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Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
March 6th, 2003

Knowing I Am Freer than Before

The Spiritual Search of a Student Activist

 
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Early bloomer
My roots in activism grew quickly. I became aware of many world problems through the help of some Southeast Asian friends during my sophomore year of high school. At that time, Indonesia was fighting for the right to have free elections; people were dying for the right to freely mark a piece of paper.

I knew something was wrong there and in other similar situations around the world, but was unable to put my finger on what that something was. As I discovered more, I desperately clung to whatever political ideology was at hand, trying to uncover that something.

Through the rest of high school, I protested injustice, published ‘zines, engaged in debate with my friends; knowing dozens of sociological and political arguments to back my beliefs, I was still missing that elusive, deeper reason for them.

I was raised Catholic, always loosely connected to the religion, and simply going through the motions expected of me. Many things were important to me all through that time—sports, friends, activism. Spirituality took a backseat to all these and more.

To know why
And then I went to college. I learned of the mission of the Jesuits and about liberation theology . I walked through the poverty of the Bronx, saw the suffering, and began to realize that Christianity and activism were the same. Justice flows through the gospels, and I truly understood for the first time why war, homelessness, hunger, and other injustices had to be opposed—because Jesus had spoken against these things.

From that point my activism and spirituality grew in leaps and bounds. I discovered the
Catholic Worker and the
War Resisters League; I studied with activist and poet Daniel Berrigan, SJ, and began immersing myself in Christ’s word. For the next year I studied and reflected on the gospels in regards to the needs of the world.

Columbus discovery
Then in November of 2002 I attended the annual School of the Americas (SOA) protest in Columbus, GA (contact SOA Watch for more info). For weeks prior to the event, I contemplated participating in civil disobedience at the event and crossing onto the military base in protest of the SOA. For weeks before, I tried to weigh my decision: what would this accomplish? Could I afford to do this in regard to family and school? I struggled with the question until the night before the protest.

While sitting in the hotel hallway, I realized my reasons for not crossing were trivial. I might not be able to turn in a few homework assignments or my parents might be upset, but people die every day because of the “training” in torture and abuse that has taken place at the SOA. I knew at that moment I could not leave Columbus as a Christian if I did not cross the line.

Jailbound with God
It was the hardest thing I ever did because for the first time in my life I placed myself entirely in God’s hands. My fate was beyond my control.

Now I am just a few days away from beginning a 90 day prison sentence for this action. I’ve been asked many times if I am scared. I am not. The hardest part was giving myself to God, and I have done that. I enter prison knowing I am freer than before, freer than the people putting me in prison. I enter with God.

 
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The Author : Patrick Stanley
Patrick Stanley is a college student and activist.
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