“The military is presented as one of the only choices to make it out of poverty. Working class people should not be coerced into entering the military and fighting other working class people abroad just to provide for their basic needs.“
On Tuesday evening a rally/vigil/velorio (wake) was held for Vanessa Guillén in Burnside Park in Providence. Guillén, a 20-year-old American soldier, went missing while stationed at the Fort Hood Army Base in Texas on April 22, 2020. Her family’s search for answers was met with lies. Guillén had told her family that she was the victim of sexual harassment, and was later found murdered. Fort Hood authorities had failed to do a proper investigation into a missing soldier. They failed to protect a soldier from persistent sexual harassment. They failed to protect her from being murdered. The man suspected of killing Guillén fatally shot himself, but the authorities at Fort Hood who failed Guillén have yet to be held accountable.
The scene at Burnside Park was somber. Over 120 people attended, wearing masks and socially distancing. Questions were raised, not just about the harassment and murder, but about the systemic issues that channel young women of color like Guillén into the military in order to secure an education and a future. Guillén graduated from César E Chávez High School in 2018 in the top 15% of her class. She loved sports and learning. She joined the Army in June 2018 and was trained as a small arms/artillery repairer.
The event was organized by Enrique Sanchez, Miguel Sanchez, Brooklyn Toussaint and Irene Sanchez with help from PROVX and Black Lives Matter Rhode Island.
Michelle Hernandez presented the details of Guillén’s harassment and murder. She spoke of the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen on Twitter, used by hundreds of women with similar stories of sexual harassment in the military.
The event was emceed by Miguel Sanchez, who here introduces his brother to speak.
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“People who are signing up to put their lives on the line to protect the people they love and care for should not be brutally murdered like Vanessa Guillén and Lavina Johnson, and many others whose stories we don’t know about,” said Brooklyn Toussaint of PROVX.
Mark Fisher of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island:
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza:
“We know very well how military recruiters target poor Black and Brown kids in school,” said Yesenia Mejia, from the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Boston. Mejia is the child of immigrants, and grew up in Dallas, Texas. “The military is presented as one of the only choices to make it out of poverty. Working class people should not be coerced into entering the military and fighting other working class people abroad just to provide for their basic needs.”
“It is important to emphasize that this death comes in the context of the harsh reality that around one in three women are sexually assaulted in the military with around 80% experiencing harassment.”
An absolutely stunning spoken word piece from recent high school graduate Hailey Sierra.
A reminder that young people need to vote.
Miss Rhode Island USA Ashley Soto sings:
A moment of silence:
Will James did the livestream from the event, which you can watch here: