Joanne and I had seen the effects of U.S. imperialism first hand for years in Bolivia so when we returned we naturally took to protesting the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA. The S.O.A. has trained troops for Latin America since 1946. It was established in Panama then moved to Fort Benning in 1984. Protests began in 1980’s by Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois and continue to this day. The purpose of the protests was to close the “School” but without success. This year the protest was in the split border city of Nogales: Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.
We were more than willing to go this year; the protest at the border directly related to our work at the Milwaukee Immigrant Worker Center Voces de la Frontera and The New Sanctuary Movement. I will relate our personal experience of this year’s protest which, of course, does not capture the totality of the event. It’s not a story you will find in the corporate media. (oops –see N.Y. Times Sunday Review 10-17-16)
We flew to Phoenix to meet with family living there, then drove to Tucson to meet with Milwaukee friends who would accompany us. The many Milwaukee\ans who went on the trip were related to “Voces” and/or St. Benedict the Moor parish.
We drove with two companions both long time S.O.A. activists. In Tucson we went to the beautiful campus of the University of Arizona to attend an exhibition of border crossing quilts made from clothing of those who risked death in a desert crossing to escape poverty and violence. The courtesy and kindness of the students in directing us to our destination on campus was moving. We talked of bringing the exhibition to Milwaukee.
We headed north of Tucson to the Eloy Immigrant Detention Center run by Corrections Corporation of America. It is a “for profit” detention center, isolated in the desert, where prisoners receive minimal medical attention and many die as a result. We were joined by two Capuchin brothers one from Milwaukee and one from Chicago to witness and challenge – evil without shame.
The first event in Nogales was a Veterans March. The veterans were protesting against war and the militarization of the border. The veterans informed us that many undocumented Mexicans who had served in the U.S. military were deported to Mexico after discharge.
We joined the march where it split; half going to Mexican side of the border. We went to the Mexican side with our Voces – Sanctuary banner without a problem at the check point. For some of us it was our first visual encounter with the wall. It was intimidating and humiliating; we were out in the open in a desert town, but I had a sense of claustrophobia.
After a brief rally Joanne and I attended three of the workshops on the Mexican side of the border: “Migration Crisis; From Europe to the United States and Beyond,” presented by CODEPINK; “Borderland Identity: Expectations and Realities” presented by: Colectivo de Dialogo Transfronerizo; and “The Climate Crisis: Refugees and Martyrs in the Americas,” presented by George Martin and Julie Enslow of Milwaukee. The presentations were excellent – hope was expressed and tears were shed. The image of Don Quixote jousting with Maquiladores dominated my consciousness. Workshops were also available on the U.S. side.
We went to an evening interfaith prayer session at the border that featured offerings by various faith groups. It was affirming and an inspiration to action. I became more aware that Faith is a matter of trust and not simply an ascent to particular doctrinized myths. A Sufi Muslim leader made the connection between Justice and Mercy.
AL KORAN- Chapter I IN THE NAME OF THE MOST MERCIFUL ALLAH – Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all creatures; the most merciful, the king of the day of judgment.
It reminded me of a passage in Zechariah referenced by our New Sanctuary Coordinator, Nayeli Rondin-Valle:
This is what the LORD Almighty said: Administer true justice – show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Zech. 7: 9-10
On Sunday there was a demonstration at a Check Point north of Nogales. We were not able to participate because of our various old-age infirmities. The action lasted several hours and no one was arrested.
The S.O.A. Watch rally in Nogales was a valuable experience. We learned a lot and it was a joy to reunite with old friends and to connect in solidarity with the oppressed all over the world.
It is a frustrating struggle but there is still Hope. It looks like Humpty Trumpty will get some help in falling off the wall from Latinos as well as other minorities and allies.