On the weekend before Thanksgiving, 36 Augsburg students and two staff members boarded a charter bus bound for Columbus, Georgia. The group was headed south to join SOA Watch, an independent organization that seeks to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning. The trip was sponsored by the Coalition for Student Activism (CSA) at Augsburg.
Wielding signs made for them by school children at Southside Elementary, the group joined more than 20,000 protestors, including students from other colleges in Minneapolis and St. Paul at the gates of the school. Travis Skoog, one of the CSA organizers, said many ACTC schools sent students but Augsburg was the only college to finance the trip through student government funds. “That shows how supportive Augsburg was toward this mission,” Skoog said.
They participated in a drumming ceremony, danced in the streets outside the school, and joined others in prayer and remembrance. Skoog called the protest “artistic” and said all of the Augsburg students were involved. “They have a lot of music, puppet shows, and speeches, which all of the students took part in. It was great to see the students really get involved in the protest.”
Rebecca Reilly wrote a poem about the SOA Watch experience “School of the Americas Lament.”
The following excerpts were taken from a journal kept by the students during their trip.
I went on this trip because I want change and I know sitting on my butt won’t get me there. I dance, I cried, I got angry and excited but really what I felt was hope. Hope that people, the little people, can make a difference.
I was so proud of Augsburg this weekend. It is really important for Augsburg students to get involved, to be actively pursuing causes we believe in–and for many of us this was our first protest. It was the perfect combination of celebration of life, and honoring those lives lost. This was my second year attending the SOA protest, and though I knew what to expect, I was still emotionally blown away by the sense of community and friendship among complete strangers and the powerful messages.
I think what is important now is that we take these issues back to Augsburg. …This amazing group of students has been ignited by the music and excitement of life at this protest, and I’m excited to see what we can do with it.
The most profound experience I had at the SOA protest was standing at the fence in front of Ft. Benning. A woman came up and asked me to take a picture of her with her Aunt, only her Aunt was one of the names on the thousands of white crosses stuck into the fence. Her Aunt had died protesting at the age of 18 in Nicaragua. It was also her first time at Ft. Benning.
That moment she shared with a stranger touched me so deeply. That she was willing to share her story, that we were both at the protest for the first time, and that I was able to know a face and a story to one of the thousands of crosses stuck into a chain-link fence as a makeshift memorial. It made the moment real. It made the protest real and it made the passion of the 20,000 other people standing on the same street as me and a woman who was no longer a stranger real.
I was so impressed with my fellow students as they all blended together and worked for a common cause. Today is a beautiful day, but we must remember that now is the time to make the changes we learned about. The road is long, …but after this weekend, I believe that peace can be possible if we learn to listen to each other.
“Never mistake motion for action.” Hemmingway
A single poster summed up the reason for these gatherings, “What language are your tears?” because when one suffers, the world is responsible to dry those tears, not make more. We gather as healers and that is our part in PEACE.
This year was amazing. We all have been forever impacted by what we saw, what we heard, and who we met. We saw things that caused hurt in our hearts. People fighting for rights that we take for granted. We heard the cries of people who had lost loved ones from graduates of the School. We met different community leaders who encouraged us to keep pressing forward and to never give up fighting for those with no voice.
This was an amazing group. The diverse group of 38 joined together for one common goal. I do not think any of us realized the impact it would make on us. We built lasting friendships in four days. We have gained this unspoken family mentality because we all experienced something important together.
My third sheet of paper and still can’t find the right words to express the importance of the SOA protest. We need to use our voices and we did. Thank you Augsburg.