Four TCU students drove 14 hours to Fort Benning, Ga., where they joined more than 22,000 people in a peaceful protest at the gates of a U.S. military training school Saturday.The students are members of Peace Action, a TCU activist group that, for the past three years, has been organizing university-funded trips to Georgia every November to attend the national protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, more commonly referred to by its former name, the School of the Americas.
Many organizations and individuals, including SOA Watch, the school’s largest opposition group and main organizer of the protest, have accused SOA/WHINSEC of providing Latin American military personnel with training that has enabled them to commit human rights violations, according to soaw.org.
Freshman psychology major Lasya Ranebenur and freshman advertising/public relations major Page Englert said going on the trip was a new and informative experience.
“I had always thought of protests as being very aggressive,” Ranebenur said. “I was surprised it was so peaceful and organized the whole time.”
Englert said the trip had a large impact on how she views the U.S. government.
“There are things going on within our own country I had no idea about,” Englert said.
Originally there were seven students who planned on attending the protest, however, only four ended up taking the trip.
The students saved receipts from the purchases of gas, motels and a rental car, which will be used to determine how much money they will get back from the university.
Though the Student Government Association allotted $500 for the trip the students spent no more than $350, said Courtney Goode, vice president of Peace Action.
When the students arrived in Fort Benning on Saturday afternoon they attended a rally at the gates of the school. The road leading up to the gates of the school was lined with tables of people distributing information and raising money.
The students navigated through the sea of protestors as they collected and shared information about what they see as social injustice for several hours that afternoon. At 9 p.m. the students drove to the Columbus Convention Center in downtown Columbus, Ga., where they attended teach-ins and workshops which provided them with more information on WHINSEC and U.S. foreign policy.
On Sunday morning the students returned to the gates of the school for a vigil where thousands of protestors were lined up carrying white crosses bearing the names of lost loved ones.
There were nearly 7,000 more protestors in attendance this year than there were last year, according to soaw.org, the Web site of SOA Watch.
Goode, who went on last year’s trip, said though each protest was similar her experiences have been different.
“The protest is more of an outlet for anyone who wants to speak out against their government,” Goode said. “I learned about so many more different things than I did last year.