FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Standing Up to School of the Americas

For someone just 20 years old and talking about the prospect of spending 18 months in federal prison, Charity Ryerson seems pretty matter-of-fact. She discusses her plans to have books shipped to her over the course of her sentence and the arrangements to take correspondence courses from prison. All things considered, she says, this is not a bad period in her life to be serving time.

If asked, though, Ryerson admits her mother has shed a few tears. There are times when Ryserson herself can scarcely believe what is facing her just a few years after graduating from Brebeuf Jesuit High School.

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and say to myself, ‘I’m going to prison.’ And then I have to think, ‘OK. Breathe … Breathe.'” But Ryerson insists such anxious moments are rare, and quickly resolved when she revisits the reason for her sacrifice. “It helps a lot to realize that one and a half years in federal minimum security prison is not the same as spending one and a half years in a Latin American community where School of America graduates inflict terror on the people.”

Ryerson and Jeremy John, 21, both Indianapolis natives now living in Bloomington, face trial on Jan. 21 on charges of trespass on federal property and destruction of property. The allegations are based on events that occurred during the annual protest to close the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning-based Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of Americas (SOA). Ryerson and John are charged with cutting a padlock off a fence to allow other protesters to enter the Georgia base.

(Actually, John is charged with destruction of federal property while Ryerson faces a nearly-identical “aiding and abetting” charge. “I don’t know why they charged me with just aiding and abetting,” Ryerson says, rolling her eyes. “It’s probably because I’m a girl.”)

The School of Americas has a half-century of history as a training ground for some of Latin America’s most notorious war criminals, including Panama’s Gen. Manuel Noreiga, the assassins of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero and two Guatemalan dictators accused of genocide. The curriculum sponsored by the U.S. Army included manuals on beatings and executions and medical doctors who instructed SOA students on torture techniques. School of Americas graduates have been implicated in the murders of thousands of civilians, including six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador in 1989.

The anniversary of those killings is commemorated each November with a non-violent protest outside Fort Benning, attended this past year by some 11,000 people, many bearing crosses with the names of civilian victims of SOA graduates. Eighty-six of those protesters, including Ryerson and John, face trial later this month on federal trespass-related criminal charges.

In the Hoosier tradition of Eugene V. Debs, who famously insisted that he could not be free while anyone is in prison, Indiana is well-represented in the dock. Sister Adele Beacham, 74, and Sister Rita Gerardot, 76, both of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, face six months in federal prison for walking onto the base grounds. Sister Kathleen Desautels, originally from Indianapolis, and Father Jerry Zawada, originally from East Chicago, are still serving sentences for trespassing during the November 2001 protest.

More necessary than we think

Ryerson, who twice attended previous SOA protests without being arrested, says civil disobedience is a vital component of a movement that has come as close as five votes away from having the U.S. House of Representatives stop funding for the SOA’s successor. “There are all sorts of different resources we are using in this effort: While we are getting arrested, there is a bill going through Congress every year [most recently H.R. 1810, which counted Rep. Julia Carson (D-Indianapolis) as one of its 112 co-sponsors]. Thousands of people are writing letters, and of course there is the mass mobilization every November.

“But civil disobedience is often more necessary than we think it is. Education is probably the most important and hardest step in any kind of effort to make social change, and civil disobedience really helps with the education piece,” she says. “If I wasn’t going to prison, I wouldn’t be doing this interview with a newspaper. I have friends and family who have never been politically active at all who are now incredibly mobilized. Multiply that by 96, the number of people arrested this past November, and that’s enormous.”

Ryerson is a student at Loyola University in Chicago and a national campus coordinator for the World Bank Bonds Boycott, which aims to reform the institution whose debt policies cripple developing countries. She views her activism and impending prison sentence in the broad context of flawed U.S. foreign policy. “I consider the SOA to be the military arm of the World Bank in Latin America,” she says. “I am doing this not just for Latin American SOA victims, but also for people working in sweat shops in Asia. I am really protesting U.S. foreign policy worldwide.”

That foreign policy presents an ironic twist to opponents of the SOA. The Bush Administration is using opposition to terrorism as justification for preparing for war with Iraq, all the while refusing to shut down a U.S. institution that has nurtured Latin American terrorists. Anti-SOA activists also face a post Sept. 11 citizenry with newly energized pro-USA sentiments. But Ryerson says that a time when flag decals are again in vogue presents the perfect chance to demonstrate the true meaning of engaged citizenry.

“A real patriot is someone who appreciates the positive things about their country and the standard of living in their country, but also can criticize and make sacrifices for social change to make their country one to be proud of,” she says. “My sacrifice is for a much greater cause than my own comfort, and I’d do it again in a second.”

Fran Quigley is a contributing editor to NUVO, where this article originally appeared. For more information about School of Americas activism, check the Web site for SOA Watch.

More articles by:

Fran Quigley is a professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where he directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic. He is the author of How Human Rights Can Build Haiti (Vanderbilt University Press).

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail