Oral history interview with Marc Rosenthal

Marc Rosenthal was on the staff of Community Action on Latin America (CALA) in 1983-6 and worked tirelessly to educate people in Madison about the reality in Central America and our country’s part in the torture, violence and disappearances there. Marc was an early supporter and organizer for Madison Arcatao Sister City Project (MASCP) and, in 2022, is still an active member of the US El Salvador Sister City Network of which MASCP is a member.

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  • INDEX 



    [00:08:57] THE SANCTUARY MOVEMENT OF THE 1980s 



    [00:23:48] MEDICAL SOLIDARITY 








    Interviewer: Hi, my name is Joan Laurion and today I am talking with Marc Rosenthal. We're in Madison, Wisconsin, it's January 13th, 2023. And Marc is going to talk a little bit about his role in the efforts to make Arcatao Madison first Sister City in 1986. So, Marc, you want to just briefly introduce yourself, and then I got some questions for you about your role during that time.  

    Marc Rosenthal: Okay, well, thanks, Joan, for the opportunity. I know the importance of historical memory through a lot of different work that I've been engaged in. I know it's really critical. So, yeah, my name is Marc Rosenthal, I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. I grew up in a post-World War II period in a Jewish family. My parents were educators. My life was very influenced by being part of Temple Beth El, a Reform Jewish community. In a sense of developing political and social, ethical identity. It was a time where many of the people that I knew or some of the most influential people were sort of came out of a post Holocaust thing. Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky, was one of the early sort of teachers that really influenced me and he was interned in Auschwitz.  

    And he really impressed upon me the idea that we have responsibilities as both being Jews but more simply as being human beings. And that silence in the face of an injustice was unacceptable, and in fact, made you an accomplice to that injustice. And that was really something that was brought home to me constantly. And I also grew up in a period in Madison, where the war in Vietnam was something that was an omnipresent thing, the civil rights movement. And it was a time of the counterculture coming up. So, it was a very vibrant place to grow up. And it can be a long story, but I'll simply say this. I emigrated to Israel when I was 17 years old. And I left a number of years later, because I had very serious questions about the whole ideology of Zionism, and the issues of race and democracy.  

    But it began me on a very long quest of trying to understand sort of fundamental issues of social justice and also made me an internationalist. The concept of Vietnam and my experience of living in the Middle East. And when I came back to Madison, I got involved in the co-op movement. It was no longer a Zionist, but I was very much a socialist. And -- that co-op movement was a socialism with a small s. It was how we lived. It was worker collectives, where you live, housing collectives, all sorts of vibrant things. But we also paid attention, or I paid attention, to what was happening internationally. So, when I came back in the very early '70s, the coup had just taken place in Chile. And that was really my first sort of paying attention to what was happening in the global South. And brought my attention to what was happening in places like Argentina, or Uruguay, and Brazil and Peru, and the role that the United States had in that.  

    And certainly, the role that the U.S. had in in the coup in Chile with the CIA engineered coup. And also, I paid attention to what was happening in particular in South Africa. And the anti-apartheid movement and continued my sort of connection to the Middle East and working with a certain Jewish and Palestinian organizing. The point being, though, that there was an internationalist, sort of focus to my attention, which included sort of the colonized lands where I lived. There were the Native American movement was taking place. There were the events right in Wisconsin, that that were unfolding. And all this made it well, actually, these things brought me to being an organizer with the Black Hills Alliance in '78 and '79.  


    Marc Rosenthal:  And which even sharpen started my focus on the role of solidarity and the importance of that work. And in that case, I was working to stop mining on indigenous lands. And while I was doing that work that was, in the summer of 1979. I became aware of the revolution that took place in Nicaragua in July. And that really brought my attention to Central America. And which, for the first time, I began to look at what was happening in El Salvador. And the social movement that was confronting a military dictatorship that was supported by our government. And I became really interested in El Salvador, when I began to think of it as, or the struggle that was taking place there is the sort of the frontline of an Anti-Fascist struggle. And that really brought my attention, and I began to do solidarity work around Central America in late '79, early '80s.  

