By Beverly Fitzpatrick
Bringing attention to the U.S. military’s use of drone warfare and the suffering of drone “pilots” is, in my opinion, a good reason to be arrested, lose my virgin status and at a later date, appear before a federal judge.
On April 29, 2014, I could no longer call myself an “arrest virgin!”
That was the day I was arrested at Beale Air Force Base (AFB) for participating in a nonviolent civil disobedience action protesting the training of drone pilots.
The action I participated in happens the last Monday and Tuesday of every month, when a dedicated group of activists from all over California comes together at Beale AFB. Beale AFB is located in Marysville, north of Sacramento. Many of these activists have been participating in the Monday afternoon and Tuesday early morning actions for years. On Monday afternoon, activists gather at the main gate with signs and fliers to handout. Monday evening, the activists gather for a potluck and discussion and to strategize for the Tuesday morning action. Tuesday actions are not always an act of civil disobedience; for many months, people demonstrate and hand out informational fliers as workers arrive to begin their shift on the base.
After participating in Occupy Beale demonstrations three previous times, I decided, after much consideration, to join the April nonviolent civil disobedience action planned for Tuesday morning, April 29. On that day, I joined with six activists at the Wheatland Gate and seven at the Main Gate, willing to risk arrest, including several Veterans for Peace. Besides those willing to risk arrest, there are support activists at each gate who, after the arrests, continue to demonstrate and wait for those arrested to be released.
It was windy at 6 a.m. that morning as we parked our cars and walked toward the Wheatland Gate, signs in hand and only my driver’s license in my pocket (as instructed during our strategy session Monday). Once the 12 of us arrived at the gate, as cars streamed by entering the base, the air was cold but I was warm with anticipation of my first arrest and the unknown that was to follow. Standing beyond the gate were a few MPs and soon reinforcements arrived.
Once near the gate, we moved into the roadway holding a banner blocking the traffic. Another way to let those trying to enter to know that “those peace activists” were back again! Many workers were annoyed as we delayed their workday. I say, “What about those killed by our drones!” as we stood with the banner stretched out in front of the lead car.
We saw the California Highway Patrol (CHP) coming toward us; they are used to this drill. It had been decided the night before to move and allow traffic to pass once the CHP gave the order. So we all moved to the edge of the roadway, taking signs in hand and one activist began reading the letter we had for the Commanding Officer of the base. As Fred read, cars began entering the gate once again, the wind blowing and MPs standing at attention but hopefully listening to the words being read. Words that let them know that drone warfare is terror:
Drones allow aggressors to destroy targets killing suspects extra judicially including children and innocent people from a computer thousands of miles away! They can spy intimately on anyone including domestic surveillance or commit assassinations in defiance of international and U.S. law! 50 nations now have drones—an expanding insane proliferation.
After the letter is read aloud, Fred, followed by the other five willing to risk arrest, walked over the line onto base property. Fred tries to give the letter to the officer in charge, asking him to give the letter to the Commanding Officer. The officer doesn’t respond to Fred’s request but orders all of us off the base; if we don’t follow orders, we “risk arrest.” The six of us don’t obey the order and are then patted down (except the women because there wasn’t a female MP at the gate) and handcuffed.
Soon, we were taken by a van to a building on the base. In the building were two more MPs, some chairs, a table and a row of lockers. This is where they would keep us for about two hours. During that time, I was finally patted down and handcuffs were removed. We were each fingerprinted, a “mug shot” taken and an informational report was completed.
Once all the paperwork was done, we were given a citation and told that the court would notify us with a date to appear; we were then transported back to the Wheatland Gate and released. As we crossed “the line” off base property, our supporters cheered our “willingness to risk arrest!”
Then the wait was on. When would we appear in court? Our legal adviser thought it would be in a couple months. June and July came and went, but we heard nothing from the court. E-mails started coming wondering what was up; was the court ignoring our arrest in order to not bring attention to our actions? To my knowledge, no one had received a summons or anything else from the federal prosecutor. I also found out that they have five years to file charges!
An e-mail from our legal adviser (who also was arrested) stated that “the more we show that not only are we not afraid of trial and possible jailing, the more they realize—especially after the news coverage—that it does not suit the government’s purposes (to squelch dissent) to prosecute us.”
Now I really didn’t know what to expect. Then an e-mail came from another activist saying that our letters would be coming out in August and that our court date would be Sept. 9. Again, I was ready to stand before a federal judge, plead guilty and ask for a jury trial—my constitutional right!
My notice to appear arrived on Aug. 18. I started making plans to meet the other 31 activists (from March and April arrests) in Sacramento on Sept. 9—our scheduled court date. However, I wouldn’t get the chance to stand before the judge, plead guilty or ask for a jury trial because my charges (like everyone else’s) were dismissed without prejudice. No reason has been given. We can only surmise the reasons. But it may well be that the government realizes—as it did in Ferguson—that the more it attempts to stop lawful protest and, in this case, prosecute us in court, the more arrests there are, the more publicity we gain for the cause and the stronger we get. The threat of prison time not only fails to deter us but also bolsters our cause and determination.
I will not be dismissed and will continue to Occupy Beale and demonstrate against drone warfare and “risk arrest” again!
Beverly Fitzpatrick is a community activist, vice president of publicity for Peace Fresno, a member of WILPF, chair of the UUCF Social Justice Committee, a member of the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee and involved in various other community groups. Contact her at 559-355-9717 or email@example.com.