|There Must Be a Better Way <i>by Brian DeRouen</i>|
“You are going to do WHAT?” This is the incredulous response that I have received incessantly since making the decision to “cross the line” at the gates of Ft. Benning. While some people were excited about my crossing the line, disparaging words far outnumbered encouraging ones when it came to this decision. There were the activists who argued that the SOA was only one among of many important social justice efforts and to take this risk for one issue was not wise. There were those who argued that if I really loved my country I would trust its leaders and support my military. Then there were my loved ones who understood my passion, agreed that the school needs to be shut down and simply did not want their Brian to go to prison. Despite each of these perspectives and many others all coming from people I deeply respect, I knew in my heart that for me, there was no better way; I needed to take a step of faith. I crossed the line because I believe the School of the Americas; renamed in 2001 the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation must be shut down. I crossed the line because I love my country and I believe the School of the Americas and the foreign policy it supports to be a cancer which must not be ignored.
Most importantly I crossed the line because my faith demanded it of me. Catholic Social Teaching is very clear in calling people of faith to stand in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. This of course does not mean that all good Catholics need to be heading to jail with me. It does mean however, that we must do all in our power to see justice be done and when I read in 1997 on the School of the America’s official website that one of the school’s “accomplishments” in Latin America was the “defeat of liberation theology” as an American and a Christian I recognized a responsibility to act.
I attended my first November vigil six years ago and have been working ever since to close the school. While in San Salvador during spring break last year our group from the University of Dayton was able to meet with the Human Rights Ombudsman with whom we discussed the current state of affairs in his country. During that meeting he explained that the increase in death squad activity and oppression taking place right now in his country is reminiscent of the situation in the late 70’s. This was a shocking wake up call and a central impetus for my action.
I recognize that those in power will hardly notice that I have crossed the line, I also realize that the closure of the SOA will not end the oppression faced by my Salvadoran friends; these facts are not discouraging to me as my expectations are modest and have already been realized. My mother noticed and she has since written her very first letter to her congressperson. Not only that but she has told her friends about the school and several of them have written letters and have told their friends to check out www.soaw.org. The same thing is happening with my sister and my girlfriend when they go to work and with the students I work with in the Center for Social Concern. Perhaps a few people reading this article will realize that they have time to check out the website and will feel called to write a letter demanding that the school be closed. One solitary voice is faint but the chorus of voices is growing louder and with over 130 cosigners on the bill currently in congress (HR 1258) victory is only a few letters away.
Am I scared about the prospect of six months in prison? Yes, of course I am but I trust that my faith along with the letters and prayers of my support community will carry me through. Will the months be difficult? Yes, but this experience will not even give me the slightest hint as to the suffering faced by the poor and powerless whom the Gospels call me to stand in solidarity with. Do I regret crossing the line? No, even if the school is never closed I will not regret taking this action as I have acted according to my conscience as guided by my faith. I have rejected the culture of apathy which in my opinion is destroying democracy in America and as a result my mom has joined me in my activism. That is reward enough to me.
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