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Issue Date:  November 17, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

The public shakes things up

I love Election Days.

Even when things don’t go the way I think they should, I enjoy them. Perhaps I am an odd duck that way -- certainly some friends and my family may think that. However, imperfect as the system is -- and we’ve seen some scary examples of that in recent years -- it is the one concrete example of the opportunity that average Americans have to shake things up in a big way.

I probably suffer from an inordinately romantic view of the process that has more to do with hindsight than any current reality. When I go to the polls even today, a tic emerges from the years I spent covering local and state elections in Pennsylvania, and I am incapable of not asking poll workers about turnout and how this year’s compares to previous off-year elections or previous presidential elections. (This year, in eastern Kansas, the early morning Election Day assessment was that most polling places were unusually busy. They also turned out to be downright unusual. The “redder than red” state re-elected progressive Democrat Kathleen Sebelius for governor, re-elected moderate Democrat congressman Dennis Moore to a fifth term and sent Democrat Nancy Boyda to Washington in a major upset of Republican Congressman Jim Ryun. It was that kind of year.)

I confess to missing the excitement and fatigue of those earlier days in eastern Pennsylvania when we would sit in the bowels of the courthouse late at night helping to tabulate vote results in the pre-Internet days, or puzzling out in the weary hours of the next morning what it all means that a scoundrel city councilman got re-elected or that a long-revered member of Congress got unceremoniously bounced. But a certain buzz about Election Day remains, a tempered hope that once in a while we’ll find the right combination to fulfill some of our higher aspirations and, as a culture, take a few steps forward.

The point made in this year’s election from which I take the most encouragement is the resounding, across-the-board and across-party-lines rejection of the war in Iraq.

Every now and then the public gets to shake things up in a big way. And that certainly happened this year.

~ ~ ~

In mid-November, thousands will gather outside Fort Benning, Ga., to protest the existence of what once was called the School of the Americas and has been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The SOA, as it is called, was long the training site for Latin American officers, many of whom committed unspeakable atrocities against peasant populations in their home countries. So the protest is more than an interesting event, coming on the heels of such a wide repudiation in the recent election of our current war.

What began as a small protest by fewer than a dozen committed activists more than 15 years ago has grown into an annual event that, if recent years are any measure, should attract about 20,000 people. Thousands of them will be students from Catholic universities and colleges, especially Jesuit institutions. If the event has grown in number it also has grown in purpose. It no longer is primarily a protest to end the school’s existence. It has become a vibrant teaching event, with substantial exploration of subjects of nonviolence and U.S. foreign policy.

I recently spoke with Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who founded the movement, and he told me his view of the teaching element that has developed during the weekend-long event. “For students, this often becomes a door to a deeper understanding of Latin America and an introduction to activism. It serves as a connection to the realities of Latin America, which becomes a stepping stone to a bigger world.”

I encourage you to check out our coverage leading up to the SOA gathering at There are some terrific essays, thoughtful consideration of issues that stem from the SOA protest and podcasts of interviews with Bourgeois, student leader Sarah Berger, Bishop Robert C. Morlino, a member of the school’s board of visitors and a supporter of the school’s goals, and other figures connected with the event.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 17, 2006

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