    And this is when 1980s when Ronald Reagan became president. And that's when the wars were really sort of then came to the fore in terms of people's consciousness. The U.S. sponsored contra war in Nicaragua, the war in Guatemala, and the war in El Salvador. And there was this growing consciousness around this and a growing resistance. And there were all kinds of organizations that began to sort of be organized in Madison and then nationally. You had like the pledge of resistance. That was quite Guatemalan Solidarity Network, CISPES, this committee in solidarity with the people of El Salvador was founded in 1980. And CALA Community Action on Latin America, which had been there actually since like 1972, I believe. Yeah, when it was founded by a group of folks from Madison like Al Gedicks and Art Lloyd and a number of really incredible people who were addressing solidarity around the global South, particularly South America.  

    Now CALA is beginning to pay attention more to what's happening in Latin America. And I actually became the staff person for CALA sometime around 81. And so, CALA, we had our office in the basement of the Pres House. But there was this vibrant movement that was unfolding in Madison, to sort of counter and address the Reagan wars in Central America.  

    Interviewer: So, Marc, tell me a little bit about your work as a staff person for CALA.  

    Marc Rosenthal: Well, you know, we had a lot of different projects, all kinds of different projects. CALA facilitated a lot of different projects. And one of the things that they, like CALA's committee action on Latin America. There were things dealing with solidarity in Mexico. There are things in Latin America. But the focus really began to be around El Salvador and Nicaragua and Guatemala. And probably I think one of the most important things in terms of sister cities in the Madison Arcatao sister city project was the sanctuary movement. And the sanctuary movement nationally began in California and Arizona in 1981. And it was basically you have all these refugees who are fleeing the wars. Fleeing this violence, fleeing this organized terror, and they're going to either refugee camps that are internal.  

     [00:08:57] THE SANCTUARY MOVEMENT OF THE 1980s 

     Marc Rosenthal: Maybe within their own countries. They're fleeing to Mexico. They're fleeing to Costa Rica, but many, many people are fleeing to, trying to come to the United States. And the Reagan administration defined them as economic refugees and they're trying to deport them back to the violence situations that they're fleeing from. They clearly are not economic refugees. They're fleeing some really extreme violence. Particularly in the case of Guatemala and El Salvador. So, sanctuary is organized to give just that. A sanctuary to these people and saying, you are welcome here. We will listen to you. You have important stories to tell. And we will offer some form of protection on a political and social level to prevent your being deported. So, as I said sanctuary begins in California and Arizona in '81. There To bishop in Milwaukee Archbishop Weakland gave permission for that movement to begin to develop in Milwaukee in the fall of '82.  

    And in Madison, St. Francis house became the first organization to give sanctuary. And they say organizations because there were many people involved. It was churches, it was synagogues, it was labor. But in May of '83, St. Francis house again, Art Lloyd, there was the Episcopal minister. They become the first to give sanctuary. In March of '85, the City Council declared Madison a sanctuary city it forbade any sort of city employee with assisting immigration officials in deporting people. September of '86, Tony Earl declares Wisconsin, a sanctuary state. So, all of this is setting the groundwork for what will become the sister city. So, the political sort of education, the learning curve has already taken place. There's a lot of activity that's going on.   

    And what was so important about sanctuary that was really different than other sort of conflicts. Let's say Vietnam, or even more contemporarily, Iraq, Bosnia, any kind of conflict where the victims are so far removed. And their voice is really not something that we have access to. And here, we have these families, these people who have fled this violence. Who are able to share their particular stories. Their human experience, what happened to them, and their mother and their father, and their uncle and their sister and their brother, and they talk about their experience. And this really moved people. And this was a radical transformation. The human person to person contact that took place through people sharing their stories and experience transformed the political landscape.  


