During this past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Ignatian Family Teach-In in Washington D.C. Here representatives from all the Jesuit high schools and universities in the US gathered to talk about social justice, and, on Monday, lobby congressmen and women about these issues. For the last 20 years or so this event had taken place in Columbus, Georgia, site of the School of the Americas/WHINSEC, which is a main discussion point at the Teach-In. Essentially the idea of the weekend is that it serves to educate, this year, about 1200 students on issues ranging from alcoholism on Native American reservations to comprehensive immigration reform. Personally I thought that I came away with a much more informed idea of many of these issues, and being able to represent ourselves directly to our local senators was a very fulfilling experience.
The main issues that the Loyola group focused on were the closing of the School of the Americas/WHINSEC and the passing of immigration reform bills, specifically the Dream Act. The School of the Americas in particular is an issue that I find myself to be very passionate about. It’s a combat training school for Latin American Soldiers, funded by US taxpayer dollars, that’s located in Fort Benning, Georgia. Throughout it’s 59 year history many of its graduates have gone on to murder and massacre thousands of people, and it serves no legitimate purpose outside of their training. For me, it’s really frustrating to see that the school remains open in large part because of the inefficacy of our government—on both sides, it’s not just Democrats or Republicans, many elected officials just don’t view it as a crucial topic and so it remains open still. Lobbying the senators was a very impactful experience, as it allowed me to feel much closer to government than I normally would and feel as though I made a difference, even if it was rather small.
Some of the stories that I heard about students at the SOA, in particular, remind me of Shane’s character in Shane. I met one girl from Saint Louis University who’s brother had gone to the SOA. Upon entrance he was trained in counterinsurgency techniques and psychological warfare, but upon his deployment to Iraq he was found to be much too violent because of his training, and was unable to serve his country in any manner. He had to undergo many therapy sessions when he came back to control his aggression, and was now working towards escaping his past and containing his dark, violent inner self, much as Shane does. His sister, the girl I met, described him as the most caring person she had ever met until his training, and as somewhat of a “terminator” upon exit.
Overall this weekend allowed me to gain a better understanding of many social justice issues, specifically the School of the Americas and Immigration Reform, and in particular allowed me to put a human face to the struggles I hear about so often. The ability to actually lobby the senators also greatly empowered me to continue to do what I can to aid social justice efforts worldwide in my daily life.