In 1989 the author tried to provide food and medical supplies to El Salvador through an effort called Voice of the Voiceless. Millions of dollars worth of aid had been gathered by churches and relief organizations around the United States. As a Roman Catholic and a member of El Rescate, the author was selected to be a part of the Delegation that would actually deliver the aid.
The caravan arrived at El Salvador's border with Guatemala in March during the national elections. President Duarte of El Salvador denied the caravan entry. This occurred despite the caravan having all the necessary permits and clearances secured in advance by the Kennedy Center and the Ecumenical Council of Churches, the two main sponsors. The author then went to San Salvador and spent two weeks videotaping, doing personal interviews, and participant observation during the election period. The material gathered is a rich ethnographic description of the subjective view and experience of the social conflict in El Salvador.
In El Salvador labor unions are fortified with sandbags and guards. Their members are subjected to kidnapping and bombings. One such union, Fenastras, had over thirty members killed by a car bomb two months after the author videotaped them.
Other organizations are made up entirely of women. These women have organized to help the needy and try to create a better life. One such organization, Co-Madres, is made up entirely of women whose sons or daughters were tortured and killed. They told of their efforts to help others. One of their biggest tasks is to find and identify the bodies of people "disappeared" by the Death Squad. (This use of "disappeared" is because of the difficulty in finding the often mutilated bodies.) The stories they tell are passionate examples of human suffering that occurs daily in El Salvador.
UNADES is an organization which distributes aid donated by caring people around the world. Their leader at the time of the author's visit was a woman named Tita Lopez Perez. She took the author to a number of urban communities that had been established by people forced by the government to leave their rural villages. Some of the communities looked so much like American Indian reservations the author started developing a concept of neo-reservationism to describe the social process which was occurring. As a participant observer, the author helped Tita establish medical clinics and instructed in basic sanitation procedures. Soon after the author returned to the U.S., Tita herself "disappeared."
The author spent the next two years doing graduate research in an attempt to find theoretical models that would help explain what is occurring in El Salvador. With Theda Skocpol, John Walton, and Crane Brinton for revolutionary theorists, the author used Immanuel Wallerstein's economic world-system model and Martin Oppenheimer and Jane Canning's political national security state model to present the Salvadoran material. Besides presenting the interviews and participant observations, the author contends the national security state as practiced by the United States in El Salvador does not benefit capitalist interests.