A year ago the notion that the School of the Americas would be closed down was a stretch, even for peace activists who have long been trying to shutter what they view is a training ground for Latin American assassins and human rights violators. But as the annual November protests outside the Fort Benning, Ga., headquarters swell to 20,000 this week, activists have reason for hope: Barack Obama is the president-elect. Closer to home in Colorado, Democrat Dennis Apuan, a longtime peace activist from Colorado Springs, was just elected to the state Legislature — further signaling seismic social shifts.
Every year protesters gather outside Fort Benning military base to mark the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. A United Nations panel concluded that some of the killers had attended the School of Americas, a U.S.-sponsored training school for Latin American military and government officials.
According to the Associated Press, Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who has been leading the demonstrations since 1990, said his supporters view Obama as the “president who stands for peace.”
“Our movement has worked hard to get him into the White House,” Bourgeois is quoted saying. “We think it is very reasonable to have a meeting with President Obama.”
Over the weekend, six human rights activists, including Theresa Cusimano of Denver, were arrested as they attempted to take their protest onto the military base. They have been bailed out of jail by the SOA Watch legal team, and face a court trial beginning on Jan. 26, 2009.
In Colorado, one new state lawmaker has a long history of protesting the infamous School of the Americas. As the Colorado Independent reported last week, Apuan, from Colorado Springs, edged out Catherine “Kit” Roupe in Colorado’s House District 17. Apuan will be the third member of a Democratic delegation from El Paso County — marking the first time since the 1970s that the Republican stronghold has sent three donkeys to the golden dome.
Apuan, the former chairman of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, spoke of “a time of great change in our world” during a speech delivered shortly before he joined a small delegation that traveled to Fort Benning for the annual protest two years ago:
This is a time of great change in our world, and justice is within our reach when we stand up in numbers too big to be ignored.
We will close this school that has created so much death and suffering.
History is made by movements — mass movements of people who organize themselves to struggle collectively for a better world. An increasing number of people have realized that U.S. government policy is out of alignment with their values. The movement for justice and against war and exploitation is growing stronger.
So many around the world continue the struggles for justice and human rights: peasants, indigenous and black communities, trade unionists and students are taking to the streets. By standing up and standing together, we can overturn any injustice. By standing up and standing together, we can change the world.