Bearing Witness at the SOA/WHINSEC

Sisters Marcelline Koch and Kathlyn Mulcahy represented our congregation at the 25th annual School of the Americas Watch vigil at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, Nov. 21-22, 2015. Here is their reflection on their experience.

Saturday morning we drove the 40 miles to Lumpkin, Georgia, for the rally and 1.7 mile march to the Stewart Detention Center, one of the largest for-profit immigrant prisons in the country (1,752 beds).  There are more people inside the prison than in the small, remote rural town. The march was led by those whose lives are directly impacted by our country’s unjust, inhumane, and racist immigration policies.  More than 1,000 marchers joined in to raise their voices, including Dominicans and associates from the congregations of  Adrian, Peace, Sinsinawa, and the Central Province, as well as Springfield.  We gathered and prayed at the gate to the center, but `we couldn’t see what the site looks like because large buses were parked to strategically block any view of the building.

The Sunday morning funeral procession at the gates of Ft. Benning continues to be a powerful remembrance of those who have died through military violence perpetrated by graduates of the School of the Americas, which is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). Crosses with the names of those who have been killed or disappeared due to state violence are raised as the crowd responds with “Presente!”

After the procession, SOAWatch leaders announced that SOAW is planning to change its focus from Ft. Benning to the U.S.-Mexican border to address the plight of Latin Americans refugees who are fleeing increasingly dangerous conditions, especially those escaping violence in the “northern triangle” of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

One of the workshops on Saturday afternoon was about “Las 17” (The 17). In El Salvador, abortion is illegal even in cases of rape, incest, and maternal danger. Because of the strictness of the law, women who miscarry are arrested and tried for aggravated homicide, receiving up to a 30-or-40-year prison sentence.  Activist groups have identified at least 17 women who have been jailed after losing their babies in medical emergencies. As one would expect, these are poor, rural women. During the workshop we heard from Christina, who was jailed for 4 years in a Salvadoran prison after suffering a miscarriage.

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