By Stephanie Pratt BA ’13, Graduate Admission Coordinator
For as long as I recall, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution included the right to speak freely and peacefully assemble. Today, however, I sit confused, staring at a plea made by Father Roy Bourgeois, leader of the SOA Watch. This plea is a result of a permit refusal and the silencing of a beautiful and necessary movement. This movement, which is very dear to my heart, as well as many others of the Ursuline community, is the progression to close the School of the Americas.
For 25 years, the SOA Watch has gathered alongside victims, supporters, and friends in an effort to discontinue the utilization of Fort Benning to train Central and South American soldiers. With the numbers of disappeared persons affected in these countries being swept under the rug, there is an apparent need for action and raised awareness. This protest permit refusal not only includes the inability to gather at Fort Benning refusal to allow survivors, families of the disappeared, and friends of the oppressed to share their stories, and only allows 200 protesters to utilize the sidewalks in the area at a time.
For many, including myself, this permit refusal is absolutely heartbreaking. The School of the America’s protest not only gives voice to those who are without, but it also brings with it a sense of unity and value. Being told that your right to stand up to unethical and morally condemning issues can be so easily dismissed shows supporters of any social justice movement that we still have a long way to go in terms of raising awareness of what is going on both in other countries as well as here at home. As big of a blow as this refusal has been to supporters of this cause, I believe that it will give us a renewed sense of urgency and action to close the School of the America’s.
If you are interested in learning more about the SOA Watch movement or to sign the petition, please visit SOAW.org.