    And it really radicalized people. People who would normally not have that experience. People, particularly within the religious and say, church communities and synagogues. People who don't necessarily have -- aren't taking the time to do the kind of political education to figure out what U.S. imperialism means are in their church, and they're suddenly listening to the stories and it's transformative. So, the sanctuary was really, really critical. By '86, there are 16 Sanctuary churches in Wisconsin, and five in Madison. So, Madison Arcatao is formed in '86. So, the concept of sistering, actually, the first sistering project was done by NEST, New El Salvador today. When San Antonio Los Ranchos become sistered with Berkeley in July of '83. So, the concept of sistering predates Madison Arcatao.  

     [00:13:19] And it's the idea that we can create a level of accompaniment and connection on a person-to-person level between communities. So, that again, that that kind of connection that people might be getting through the early sanctuary movement can be extended to communities that are actually within the conflict. El Salvador itself. So, New El Salvador today, was involved in that. There were a lot of different organizations that are sort of doing that share was formed to create sort of sistering parish relationships. Parish to parish. In '86, what existed was the interfaith office on accompaniment, the IOA. They're beginning to organize the idea of sistering by the time -- around the time just shortly after Arcatao become sistered. The going home campaign, in 1987 coordinates the movement of people from The Mesa Grande Refugee Camp in Honduras.  

    It's 11,000 people are moved to then Chalatenango. So, what is this idea of sistering? And it comes out of two different things. One is a recognition of the humanitarian crisis that exists because of the displacement of thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of people. They've been displaced in an organized carefully orchestrated campaign of terror to depopulate the northern regions of El Salvador of the civilian population that supported the FMLN and supported the revolutionary struggle. So, the U.S. State Department, the Salvadoran military decides that they will drain the sea to kill the fish. They're going to -- the fish are the guerrillas, the sea is the people that the fish swim in. And if we get rid of the people, then the guerrilas won't be able to function. So, it's a very calculated campaign of creating enough violence that people are driven from their communities.  

    And to a certain degree, it was successful. People, again, are going to like Michigan, they’re in Honduras, they're fleeing to the United States. But some are simply in hiding in El Salvador, or they're in refugee camps. So, there was this strategic decision that came out primarily through the FPL. So, the FPL, was one of the five organizations within the FMLN. It was founded in the early '70s. It's a revolutionary organization, but it has both a social and a armed component. Our sister, organization CRIPDES, is part of the social component of that movement. So, there are, again, all of these sort of different tiers within that organization. That are organizing students. That are organizing church based, that are organizing workers.  

     In this case, are organizing campesinos who've been displaced by the war. That's CRIPDES. So, there's a decision that to address this humanitarian crisis by bringing people, like how can we get people back into their communities? They're living, dangerous, marginalized life. So, how can we help them return? That's both a humanitarian issue. It's also a strategic revolutionary issue. Like the drain the sea to kill the fish. Actually, it was based on the reality that the sea is a critical component for the fish. So, you've got to bring the people back.  

    Interviewer: Oh, right.  

     Marc Rosenthal: Right. So, one of the main areas actually, that was a component of the revolutionary struggle in very early '80s, was Guazapa, and Guazapa, which is this area between Chalatenango and San Salvador. The FMLN was driven from Guazapa in Operation Phoenix. That becomes important because the rural sort of area where the FMLN can operate is now gone. And there is now a real strategic need to bring in a new area for the revolution to unfold in. And now it's really critical to bring people back to Chalatenango. But again, I really emphasize that this is both a humanitarian effort and a strategic effort. So, the decision is made to bring people back and how do we do this? We do it by international accompaniment. And so, that when people are coming, like, from the Mesa Grande.  

    There's this huge sort of presence of internationals, who are with them. And the idea is that the Salvadoran military will not be able to attack them with impunity, when there's this international spotlight on them. And that's very successful, it works. But how do you maintain that accompaniment? And the idea of creating relationships between communities comes into in the fore, and Madison actually becomes the very first sister city project in April of 1986. And as I'm sure you know, and it'll probably be talked about by in other interviews. They didn't come from Mesa Grande or some external area. And the folks there were hiding in the mountains, and they came back into the community, and I won't retell that story because I assume other people will cover.  

    Interviewer: Marc, you should tell it.  

    Marc Rosenthal: Okay.  

    Interviewer: Go right ahead.  


