nancy Smith entered the base from the highway ramp, and David Omandi of the LA Catholic Worker and Christopher Spicer of the White Rose Catholic Worker jumped over the first set of barbed wire fencing at the entrance to the base.
And so I look to the resisters for energy, those who come year after year and those who engage for the first time. I seek solace in community and remembrance. I rejoice in news of Latin American countries refusing to send more students to the SOA, and members of Congress struggling every year to withdraw funding from the school.
And each year, I grow as an activist and as a resister. Philip Berrigan’s words grow louder in my heart. Don’t get tired, he says.
And my feet start to move.
In Their Own Words
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