By Bev Fitzpatrick
Wouldn’t no more drones be a great gift? Unfortunately, that gift will have to be unwrapped in the future as our reelected President, the U.S. military and the CIA continue drone strikes in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Peace Fresno and many others are continuing to protest drone warfare. Being involved in a recent action at Beale Air Force Base (AFB) was the beginning of an earnest effort by Peace Fresno to get the word out.
Every month, Code Pink activists hold protests at Beale AFB. Beale has been a target of anti-drone protests for years. It is the home of Global Hawk, the unmanned surveillance drone that is an “accomplice” in drone killings. However, the planned action for Oct. 29–30 was to be more aggressive. Tuesday morning there would be a direct action with risk of arrest. The plans would not be revealed to the group until Monday evening after dinner. Having the opportunity to protest President Obama’s use of drones, organized by Code Pink, seemed like a perfect opportunity for members of Peace Fresno to travel to Beale AFB and join the action.
So, on Oct. 29, Peace Fresno members Camille Russell, Nancy Riggleman, Dan Yaseen and I traveled north to Beale AFB in Marysville. Once we arrived in Marysville, we met up at a local coffee house with several Code Pink members from the Bay Area; many were pleasantly surprised that we had come to join the protest all the way from Fresno. At the coffee house, we also met up with Toby Blome, one of the main organizers. Blome had just returned from a trip to Pakistan with the Code Pink delegation and would be sharing her experience later that evening.
As we divided up the group, some going to the Main gate and others to the Doolittle gate, we received instructions to post signs, banners and a handout titled Reasons for Our Action Today at Beale AFB. Russell, Yaseen and I went with three others to the Doolittle gate. We posted many Peace Fresno signs, hung up the banners and held signs visible to oncoming vehicles. After most had left the base, we packed up and joined the larger group (including Riggleman) at the Main gate.
As evening approached, and while we were enjoying breaking bread together, more activists arrived—from Sacramento, Chico and the San Francisco Bay Area. As the group came together, the organizers informed us that there was the possibility of arrests on Tuesday. About 12 people in the group said that they were willing to be arrested. As the organizers discussed the plans for the nonviolent direct action and the demands, many questions surfaced and discussion followed. Testimonies were shared from people who had been arrested in the past, people like Father Louie Vitale. Information was shared as to the possible charges if arrested; inside the base would be federal charges, whereas outside the gate would be the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department. All Peace Fresno members had decided not to risk arrest (this time).
Once the plans had a blueprint and everyone was informed of what they needed to do in the morning, the group broke up. Some headed for nearby hotels, others got ready to camp out right outside the Main gate and some stayed to hear Blome talk about her trip to Pakistan with Code Pink. For one hour, we heard of a mission to learn firsthand from the people of Pakistan how U.S. foreign policy, drone strikes and the war on terror were affecting their country. If you would like a copy of what Blome wrote to military and civilian friends, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a short night of sleep, 60-plus activists were back at the Main gate at 6 a.m., in the dark, with signs, banners and Direct Action Protest Demands (to be delivered to the U.S. Government, the CIA and the Beale AFB commander). Outside the gate, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department were “waiting in the wings.” As the base personnel began arriving, they were met with two large banners, held by protestors, blocking the main gate. Soon, the CHP rerouted the cars to the Doolittle Road gate. Then traffic stopped all together as the CHP blocked the road to the Main gate and redirected vehicles to the Doolittle gate.
After that, part of our group decided to also protest in front of the Doolittle gate.
The crowd was thinning and the standoff had begun; both gates were blocked by protestors as we headed back to Fresno. Hours after we left, nine military veterans and peace activists from throughout California were arrested and cited for trespassing.
Public opposition to the use of unmanned drones is growing worldwide and will be a focus of Peace Fresno’s work in the coming months. Many of us look forward to returning to Beale AFB for future protests, and we invite you to join us.
Peace on Earth is our wish but a true gift would be to break the silence around the use of drones. Let your voice be heard: No More Drones!
Beverly Fitzpatrick is a retired school teacher, a homeless advocate and current president of Peace Fresno. Contact her at email@example.com.