    Marc Rosenthal: Well, people were moving in and out of Arcatao, like they're hiding in the mountains. Where in the mountains La Cañada, which is like, right between Arcatao and Honduras. And they're hiding in these mountains. They're staying in like tatus, which are these caves that they've dug out where they hide when the military comes. When the planes come and they bomb. But they're moving in and out of the community. And they're trying to actually stay more and more in the community. And there's a group of people who come back to the community. The military comes in and actually attacks the community. And this would have been March of '86. There's a military incursion. The military comes in, they round up everybody in the community.  

    They threaten them. They say that they're going to kill them all if they don't leave. They take out seven young people, they're murdered in the square. People have good reason to believe that this threat is real. This is only several years after the murder at the Sumpul River. You know, where you've got some 700 mostly women and children and old people who were murdered in a guinda. The fleeing, trying to get into Honduras, and they're killed at the Sumpul River by the Bracamontes battalion, a battalion, again, trained at the School of the Americas. And so, they have very good reason to be fearful and to understand that there's good reason to flee. And to go back into the mountains or into refugee camps, which is what the military wants them to do. It was exactly at that time, that the political work had already taken place to have Madison declared a sister city with Arcatao.  

    And the city council, I think it was April 1st, 1986, declares Madison, a sister city. And it's coincidental that this attack has taken place almost at exactly the same time. And the International Committee of the Red Cross informs the people in Arcatao that Madison, this city in North America in the United States has declared itself as sister with them. And in a remarkable leap of faith, the community decides to stay. And Madison Arcatao sister city project takes out an ad in two of the papers in San Salvador, stating that they will hold the Salvadoran government responsible for what happens to the people in Arcatao. And we sent that delegation that Mary Kay Baum was on to bring this proclamation and it begins this relationship, which actually was incredibly successful.  

    In terms of developing an ongoing accompaniment and bringing the attention of the people in Madison to what's happening in Arcatao, and in the broader struggle to defeat this military dictatorship. And so, that's sort of the context in which that took place. For me, jumping back to sort of the context in which all this is happening. So, I'm in the early like, 1980, I decided that I needed to actually develop a career. What happened is I suddenly had a child, and it's like, oh, I have to get a job. So, I'm in nursing school, and my attention really becomes very focused on the issue of health care. And healthcare in the broadest sense of the word as sort of a human right as a barometer of the health of a community.  

    [00:23:48] MEDICAL SOLIDARITY 

    Marc Rosenthal:  And also, just as a way of being able to work with people and make a living. So, I'm in nursing school. So, in 19, late '80, something like that. I started a group called Medical Aid to Central America with Dr. Bob Barts, MACA. And we were doing medical aid work in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras. And we had projects in each country. In El Salvador and this is something that I don't think you know. Our very first project, or one of the first projects was to support the Martin Luther King Clinic, which is now in Arcatao but at that time, was a mobile clinic in Chalatenango. It wasn't based in Arcatao. It was a mobile clinic that the FMLN had in Chalatenango. So, we raised money to support that.  

     So, my focus was very much on sort of medical solidarity. And in the early '80s, I was probably equally focused in Nicaragua and Guatemala, and El Salvador. Actually, less so in Honduras, okay? And when it really became very focused on El Salvador is, in 1985 Madison hosted a national conference of all the various medical solidarity organizations, there were quite a few. And we started an organization called NCAHRN. And I don't remember the -- it would have to work on the acronym, but it was like this national umbrella of all the different solidarity groups. Medical aid to -- medical aid to El Salvador, you know, Ed Asner is involved in that. SMRF, the Salvadoran medical relief. Bunch of different organizations.  

    [So, the conference actually took place in Madison. Why Madison, because it was between the two coasts. Most of the organizations were on the west coast and the East Coast. And they agreed to come to Madison, because in part MACA was there. Our little group became like, oh, look there's this bunch of people in Madison. They're midway, we'll go there. And so, we hosted the conference. And out of  the conference, there was a decision to send a medical delegation to El Salvador to do medical documentation of human rights abuses, and in particular focus on the assassination and disappearance of medical workers with refugees or medical workers in the conflicted zones. So, I joined that, and that's in the summer of 1985, I went to El Salvador. That's when I first met people who were part of CRIPDES at the [inaudible] refugee camp outside of San Salvador. And it was when I was very impressed with the work that CRIPDES was doing.  

