A newly formed organization based out of San Antonio and Houston is taking on the United States military and demanding changes they say will keep soldiers and potential recruits safe. They took their fight to Washington, D.C. this week.
“Everything started in the wake of the murder of Vanessa Guillen,” said Janis Gonzalez, co-founder of the NoMás Movement.
As she organized a vigil and rally for the slain soldier in San Antonio, Andrew Rodriguez did the same in Houston. The two connected on Facebook and met in person during a vigil for Guillen at Fort Hood.
They’re among the voices throughout the country calling for change in the way the military handles sex crimes after Guillen was killed by a fellow soldier on April 22 at Fort Hood.
She was missing for about two months before her mutilated body was found near the base. Guillen’s family said the man who killed her had sexually harassed her in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. But Army officials maintained they found no evidence of that.
“Just right outside the Army recruitment office, just right outside Fort Hood, he and I stepped away from the vigil,” Gonzalez recalled. “We started speaking to a bigger vision and higher purpose and that for us was the moment that NoMás was born.”
In less than 30 days, the organizers rallied at least 40 volunteers to help them prepare events, vigils and rallies throughout Texas. Almost 30 other people from California, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado and New York have reached out to the group about hosting their own events or starting NoMás Chapters. Thousands of people have attended the events.
The Army’s #MeToo reckoning
Guillen’s death has sparked a #MeToo movement throughout the military. Veterans and active duty soldiers have used #IAmVanessaGuillen to share accounts of being raped, sexually assaulted and sexually harassed in the military, adding that their attackers have seen few, if any, repercussions.
Many of the people who shared their experiences had something in common with Guillen: They were too afraid of retaliation to report what happened to them.
The Army has a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention program specifically designed to help soldiers report sex crimes. Other branches of the military have similar programs. But a soldier’s chain of command can be directly involved in the reporting process, which people say deters reporting.
The #IAmVanessaGuillen bill, which will be officially introduced in August, aims to end the practice of involving command chains in the reporting of sex crimes.
Natalie Khawam, the Guillens’ attorney, said President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with them on Thursday, July 30 -- the same day a march takes place in Washington, D.C., to honor Guillen, and the NoMás Movement will be there.
Gonzalez will fly to the capital with the family while Rodriguez organizes a convoy from Houston to Washington, D.C.
Both of them said they hope change is possible because of the momentum the issue has received so far, including more than 80 members of Congress calling for an independent investigation into Guillen’s case and an independent review of the command climate and culture at Fort Hood.
Rodriguez said part of the momentum on the ground — at rallies and marches — stems from an awareness that Guillen’s story could happen to anyone.
“Vanessa was a beautiful, young Latina who, after graduation, decided to enlist and that resonates with a lot of people,” he said.
Rodriguez and Gonzalez both grew up in military families. They’re proud of their families’ service.. But they’re currently advising people to not enlist in the military until changes are made.
“It just made no sense that, being on a military base, that, one, you can go missing and nobody try to find you,” Rodriguez said. “And then, two, even more alarming, is that when they do try to go find you, they find remains of Gregory Morales. Not even looking for him but they just so happen to stumble upon him while looking for Vanessa. That is the true definition of injustice.”
Morales was another soldier who went missing from Fort Hood nearly a year ago. His remains were found on June 19, and Army officials said they suspect foul play in his disappearance.
‘Bigger vision and higher purpose’
The NoMás Movement has primarily focused on the Guillen case so far, but the organization was founded to help all marginalized voices.
“We’re just here to help people who may not have the avenue or the means to get their story heard or noticed,” Rodriguez said.
So far, they’ve collaborated with organizations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and from the LGBTQ community to stand in solidarity with each other.
They hope the alliance of different groups can provide a strong support system to grassroots movements that could benefit everyone.
Gonzalez recalled the conversation she and Rodriguez had when they first met in-person at the Fort Hood vigil for Guillen.
“We definitely felt transcendent in that we had a higher calling to not just host one event, but to really rally people and unify communities and make sure her message isn’t lost.”
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