Five members of the San Antonio-based group Reliable Revolutionaries marched alongside other demonstrators from San Antonio and around the nation in Washington, D.C., on Thursday in an event supporting the family of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillén, an army specialist from Fort Hood whose killing is being investigated.
The San Antonio activists joined a march from the U.S. Capitol to the White House on Thursday morning, chanting, “Justicia para Vanessa” as they walked. It was 93 degrees with a moderate chance of rain, making the humid air heavy.
“It’s very thick and hard to breathe out here, for us to march two miles, but we made it through,” said Jourdyn Parks, one of the founders of Reliable Revolutionaries.
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Reliable Revolutionaries is one of the local Black Lives Matter groups that formed in June following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a death that sparked protests across the United States and in San Antonio.
While the Reliable Revolutionaries members traveled to D.C. to march in Guillén’s name, they also hope to use their time in the nation’s capital to meet other organizers from around the country and expand their reach, as well as learn the processes that push policy change, said Josey Garcia, one of the organization’s leaders.
“Even though our focus is police reform, the systemic injustices are all on a federal level,” Garcia said. “For us to be able to tackle these laws and legislations that make it legal for Black and brown and marginalized people to be abused, those have to be tackled at a federal level. There’s a lot we have to learn. We’ve taken a crash course in politics over the last few months.”
Garcia said the Reliable Revolutionaries are using D.C. as the first step toward mobilizing demonstrators around the country and taking their operations to a larger scale.
“If we continue to show up for each other, then the numbers are only going to get bigger,” Garcia said. “And then when there’s major events where we have to have a call for action, we’re already able to mobilize in D.C., we’re able to mobilize in Houston and San Antonio, New York, California. Ultimately, our goal is to be able to mobilize mass units of activists to protest for justice.”
“We definitely plan on being on the forefront of that – making connections and traveling around and making sure wherever injustice occurs, Reliable Revolutionaries will be there,” said Pharaoh Clark, another Reliable Revolutionaries founder.
The San Antonio activists joined about 20 other protesters from San Antonio, as well as people flying in from Dallas, Houston, New York State, and Arizona, Parks said. The crowd of about 200 people followed the Guillén family from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, where they were scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump over the #IAmVanessaGuillén bill.
Guillén’s killing, allegedly by a fellow soldier, led the U.S. Army to form a civilian review board to study the “culture and climate” at Fort Hood, especially around sexual harassment. Guillén, who was from Houston, reportedly had told her family she was harassed before she disappeared in April, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Parks urged people to press their elected officials to support the bill, which would allow service members to file sexual harassment complaints with a third party instead of their chain of command.
Even though Guillén’s death falls outside of the original scope of Reliable Revolutionaries, which was to hold law enforcement accountable for the deaths of Black people, it fits the group’s mission against all injustice.
“It isn’t black and white,” Parks said. “We aren’t fighting black and white. We are fighting right and wrong. What happened to George Floyd was wrong. What happened to Tamir Rice was wrong. What happened to Sandra Bland was wrong. What happened to Vanessa Guillén was wrong.”
The Reliable Revolutionaries members feel their own personal connections to Guillén. Garcia served in the Air Force and Parks served in the U.S. Army from 2010 and 2015.
“When I joined the military, it was almost like a break-and-build structure,” Parks said. “When you get there, you’re stripped of your first name, stripped from family, of all things and habits you may have had growing up. They’re rebuilding who you are – not as a civilian, not as a person, but as a soldier.”
The military pushes its members together, Parks said. She learned to rely on her fellow soldiers and work as a cohesive unit. They trusted each other with their lives, Parks said. Yet the prime suspect in Guillén’s death is another soldier, who shot and killed himself when confronted by police in Killeen.
“To know that as a soldier she was not protected, as a woman she was not protected, as someone who stood up and said, ‘I will protect this country,’ it hits differently to know our country did not protect her,” Parks said.
“As a soldier, you’re betrayed. I feel betrayed. And I want answers. She’s not my niece, she’s not my cousin, she’s not my sister … but I feel betrayed because I feel like we were not protected. It could have very much been me.”