    They were formed in 1984. So, I really met them when they were just in their very first year. And that was the first time that we ever heard, or I ever heard of any talk about the idea of sistering, which hadn't yet taken place. But there were discussions. And at that time, then you had people like Eric Popkin and JoyAruguete, who were beginning to be in discussions with people within the FPL. Within people that were like, part of the interfaith office and accompaniment, to create the infrastructure for doing sistering. And -- so our work was parallel. I was not directly involved in that, but I'm supporting it, talking to them, where very much sort of working in with the same organizations with the same things. So, I was present for the work of the founding that took place then in April of '86.  

    And, you know, I think the hallmark there is that we're beginning this work with a focus on connecting with people in our Arcatao. And, like, how can we support the clinic? How can we support the education, the agricultural projects, the women's committee? But also looking at the bigger picture of the war and how do we address the U.S. funding of the war? How do we address the issues of the, say, the military containment of the communities that are sistered? And there are more and more communities that are being sistered. And we're thinking of how can we start a network so that people are thinking not just about their community, because one of the problems that develop is we were so successful at creating people to people relationships.  

    That people were inclined not to look at the big picture, but to look at just the people that I care about in Arcatao or I care about in San José Las Flores, or whichever community. And we began to try and do networking so that we could address the issues of the war broadly within our organization. And it was in that context that we founded, you know, the U.S. San Salvador sister city network. And probably the most important thing or two last thoughts kind of around this are, one is that when the war was, like it hadn't ended. That was the ceasefire, and then there was a year later that the actual Peace Accords were signed. And during that period, I met with, actually, thinking about it. It would have been just after the Peace Accords were signed.  


    Marc Rosenthal:  So, I met with Lorena Martínez, who was the president of CRIPDES, who happens to be the president right now. And she's really historic, revolutionary figure. Incredible woman. And I met with her, Ian Davies and I met with her. And we put together this sort of group of questions. But the fundamental one was, what do we do now? You know, that the war is over. We've developed these relationships. They were forged in incredibly difficult times. They're very deep. But what exactly do we do now? Like, should we turn our attention elsewhere? There's certainly plenty of places that need it. And Lorena said, look, these ties that we forged will be needed, as we move forward and confront common issues, common cause and enemies. And she began to talk about neoliberalism.  

    And that the issues of neoliberalism that you will face in North America, and that we will face are common issues. And that we have to do the work of globalization from below. She's the first person I ever heard use the term globalization from below. We have to do that work and common cause, and that these forged ties, these ties that we forged will serve us well, in moving forward. And what I think became really important in the work of the sister cities, was it's dealing with things that were immediate and relevant at the time. So, things like immediately, it would have been the, the implementation of Peace Accords. The monitoring of elections, bringing housing, to things like Arcatao, water.  

    Issues of the development of a judiciary and a national police in a time when they historically hadn't existed because you had a military dictatorship. So, those were the initial things, but then they moved into questions of land reform. And that was a very complicated bunch of issues that we won't go into now. But there were a whole bunch of things about how do you do land reform? And how do you prevent those lands from being taken back by the oligarchy, from the people who have it. Issues around the whole neoliberal program. So, what when the government is trying to privatize health care. That was a major issue, one of the largest social movement, mobilizations in the history of Latin America, was the mobilization against the privatization of health care. Then issues, the attempts to privatize water.  

    And then the issue of mining. Okay, so all of these things were incredibly immediate and pertinent and relevant. And the sister city project in MASCP, became involved in that solidarity work. So, I think the relevancy was really critical. And we began to, I think the mining is the best example of how we were looking at the commonality of issues when Wisconsin was facing like the Gogebic Taconite mine, 26 mile or 22, I can't remember. I think it's 22-mile, open pit mine that was threatened in northern Wisconsin. And we began to link anti-mining organizers, like from the Bad River Reservation. Like Aurora Conley, who was an organizer went down to El Salvador to participate in some of the actions that the anti-mining movement was doing there to stop cyanide extraction, gold mining by Canadian multinational corporations.  

