After ten years of protesting outside the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice moved to Georgetown University this year.
An estimated 1,200 high school and college students from various Jesuit institutions around the country convened for the Ignatian Solidarity Network-sponsored conference on social justice. The three main focuses of this year’s conference were immigration, climate change, and the closure of the School of the Americas.
In years past, IFTJ has held the Teach-In as part of a larger annual protest at the School of Americas, a Department of Defense facility widely criticized for human rights violations that its graduates have perpetrated throughout Latin America.
The shift to D.C., though, allowed conference participants to formally lobby for their issues. Participants called up their congressmen to schedule a meeting before the conference, and after a weekend of speeches and break-out sessions, the participants met with members of Congress on Capitol Hill.
“I think [the IFTJ] was looking for a way to grow, to expand,” said Georgetown campus minister David Monaco, who has worked with the ISN on the school’s behalf for seven years. About 25 Georgetown students participated in this year’s Teach-In, which Monaco helped coordinate.
“There were so many powerful speakers,” Michelle Haines (SFS ‘14) said. “After they would end we would have group reflections. We really got to know each other well.”
Though Haines is herself a Protestant, she said that she learned a lot about the social justice aspect of the Catholic faith and especially identified with “the challenge of how we as students serve God and justice in our daily lives.”
“It was a powerful weekend,” Haines said.
Though the conference’s three main issues were immigration, climate change, and the School of the Americas, the controversy surrounding Georgetown’s hiring of Álvaro Uribe was an unavoidable topic.
In one of the keynote speeches, Sr. Dianna Ortiz criticized Georgetown for failing to live up to its Jesuit heritage in hiring the ex-Colombian President, who activist groups have accused of numerous human rights violations. After Sunday night’s mass, some conference-goers participated in a vigil to commemorate Colombian victims of human rights abuses in Red Square organized by the Adiós Uribe coalition.
Although this year marked a significant shift for the Teach-In, organizers felt it was ultimately for the better.
“[We want] to make it more than simply a rally,” Monaco said. “If there is interest in closing the School of the Americas, that has to happen through Congress.”
Ann Macgovern, executive director of the ISN, agreed.
“If Congress doesn’t hear these messages, then we’re not doing anything,” she said.