Under a canopy of large white flags printed with the Veterans for Peace logo, a group of activists and protestors from across the country marched through downtown Nogales on Saturday carrying signs and chanting slogans in opposition to U.S. military intervention in Latin America.
A weekend of events in Ambos Nogales and Southern Arizona that included vigils, concerts, workshops and the protest march, the second annual Border Encuentro is the re-imagining of longstanding School of the Americas Watch protests in Fort Benning, Ga., with organizers calling for an end to U.S. policies that they say are the root causes of migration and have had devastating effects on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants.
“We’ve been at this for 25 years before coming to the border last year. We realized it was time to continue to call for the closing of the school but to make a closer connection to our solidarity with the issues of our country’s cruelty dealing with immigration,” said Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who helped found SOA Watch, the organization behind the protests. “The detention centers, the wall, which we see as a symbol of racism, especially now, with (President Donald Trump).”
With the “encuentro” now in its second year in Ambos Nogales, Bourgeois said, he was glad to see a younger crowd and more local participation than the group had in its inaugural year.
“We realized it was time for some of the leaders to pass the baton to our younger leaders, especially those with roots in Latin America. That’s where I’m feeling so hopeful and joyful, because it’s being implemented,” he said, adding that SOA Watch came to Nogales as strangers and are working to listen to local groups.
Lindy Keefe, 28, who works as the associate director of the Windsong Peace and Leadership Center near Patagonia Lake, said she came out to the event this year to gain a better understanding of local issues after hearing about the event from a friend who attended last year.
And while he didn’t attend any of the events, Nogales City Councilman Jorge Maldonado said he saw some of the protestors at a restaurant on Saturday and was happy to hear that they had good things to say about the city.
However, some Nogalians balked this year when they heard that the protest would be taking place on the same day as the annual Veterans Day parade. Local veteran Travis Arnold, holding up a U.S. flag and his own sign, came out to counter-protest, not because he opposed the message, he said, but because of its timing
Most of the attendees came from outside of Nogales, some spurred to action by the current political climate which many said gives greater urgency to their message of demilitarization as President Donald Trump pushes for harsher border policies.
“I think it’s the political environment right now. We thought that it was important to have as many people, especially of color, that could come in and support it,” said Adrian Morales, a 21-year-old student at the University of California, Berkeley. “We heard about this before, but with the funds, we didn’t think it was possible. Now we thought it was necessary.”
Shirley Osgood, 69, from northern California, added that she has been involved with the SOA Watch for many years, but the shock of the election was extra motivation to make it to Nogales this year.
“If not now, when?” she asked, marching along Grand Avenue with a homemade sign reading “No Walls.”
“With our new president, it seems absolutely necessary to show resistance in any way that we can,” she said.