Journey for Justice
Written by Aaron Shuman, Carlos Mauricio, and Nancy Keiler   
Monday, 20 February 2006
How to support a speaking tour or organize one of your own. Journey for JusticeThe Journey for Justice—a caravan led by Salvadoran torture survivor Carlos Mauricio from the Bay Area to the protests at Fort Benning, Georgia—is an event we look forward to. Getting in a van and taking off across the country for nearly two weeks of speaking events does several things:  it renews our spirits; it grounds us in the history of the 1980s sanctuary movement (which often gives us a place to stay and a warm meal on the road); it enables us to restore old organizing ties and to create new ones; it makes us more effective, by generating direct feedback on how we present our message to stop torture; and most importantly, it builds power for SOA Watch, by inspiring movement veterans, attracting new activists, and supporting the growth of chapters. The record crowds at this year’s protests, fed by ten caravans that converged on Fort Benning, is testament to the power of this model of organizing.

We offer the following article, with practical tips we have developed through two years of trial and error, to challenge you to work directly with torture survivors and to support a caravan stop in your town.    

If you were at Fort Benning this year and saw the puppetistas’ performance on the life and trials of Carlos and his co-plaintiffs Neris Gonzalez and Juan Romagoza, then you know that their story is a deeply moving one. Taking it on the road makes the point that people targeted for state repression and violence (such as Carlos) are not voiceless; some survive to speak in their own voices and to lead the fight for justice. Figuring out how to support this struggle and to win is one of the greatest challenges SOA Watch faces as a North American-based solidarity movement.

Right now as we sit here, someone is being kidnapped,” Carlos said recently over coffee. “My story is becoming universal; it’s particular to me, but not special.

Carlos MauricioOne thing we heard time and time again on the road is that people wanted us to connect the dots between U.S. state support for torture in Latin America and the torture scandals breaking daily in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq; unfortunately, the December stories reporting U.S.-backed death squads and secret prisons operating torture camps in Iraq—see Democracy Now’s December 1 interview with Arun Gupta for an excellent example—make this easy.

Carlos got the idea to lead a Journey for Justice from standing at the gates of Fort Benning in November 2003 and watching people be arrested with Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange and Code Pink and Father Bill O’Donnell from Berkeley’s St. Joseph the Worker parish. Father Bill died a month later, and Carlos picked up the organizing. Bill is still fondly remembered by the prisoners at Atwater Federal Prison Camp as a salty priest who called his trial judge “a pimp for the Pentagon” and scrubbed toilets for six months, and Carlos would like to dedicate the 2006 caravan to his memory.

In 2004, we proved that we could organize a caravan from scratch. In the face of George Bush’s victory, we said this is the time to drive across the U.S. speaking out against torture, and we did it. In 2005, the caravan was better in every way: the geography ranged from church rectories to cafes to sanctuaries to living rooms to college lounges to huge university rooms to high school auditoriums to community centers, and Carlos adapted his story to each group. In Los Angeles, he spoke to an audience, at least a quarter of who were torture survivors, one telling her story publicly perhaps for the first time. In Phoenix, in the place where we stopped to sleep the year before, he spoke to hundreds of high school students in the stomping grounds of John McCain. In Tucson, he spoke to people facing prosecution for working to ensure No More Deaths along the border, and in El Paso, he spoke to people who had braved death to come to the United States., in the Casa Vides house that memorialized the thousands who died in El Salvador in the 1980s. What impressed Nancy and Aaron was Carlos’s generosity, in staying late to answer questions whether there were four persons or 400, and in sharing the mike with us at several stops, to connect our unique perspectives and histories of SOA Watch work with specific audiences. We don’t have space to thank every individual or city that made the way for us, but we’ve seen handfuls become hundreds over the span of a year and turn into real lobbying power, and we hope to continue building with our friends and opening new routes through the center or Midwest of the United States in 2006. To invite a torture survivor to speak in your area, contact Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Committee at 202-529-2991 or

  • Keep costs low. A van everyone can drive is better than a bus, with costs for diesel and the driver. Calculate and raise total funds for the van costs, including insurance and initial gas, well ahead of time; it is extremely difficult to do so after the fact. Caravans don’t make money: expect cost overruns; celebrate breaking even.

  • The number of riders is not important. What they bring to the ride is. A speaker and a couple of people to do logistical work—navigate, drive, distribute literature, staff tables at the event, document the event (print/audio/video), schedule interviews—is plenty.

  • Start planning in the spring, at least six months in advance. If you’re hosting a stop, think of this as an opportunity to build your chapter. Who’s active in your chapter, and who isn’t? Target outreach to groups you need to build with: schools, places of worship, unions, peoples of color-led organizations, immigrant rights organizations, anti-drug war and prisoner rights’ organizations.

  • Ask interested groups and individuals to secure institutional sponsorship; a speaker’s fee from a church or school makes the ride easier and less stressful than passing the hat at a meeting, and both types of fundraising are essential to ensure the caravan reaches Georgia (and makes it back!)

  • When contacting prospective hosts in target cities, give them an overview of their contribution so they’re clear on what’s expected and not overwhelmed: hosting six to eight persons with dinner/bed/shower and breakfast; providing a stipend raised creatively, for gas to next stop, etc.; advertising and sending out press release to local community.  Send to the hosts well ahead of time: sample fliers, sample press release, and bio of key speaker.

  • Be sure the trip is planned before the caravan leaves. The caravan should leave with a binder including a daily schedule, contact information for all hosts, and paper to write notes from each stop.

  • Make time after the caravan to debrief and write thank you notes to all hosts.     


 Published in the Spring 2006 issue

Discuss this article on the forums. (0 posts)

Hits: 19768
Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment