Georgia Right To Peace Walk Calls Attention To Killer Drones

After 8 days and 120 miles, the Georgia Right to Peace Walk, sponsored and organized by the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition (GPJC), came to an exciting end. The walk, which began at the gates of Ft. Benning, aimed to call attention and raise awareness about the research, development, testing and use of the new generation of killer drones by the US, as well as call for the closing of the SOA/WHINSEC. It was on the first day of the Walk that we dignified the memory of Bishop Gerardi of Guatemala, who was murdered by SOA grad Col. Byron Lima Estrada on April 26, 1998. Gerardi spearheaded the ad-hoc truth commission report, Guatemala: ¡Nunca Más!, which systematized for the first time – through the testimonies of the survivors – the gross human rights violations that were committed during the 36-year internal armed conflict. 16 years after Gerardi’s assassination, we continue to call for memory, truth, and justice in Guatemala, as the political situation worsens and the State apparatus continues to criminalize and terrorize communities in resistance to neoliberal economic policies and extractive industries that threaten their very existence.

Soon after the Right to Peace Walk began, we were able to visit local community organizer and immigrant rights advocate Anton Flores of Alterna in Lumpkin, Georgia. Our Walk continued on to Stewart Detention Center – the largest, privately owned, for-profit, immigrant prison in the United States. We held a vigil there to stand in solidarity with those who were locked up inside Stewart as well as their families, who are forced to travel long distances and in some cases across state lines for a one-hour visit with their loved ones. Over and over again, we heard the horrifying stories of families being separated through unjust and inhumane immigration laws and deportation proceedings. But we also learned of El Refugio, a small but vibrant space of housing and support where families visiting their loved ones can stay while they are in Lumpkin.

For us, it was important to continue making the connections between the root causes of migration through the training of Latin American military and police, the criminalization and shameful discrimination of migrants in the US withing the broader system of US militarism. As we reflected on what this system of oppression meant, and the work that needs to be done to change it, Anton reminded us that for those detained and stripped of their humanity, due process does not exist, nor does legal council. Among the many shocking realities of Lumpkin, we learned that the population there is only 1,300 people, while the population of the detainees at Stewart is 1,800. Lumpkin is also the poorest county in Georgia. Our day ended with a communal meal and the sharing of laughter and smiles at Alterna, and just as we made the connections between struggles, we continued on our Walk, city by city, mile by mile, step by step.

Every day, new faces would join us on the walk – some were long-time SOA Watch supporters, and others were long-time peace activists and GPJC members who have been actively involved in social justice issues in the Atlanta area. With them they brought their energy and spirit of resistence, snacks, signs, stories, and music, and while we set out to make connections between the various institutions of repression,  we were making connections between our lives in the process! I was humbled by each person that joined us during the Walk – each one had a story to tell and a conviction to speak up in the face of injustice. Countless other supporters who could not be there to walk, but who were there in spirit, sent messages of encouragement and were able to talk about the Right to Peace Walk in their own communities. This, too, was a beautiful expression of solidarity and action!

Throughout the walk, our messages of resistance were seen by drivers, and our voices were heard by those who were walking by or had stopped to ask about what drones and the SOA were. Oftentimes our paths crossed with children getting off their school bus, and they asked many questions, specifically about one of our signs that read “When drones fly, children die”. Concerned, they were eager to learn what drones were, and why they killed children, where we were headed and why we were walking for so long. It was easy to see that drones were not difficult to talk about when we framed our efforts to call attention to the issue in the context of the right to a peaceful world.

The Peace Walkers were given a warm welcome in Atlanta on Friday evening, where organizers of the Walk, and local activists came together to celebrate solidarity and to prepare signs and banners for the Saturday march and rally from the Martin Luther King Center to Georgia Tech, where we would call attention to the issue of drone warfare in front of Georgia Tech graduates on the day of their graduation.

Together – students, children, families, migrants, long-time peace activists, labor activists, educators, local community organizers – our voices became one to send a clear message to Georgia Tech: the research and development for killer drones is unacceptable and morally wrong, and for this we demand a ban on the development of technology that only serves to perpetuate a culture of militarism. It is only in raising our voices together and connecting our struggles that we can effectively challenge a culture of militarism, and we did just that. Also present alongside the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition were the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the National Lawyers Guild, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), the Movement to End Israeli Apartheid–Georgia, the International Action Center, WRFG 89.3 FM Atlanta.

Upon arriving at Georgia Tech, we all gathered to call for the immediate closure of the SOA through the passage of H.R. 2989 – the Latin American Military Training Review Act – which is a bill to suspend and investigate the School of the Americas. Kevin Moran, of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, also implored the students of Georgia Tech and their families and friends to call on the university to end the research and development of technology that only serves to export terror and kill countless civilians throughout the world. The SOA and the use of killer drones are both part of a broader system of militarism. The institute and the killing by remote control are not aberrations of U.S. foreign policy, but clear examples of it.

Our commitment to closing the SOA and changing the culture of militarism and oppression for a culture of peace and justice is stronger than ever. The current panorama in countries like Honduras and Guatemala remind us that a culture of impunity and violence cannot end without accountability and justice. Furthermore, we know that we must hold the US government to account as it continues to militarize the region in the name of “democracy” and “freedom”. To this we say ¡Basta!, Enough!

I hope you will join us at the gates of Ft. Benning, this November 21-23, 2014. Though the annual Vigil is still months away, it is never too early to begin planning to speak truth to power alongside other families, students, migrants, veterans, torture survivors, union workers, people of faith, and artists. This year, you can expect the convergence of our movement to be filled with hope and moved by love as we take part in workshops, trainings, non-violent direct action, a vigil at the gates of Stewart Detention Center, film screenings, concerts, a rally at the gates, and a funeral procession to commemorate the martyrs killed at the hands of SOA grads.

I look forward to seeing each and every one of you in November.

in solidarity,

María Luisa

Immediate Action Needed!
Urge the U.S. House of Representatives to address Human Rights and Rule of Law in Honduras

Sadly, it was during the walk that we learned of the deployment of Georgia’s Army National Guard to Central America to train the Honduran military in law enforcement operations, close quarters combat operations and combat life saving operations, reportedly to combat organized crime and drug trafficking. We see these new efforts within the broader context of continued militarization of the Americas, which culminates in the continued and systematic violation of human rights in the region, and the continued subversion of democratic processes in Honduras almost five years after the coup. In a letter written by Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) to Secretary of State John Kerry, concerns regarding the militarization of the police and obstacles in access to justice, especially in the Aguan Valley, are raised.

For this reason, we must continue to act and we must continue to build a culture of resistance!

On Monday, April 28, 2014, Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) began circulating a sign-on “Dear Colleague” letter in the U.S. House of Representatives to Secretary of State John Kerry addressing Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Honduras. Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Farr and Hank Johnson (D-GA) have joined as initial co-signers. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) has also now joined as a co-signer. The letter states that “egregious violations of human rights continue” almost 5 years after the coup. It raises concerns about militarization of the police, and the failure to investigate or prosecute human rights abuses, including in the Aguan Valley. The letter also raises concerns about freedom of speech and associations, and questions whether the November 2013 election was not free and fair. The letter asks the State Department to:

      • Pay close attention to these issues and strictly evaluate U.S. support for Honduran security forces, in accordance with conditions placed on the aid in the 2014 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act.
      • Fully enforce the Leahy Law, which prohibits U.S. assistance to any individual or unit that has committed gross human rights abuses and is not being brought to justice.

The deadline to sign on is Friday, May 9, 2014 at 5:00 PM eastern time.