On a sweltering July 4, protestors in San Antonio gathered to call for justice for Vanessa Guillén, a U.S. soldier who was sexually harassed and then murdered at Fort Hood. At a busy intersection just off the I-35 in San Antonio, Texas, the Autonomous Brown Berets de San Anto, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and About Face: Veterans Against the War-South-Central Texas Chapter called for justice for Vanessa Guillen, justice for victims of Military Sexual Trauma, and the closure of U.S. military bases around the world for their crimes against women.
In a prominent display of solidarity, local organizers connected to the Black Lives Matter movement turned out for the event. Pharaoh Clarke of the Reliable Revolutionaries, a BLM affiliated group in San Antonio, said, “An injustice to anyone is an injustice to everyone. Until we start crossing these lines, until we stop letting these differences divide us, only then can we see full justice.”
With temperatures over 100 degrees, surging COVID-19 cases in the city and the recent rise in armed, far-right belligerence in the city, safety was a strong focus for the groups. Several former military medics put their skills to use for the people, including Oso from the Autonomous Brown Berets de San Anto: “Everything from minor cuts, scrapes and bruises to gunshot wounds. We have the know-how to do it and we have the supplies to do it.” Wearing masks and hydrating were not suggested, they were mandatory, with organizers making each attendee take a bottle of water with them for the short march from the site of the vigil and speak out to Fort Sam Houston.
The still-unfolding tragic story of posthumously-promoted SPC Vanessa Guillén has horrified much of the public — particularly survivors of MST. Guillén, just 20 years old, was sexually harassed by at least one member of her unit, then murdered, dismembered, burned and buried in an unmarked grave by her likely harasser. She had been harassed multiple times before, reported it, and been ignored. For survivors of MST, the campaigns #justiceforvanessa, #iamvanessa and #nomas continue the struggle for justice in military institutions that, far from providing real accountability, punish women for speaking out against their attackers and the system which protects them. After months of failing to conduct a meaningful investigation regarding Vanessa’s disappearance on April 22, the case was at risk of going unnoticed like the rising number of sexual violence victims at Fort Hood and other military bases around the U.S. and the world.
The demonstration was attended by several current and as well as former members of the U.S, military. Several women spoke out against the rampant sexual violence in the military. Regina, a member of AFVAW and founder of Fatigues Clothesline shared her perspective as a survivor:
“I was silent for 11 years, and I finally came forward. The United States wasn’t ready to hear what was going on in the military with rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. It’s seen as a workplace hazard. How can you see rape as a workplace hazard? It is a crime against a person, an individual, and a unit, and against society. Back in 2010, I was part of a group of people who wrote the Stop Act, called HR 3435. We were demanding for rape investigations to be taken out of the chain of command. They did not pass it. If they did, this (gestures to the shrine for Vanessa Guillén) would not have happened.”
An active duty medic spoke out about the prevalence of rape, domestic violence and sexual assault victims in her clinic. She processes the rape kits and provides support. She spoke to officers’ nonchalant attitude toward horrific sexual violence, as well as their penchant to cover up assaults to avoid scandals that threaten their careers and the image of the military in the public eye.
Yet another active duty military member declared that after an eight-year career in the military, she would not be re-enlisting. “This is my last year!” she exclaimed, with attendees shouting and cheering in approval.
Rachell Tucker, a veteran with About Face and PSL, connected military sexual trauma to the violence that the U.S. military wields against women across the globe:
“Many working class folks who ‘volunteer’ out of necessity into the military are dehumanized and stripped of who they are in order to fit into this culture devoid of meaning other than American exceptionalism. This is done systematically in order to dehumanize yourself and others — whether yourself, your fellow soldiers or communities on the other side of the world. Or, as we’ve seen recently [when the National Guard was brought out against protests across the country], against those in our own streets.
“The media and many people are rightly outraged that this happened, but they do not acknowledge that this happens all the time, maybe not to this horrific extent, but it is very common.
“This is what the military is. They are the shock troops of empire, just like the police are shock troops for the protection of property. Ask Iraqi women, Afghani women, Syrian women, Guatemalan, Honduran, Venezuelan women, Yemeni women, immigrant women, refugee women, Black and Indigenous women, LBGTQ folks how we treat them.
“Vanessa Guillén and her family need peace and the only way that that will come is through an in-depth investigation by outside parties… The family is calling for the closing of Fort Hood, as it is a hellhole of unaccountability, death and chaos. I say shut them all down, all 800 of them!
“Young men and women should not join the military. If you are willing to fight and die for your economic stability, fight for socialism… economic rights for everyone. Don’t kill the poor on behalf of the capitalist empire. If you are already in, know your rights, go to the GIRightsHotline.org. File as a conscientious objector to get out of that misogynist, racist institution.
“Justice for Vanessa Guillén, Justice for Gregory Wedel-Morales and for all those whom we have not heard of! Get police and military recruiters out of our schools! No enlistment, no dehumanization!”