    And we linked those struggles and Al Gedicks and myself and then a couple other folks. We started the Midwest Coalition Against Lethal Mining, which specifically was to link these two sort of, our goals. So, we began to understand the commonality of those issues. So, I think it remains I think, a really critical component. We're in a challenging time right now. And, you know, that's a whole other discussion. And I don't know if you want it. I remember last time you asked me about one of the most sort of interesting moments.  

    Interviewer: It sounds like that meeting with Lorena was really pivotal and memorable to you. But does anything else jump out from that period that you just go, I'll never forget that moment.  


    Marc Rosenthal: Yeah, well, Arcatao, and other communities that were sistered through the U.S. El Salvador sister city network, were very much purposefully isolated and cut off by the military. In the case of Arcatao, how we would go and visit there were two main checkpoints. There was one at the Colima bridge, just before you come into the city of Chalatenango. And then just in the outskirts of Chalatenango, there was a guanacaste tree. And it was both a very real highly armored militarized checkpoint. Actual machine guns, you know, placed there, and it was also in an incredibly symbolic place to sort of get beyond and the moment you were beyond the Colocasia tree, it was like you were in a liberated zone.  

    Now understand that the military went into these zones, but they couldn't stay. And it was definitely like, once you pass that, then you were in the zones that were controlled by the FMLN. And I guess two things just to share. At the guanacaste tree, I mean, I remember being stopped there and held on a number of occasions for hours and hours and hours. And they would stop, and they'd make us sit in the sun. And, you know, we would be there for like half a day or even more as they sort of interrogated us and said that they had to call their colonels and this sort of thing. And Madison Arcatao sister city project was incredibly successful at all was getting through and this was because of the pre-work that was done connecting with either Archbishop Weakland, or Moody or other congressional people.  

    Like a lot of work went into being able to lever our getting through these checkpoints. But one time, in 1987, I went to El Salvador just by myself. And with a Salvadoran woman named Maite, we had the project, or the sort of mission of setting up a new infrastructure for doing medical solidarity in Chalatenango, and actually in a couple other of the conflict zones. And we were going into Chalatenango, and we were going to go to Arcatao. And we got to the checkpoint at the Colima bridge, and the military came on, on the bus and they pulled the two of us off the bus. And our guide who was with us wasn't sitting with us purposefully, so they couldn't be associated with us. And the bus went on. And that was very frightening. And I ended up spending several days being interrogated by the military and threatened by the military.  

    And that, so the concept of the checkpoints wasn't abstract at that moment. I mean, it was really quite frightening. And so, we were simply told that we, after two days of that. That they were going to send us back to the capital city. And if we came back, things would not go as well. So, that was simply one of the experiences, we had to find another way into Chalatenango. That had to do with crossing the lake. Anyways, that was just, it was a very real thing. And what we did in 1989, when we went there with that big program with Moody and the medical materials, was this very conscious thing of challenging that which had really cut people off. And it cut people off also from Arcatao. That is when people came from Arcatao and needed to buy things like fertilizers, seeds.  

    [There was a moment when one of the people on the town council was captured. And you probably heard this story about how Carlos was captured. He was the agricultural sort of coordinator in Arcatao. At the military checkpoint, and he was in prison for about four or five months and tortured. And it was only through the huge amount of effort we launched this campaign, and they finally released him. And as they released him, he was informed that it turns out that he has a lot of family in Wisconsin. That's literally what they told him. And so, again, the isolation and these, sort of what the checkpoints were about went both ways. Keeping people out and keeping people in. The sister city project, particularly, Madison was very successful at getting into Chalatenango, but it was very difficult, very convoluted, took a huge amount of work.  


