Guest post by Jack Wentland, Progressive Catholic Coalition
Since 2004, WOC has been a sponsoring organization of the “Inclusive Catholic Liturgy”—with female and male priests presiding—at the national gathering of the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) Convergence as one of the other sponsoring organizations of the Progressive Catholic Coalition [PCC].
Former WOC Board Member, Aileen Hayes, and WOC Assistant Director, Kate Conmy in 2011
On November 23 and 24, 2013, WOC sponsored the PCC information table and shared funding for the cost of space for Eucharist. The information table at the gates of Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia, shares information about church reform and the call for justice with thousands of participants in the SOAW Convergence.
The Eucharist, celebrated each of the previous nine years by two priests representing each gender, was led in 2013 by a group of five presiders, the majority womenpriests. In 2004, the first year of the PCC presence at SOA Watch, participants in the “Inclusive Catholic Liturgy” presided over by Crystal Chan of Call to Action and David Corcoran of CORPUS, brought 80 participants, twice as many as expected. And over the years since then, the number have grown. The past three years, funding by the sponsoring organizations of PCC as well as from individuals has allowed for reserving larger space in the Columbus Conference Center, this year attracting a record number of over 300 participants—all ages and various faith backgrounds.
In addition to providing the Eucharist, representatives of the organizations sponsoring PCC offer materials about each of the organizations at the PCC information booth at the gates of Fort Benning where the “School of the Assassins” is located. This year as in most years, SOAW participants came from as far away as Canada and Alaska; they came from as near as Duluth, Georgia. Veterans of, as well as those new to, the movement, they all came with one intention: to overcome the injustice of having a tax-supported U.S. Army training school where hundreds of graduates from dozens of Latin American countries over the years have been implicated in human rights violations and unspeakable atrocities against the people of their own countries.
The PCC Information Table was first sponsored in 2003, making 2013 the 11th year WOC has sponsored that phase of the PCC presence at SOAW. This was the 10th year at which a Eucharist has taken place at the event—with WOC as one of the sponsoring organizations of the PCC. The idea for promoting a coalition of reform groups was the brainchild of then-CORPUS Board member and FCM member Mary Ann Cejka. She suggested that—since there is a large number of young people from Catholic colleges among the thousands attending and they are not aware of the work of the “reforming church”—an information table at the SOAWatch gathering would promote awareness among this “next gen” population. Mary Ann was commissioned by the CORPUS Board to recruit other reform groups—among them, Call to Action, Federation of Christian Ministries, Future Church, New Ways Ministry, Roll Away the Stone, Women’s Ordination Conference, Roman Catholic Womenpriests (now Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. More recently CITI Ministries, Inc. has become a sponsor. “The Progressive Catholic Coalition” was the name chosen for the ad hoc grouping of reform organizations.
A VARIETY OF PARTICIPANTS
Over two thousand students, prison abolitionists, teachers, nuns, immigrants, musicians, farmers, activists and workers from across the Americas mobilized to the gates of Fort Benning from November 22-24, 2013. This diverse group joined once more to express our humanity and solidarity against the school of death and destruction. This year, those from Latin America and the Caribbean shared their stories with us about how they experienced and witnessed the bloody, violent and flagrant violations of human rights at the hands of graduates of the “School of Assassins”—a designation adopted by the SOAW after the U.S Army changed the name of the school because of the negative attention caused by SOAW’s revealing the notorious record of SOA graduates in carrying out violations of human rights by graduates trained at the U.S. Army school.
It was a true manifestation of the theme: “Justice – Not Impunity!” The speakers at the SOAW 2013 are listed at http://soaw.org/november/schedule/featured-speakers-at-the-2013-november-vigil/
A PRISONER OF CONSCIOUS SPEAKS
One conversation during the weekend was most memorable. Nashua Chantal of Americus, Georgia, who has been a yearly participant at the SOAWatch gathering since 2005, had recently been released from Federal Prison after completing a six-month sentence for “crossing the line” in 2012. Undaunted, indeed encouraged, by his stint in prison, he joined in the weekend in his customary “sad” clown makeup and costume, with clothing and head inscribed all over with the words “Study War No More!” But this year was different. For the seven years he’d been there when I had photographed him, he had chosen to keep a silent vigil holding a purple banner proclaiming those same thematic words that covered him. This year he entered into conversation and posed with young people. His theme: “There’s a need to provide information with those in prison about the work of SOAW and the reason we’re here. With time on their hands, they can learn about the issues and become informed advocates for social justice.”
WHAT”S BEEN ACCOMPLISHED?
The question that often arises regarding the efforts of the SOAW is “Have the activities of the past years had any effect? What’s been accomplished?” The answer to that is both “Very much!” and “Not enough!”
VERY MUCH—So Far
On November 14, 2013 an SOA Watch delegation met with Denis McDonough, the National Deputy Security Advisor to President Obama in the White House, to ask that the SOA/WHINSEC be shut down by Executive Order. In January, 2014, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced legislation to suspend operations at the school and investigate human rights abuses in Latin America. H.R. 2989, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2013 renews the legislative efforts against the notorious U.S. military training institute, formerly known as the School of the Americas. Each year for the past few years, this resolution in various forms has gained co-sponsors, a necessary step to get it to the floor of Congress.
Through direct visits to the leadership of six countries in Latin America— Ecuador, Nicaragua, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Venezuela—SOAW has been able to convince the administrations of those countries to stop sending their officers to SOA/WHINSEC for training.
At the end of March, 2014, hundreds of advocates for closing the SOA/WHINSEC took part in the “Spring Days of Action” converging on the halls of the U.S. Congress to speak to their representatives about the issues raised in H.R. 2989 and asking them to sign on as co-sponsors.
NOT ENOUGH – Where You Can Help
Getting H.R. 2989 to the floor of congress can be accomplished by a continued concerted effort by justice-seekers across the country. Readers can review the list of sponsors to see if their representatives have signed on to H.R.. 2989 at http://soaw.org/take-action/legislative/articles/4030-legislative-update-winter-2014
If their representatives are listed, call the congressional or local office to thank them for their support. If they’re not listed, call them to ask support by signing on as a co-sponsor.
Even if this resolution does not gain enough sponsorship to bring it to the floor of Congress in this legislative session, rep McGovern has pledged to reintroduce in future sessions. Contacting Congress about this resolution will not go out of style.
Further formation about the 2013 event is at http://www.soaw.org/news
Workshops offered at the event are listed at: http://soaw.org/november/conference/
A picture gallery of the weekend is at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soaw/
Supporters of the movement are listed at: http://soaw.org/november/how-to-get-involved/soa-watch-is-grateful-to-our-many-supporters/
Ongoing news about the results of the work of the SOAW can be found at:
REPRESENT WOC AT SOA WATCH 2014
Finally, please consider this a call to action to WOC members to take part in this ministry of justice. The SOA Watch is scheduled for November 22-23, 2014. Since 2004, the PCC planning group had begun preparations for the SOA Watch event with conference calls beginning in August. Members can contact WOC or Jack Wentland directly for details by emailing jackwentland @ gmail . com or calling 860-888-2502.