I have been speaking out against killer drones since 2010 when I learned that they were going to be building an $8 million drone-training facility at Volk Field, a Wisconsin Air National Guard Base near Camp Douglas, WI. This facility would have all the latest technology to provide training for operators of the RQ-7 Shadow 200 drone, which is not weaponized, but provides reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition for weaponized drones.
There are so many reasons to be against drone warfare. First, it is immoral, and according to many legal scholars, drone warfare is illegal. We should not be spending money on more ways to fight wars when people in Wisconsin are going to bed hungry, are homeless, do not have health care, and have so many other unmet needs. And we certainly do not need to be developing new ways to continue U.S. imperialism and cause more death and destruction around the world. Drone warfare is not effective because it creates more and more people who want revenge against the United States for loved ones lost to a drone strike. For me, it is about being a grandmother and looking at what is happening to the children around the world. As a grandmother, I feel like I want to spread my arms wide around all the children of the world and keep them safe.
A group of Wisconsin activists began holding monthly protests at the gates of Volk Field, and we have kept up with the monthly vigils since 2011, except for this past year during the pandemic. We hold signs calling for an end to drone warfare and pictures of children who have been killed, as more than a hundred base personnel drive by each time. We have sent several letters to the base commander asking to meet with him to talk about our concerns and have never gotten a response. Because we don’t get an answer, we decided to escalate, and we have engaged in several actions of nonviolent civil resistance, where we have peacefully walked onto the base to try to talk to the commander and have been arrested.
Because the CIA has also conducted lethal missions using weaponized drones, I have joined Washington, DC area activists to protest against drone warfare at their headquarters. On June 29, 2013 we planned for an action of nonviolent civil resistance there. There were about 50 of us at the CIA that day, and after being denied an opportunity to speak to someone with decision-making authority, we decided to proceed with our nonviolent direct action.
A member of the group pointed to the sky and loudly proclaimed that he could see a drone and that it was going to strike. Everyone started screaming during the mock drone strike. Six of us, who were risking arrest, walked through an opening in the police line, and lay down on the ground as if we had been hit.
A friend laid large poster-size pictures of drone victims over our faces as we lay there to remember those who have being killed by the drones. Many of the pictures were of children. As I lay there on the ground, I started to cry as I thought about the horrors of what is happening to the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and other places around the world. Thousands of people have been killed in drone strikes, including many children. It is estimated that only 2% of the victims are high level targets, and hundreds are innocent children.
After about thirty minutes we got up and we walked towards the approximately 20 CIA police waiting for us. Carrying our pictures of innocent children who had been killed by U.S. drones, I was overcome with emotion. I attempted to connect with the stone-faced officers, but it felt like they were shut down and there was no connection between us as human beings. They did not even look at our pictures. I thought to myself, please understand that this is why we are here. Please, let yourself feel the pain of looking at these dead children. We have to stop the killing. Look at the suffering. Think about if these were your children. I started saying, “Look at this. This is why we are here. Look at the children. Look at the children!” over and over, louder and louder. I felt like I was pleading with them to make a connection. “Look at the children!” This is why we have to do this! We have to stop the killing by our government! I tried to make eye contact and for one brief moment, a young female officer looked at the picture and then looked at me, but she quickly looked away. I felt overwhelmed by passion at this point and could not stop repeating the phrase, “Look at the children.” After a few minutes we were arrested and charged with Trespass.
That is what keeps me going on in this work, wanting to make the world a better place for, not only my own grandchildren, but all the children of the world. We have to continue this struggle and not give up. I truly believe that together we can, and we will make a difference and make the world a better place. Let’s keep working together.