    Marc Rosenthal: There was this particular action that took place in the summer of 1979 (sic). So, one of the things we decided to do, I guess when I say we, there was a point at which I, my wife and I, Julie Derwinski became sort of, boy, I don't know how you would put it. It's not like there was a president of the Madison Arcatao. But I guess we were, took on a leadership role with within it. And the people who were first involved Tim Lawrence [assumed spelling], and Eric Popkin, Joy. They had moved on and Julie and I sort of stepped into that role. And '89 was one of the moments that sort of we were really involved in doing quite a bit of work there. And we decided to challenge the military checkpoints and develop this very convoluted but highly successful plan.  

    And what it was, it was a two pronged thing. It was that we would get medical materials to bring to the health promoters. We were very involved. I was very involved in supporting the Martin Luther King Community Clinic in Arcatao, and the health promoters that were there. and I love working with the health promoters and that was probably one of the most meaningful things for me was working with these community based revolutionary women by and large health promoters, incredible people. So, we decided each time we had gone down, any delegation. We brought something for the clinic, but this time, we like 10, huge, like cases, packages of medical material that we had collected, over like a year. A lot of really important stuff for the clinic.  

    And we were able to get Archbishop Weakland to arrange to have these medical materials picked up in El Salvador and sent by Archbishop Rivera Damas, who is the archbishop in El Salvador. And then under the protection of Rivera Damas, they're going to go to Arcatao. So, Archbishop Weakland, in Milwaukee, sending them to Rivera Damas in El Salvador. And then Rivera Damas, you know, with his blessing, they're going to go to Arcatao. So, we have that all set up. And we had all of these cases on a plane, I accompany them with a number of other people. We arrived in San Salvador. Back then the airport is highly militarized, highly, highly militarized.  

    Huge huge amount of heavily armed soldiers within the airport. And as soon as we arrived, they confiscated all of our materials. Because what we knew they were going to do. What they didn't know was that the second part of the plan was to have Jim Moody the congressman from Milwaukee, arrive on the very next flight, accompanied by Eric Popkin and Tim Lawrence, and demand that those materials be turned over to him and that he will accompany them with the blessing of Archbishop Rivera Damas down this to Arcatao. This created a huge crisis in the U.S. Embassy, in the Salvadoran government. This was a U.S. congressman, and they the embassy immediately brings him in and says, you know, you can't do this. This is way dangerous, impossible, impossible.  

    And Moody just stood his ground and said, nope, you know, you can't tell me what I can do and can't do. I'm a U.S. congressman, and I'm taking these materials and we're going to Arcatao and long story short, it worked. And we bought these materials. It was an incredible moment when we were in San José Las Flores. There was a military incursion at the time. The embassy was actually correct about that. There was military activity. We had to -- there were mortars starting to come into the community. There's fighting the FMLN is holding off this incursion into the area. Yelling at the congressman, you know, we got to go, we got to go now, now. And we got all the way up to Teosinte. The community just across the Rio Sumpul River. And that night, there was a huge gathering, there were like maybe 500 compas-- the FMLN guerrillas came in.  

    The leadership of the FMLN, including Maria Serrano, German Serrano [phonetic], no relation. They were the two leaders at the front, they met with Moody, there was a gigantic dance party. Huge dance party, there was, you know, I remember they were playing UB40 and Bob Marley and a lot of Creedence and I just was falling in love with it. There was something, all these incredible women combatants with their uniforms and guns and dancing was like my idea of some sort of romantic heaven. So, I was just, it was rather incredible and big party. And often the distance gives you this boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, that there's fighting going on. But we're up in the Plateau dancing, and then I was pulled aside and helped with some medical with, there was an area where wounded combatants were being treated.  

    So, helped with that. And then the next morning, we moved a group of more seriously wounded combatants up to a higher level of treatment that was taking place in Arcatao. I remember Eric telling Jim Moody to not look in the back of the pickup truck, he's like why? He said because you need to have a clear level of just what, you know, and don't know.  

     Interviewer: Right, because there were wounded combatants in the back.  

