An important event on our School of Americas schedule this year was a memorial service for Fr. Jerry Zawada, O.F.M. Jerry was the strongest advocate for peace I ever met. He said that he lost count of the number of times he was arrested for peace protests after the 150th time. I was thinking of Jerry as we protested at the border wall in Nogales, AZ - Mexico and participated in workshops that raised our political and faith consciousness.
Nogales is now the site of the demonstration to close the S.O.A. The reason for the change from Fort Benning is:
…”to join alongside allied groups to denounce militarized U.S. foreign policy as a principal root cause of migration, as well as the devastating impact U.S. security and immigration policy has on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrant families, across all borders.” (S.O.A. program, P.1)
Just before we left for Nogales I received an alumni fundraiser P.R. magazine from the Dominican high school I attended in Oak Park, Illinois. I was shocked. The glossy red, white and blue cover featured photos of Fenwick H.S graduates who had served in the military over the years in the many wars since the school’s founding in 1929. A headline on the cover proudly stated – “Fighting Friars Defend Our Fenwick Shield and The American Flag.” What! War is not a high school football game; war is hell itself. A lamentation for the dead, wounded – those with P.T.S.D. would be appropriate not a glorification of mechanized slaughter. Veterans marched for peace in Nogales.
Our pilgrimage to the wall in Nogales included a stop in Tucson to visit a “streamline court” where immigrants are deported in bunches ignoring “due process” and appeal for asylum. We also protested at a privatized detention center for immigrants located in the desert near Tucson.
From the hill overlooking the U.S. Nogales and the Mexican Nogales you could see the valley, the river and a steel polled wall separating the communities of similar people and a common landscape. Psalm 82 came to mind. “Rise God, dispense justice throughout the world, since no nation is excluded from your ownership.”
Besides praying and protesting at the wall we attended workshops. One of them was about working with Trump’s restructuring of NAFTA. In my opinion, moving from neo-liberalism to neo-mercantilism still maintains workers in slave-like conditions. Workers on both sides of the wall must be guaranteed the right to organize unions and to be protected by enforceable laws.
The protest to close the SOA has a long history. The School of the Americas (S.O.A.) is in Fort Benning, GA. It is where Latin American soldiers are trained to enforce, sometimes by torture, U.S. control in the Americas. Friar Jim Barnett, O.P. was one of the early supporters of Maryknoll Roy Bourgeois, the founder and leader of the protests for 27 years.
From Nogales we headed again to Tucson for a memorial service for Franciscan Jerry Zawada who died in Milwaukee last summer. Fr. Jerry served three six-month prison sentences for protesting at S.O.A. demonstrations in Fr. Benning, Georgia. He spent two months in prison for protesting torture training at Fort Huachuca near Nogales.
When Jerry was a pastor at St. Michael’s in Milwaukee he accompanied me to the picket line at the 1987 Patrick Cudahy strike. We delivered donations of food to the strikers and marched in the picket line. The program for Jerry’s memorial service had a union bug.
Jerry Zawada preached the Gospel by his everyday life. Peace through justice and non-violence was the basic Gospel teaching of the early Christians as opposed to the Gospel of Rome - Pax Romana – peace through military might. Thanks Jerry for reminding us.