COLUMBUS, GEORGIA-“We need to hold a space for memory but we also need to fight for the living,” founder of the School of the Americas Watch told participants at the 2015 annual vigil that has taken place for over 25 years. The vigil has been held at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia since 1989 when a handful of people first held a banner outside of the gates to more recent years where tens of thousands have marched to the gates. Hundreds have been arrested since then crossing the gates onto the military base where School of the Americas (SOA) graduates have trained and have been documented to have returned to commit human rights abuses against the citizens of their own countries. Hundreds of activists have served maximum 6-month prison sentences for trespassing charges as recently as 2013. For the first time since local officials began cracking down on those who enter the base during the vigil, those crossing received varied sentences that did not include prison.
The vigil has been host to multiple high school, university, faith and human rights groups, and has been attended by celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen, and the late Pete Seeger who last attended the event just weeks before he died in 2014. Next year the vigil is planned for either the El Paso/Juarez border, the Tijuana/San Diego border, or the Nogales border in southern Arizona.