     Marc Rosenthal: We were moving combatants in the back of the truck with the congressman. So, that was just an incredible experience. And really the first time that I got to, I had been in Arcatao. But this time, I was able to really spend a lot of time there. And it was just an incredible thing. And maybe the moment in which, for me, it was no longer just this Anti-Fascist struggle, but I really fell in love with the people and what they were constructing. And it was more positive thing and not just fighting this bunch of fascists. But really just totally fell in love with what I saw unfolding in that community, and I really, really moved me. So, that was one of the really successful and excellent sort of campaign and succeeded in challenging those military checkpoints of saying, we know you're there, and we're coming through.  

    And it was really shortly thereafter that the push to end the war it was then -- so that was the summer of '89. And it was December of '89 that the final offensive took place, which of course wasn't the final offensive and the murder of the Jesuits. And really the end of the beginning of the end of the war. The collapse of the East Block, the whole reason for the war that the Reagan administration was putting out that we have to defend ourselves against the Russians. And the sort of entering that phase in which the FMLN and the Salvadoran military both realized that a military victory wasn't going to happen for either of them. And they were pushed to negotiate and that, so I was there, right in that moment before that is when this took place.  

    So, anyways, that's that story.  


    Interviewer: Marc. That story is amazing. I'm so glad you told it. And now Marc's going to just give kind of a more current update and a way that this transnational work and solidarity work, what it looks like today.  

    Marc Rosenthal: Yeah, the model, you know, the people organizing of cross border organizing, or we could call transnational organizing, is a really powerful model. And it was powerful during the war, it remains powerful throughout the sistering experience. And it's also powerful today. And it's really the only power that we have is organized people is the only way that we can defeat what I might call organized money or organized militarism. And let's see, I just have this experience that for me was very insightful. I went to the COP15 Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. And I continue to do a lot of work around environmental issues, both in El Salvador and then globally around climate. And specifically in the Great Lakes region, around trying to stop Tar sands pipelines that come from Alberta, Canada, and through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan and back into Canada.  

     So, we were up there, a group of water protectors, to get together with water protectors in Canada, from Canada and water protectors from the United States. And I was asked to give a presentation on transnational organizing. And the example that I use was the work that we did in El Salvador. And I talked like, at length it in this sort of teaching conference about the history of the organizing against the military dictatorship, against the war, and then specifically against mining. And the, you know, sort of how it worked. And it was a very real way of expressing political power. And what was particularly interesting was that Aurora Conley, think I mentioned her earlier. She's from the Bad River Reservation, and she was involved in trying to stop the working to stop the or working to stop Gogebic 22-mile strip mine for Taconite, that was planned in northern Wisconsin.  

    And we connected her with the folks who were doing anti-mining organizing in El Salvador. Specifically, she went in 2014 as an international observer during the first local mining referendum in San José Las Flores, where the overwhelming majority voted against the proposed mine. So, she had that experience. We also brought anti-mining activists from the roundtable, up to the Bad River Reservation and other places in Wisconsin. So, Aurora, was speaking at the COP15 conference, one of the official delegates addressing the COP15 conference in Montreal, was aware of Conley. She's the vice chair of the Anishinaabe Environmental Protection Alliance, and a litigation support specialist for the Bad River Band. So, again, it was very powerful. And she referenced also the same thing in terms of this history of cross border organizing, and is really, today, where capital is globalized.  

     It's just critical that we do this work of globalization from below and the sister city project is really excellent model of that work on the ground.  

    Interviewer: On behalf of so many people back from '86, to today. It's hard to put into words, the gratefulness for all your passion and activism and solidarity work. It's remarkable. And I have for one am very grateful. And I know there's a lot of other people that feel the same way. We've got 37 years now of sistering behind us, and hopefully there's a lot more to come. And you were a big part of making that happen.  

    Marc Rosenthal: Well, thank you, Joan. I think this work is important. And it's a model that has value far beyond El Salvador and that kind of internationalism, that globalization from below. That understanding that the only real power we have is the power of people coming together. You know, it's -- as important if not more important than ever right now. So, I'm grateful and the U.S. El Salvador sister city network continues you it's work and continues to network. And thank you for what you're doing and thanks for doing this and be well.