Drone Resistance

April 28, 2013 - More than 250 protesters challenge drones, war and empire at Hancock Field Air Base
31 protesters arrested for blocking base entrance and other civil resistance

The protest started in front of the Thompson Road entrance to the base. After speeches, music and poetry, the protesters marched down East Molloy Road in a dramatic funeral procession to the base's main entrance, where several were arrested for laying down and blocking the main entrance to the base. Others were arrested for various acts of civil resistance. Sunday's rally was part of the three-day weekend event Resisting Drones, Global War and Empire: A Convergence to Action. See the Post Standard photo collection.

Syracuse Peace Council’s campaign against the Reaper Drone at Hancock Airbase began in 2009 as President Obama, the Pentagon and the CIA ratcheted up the use of these hunter/killer drones over Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Our campaign was soon joined by folks from all over New York State and beyond. We all coalesced into a group calling ourselves Upstate Drone Action

Here are some elements and events in our campaign:

In 2009 the Syracuse Post-Standard began a series of lengthy front page articles publicizing – some might say hyping -- the Reaper at Hancock, the home of the 174th Attack Wing [sic] of the New York Air National Guard. These articles revealed that

  • Hancock was piloting Reapers over Afghanistan
  • Hancock was the national center for training technicians to maintain Reapers
  • then commander Col. Kevin Bradley was looking forward to having drones used for domestic police work.

The Post-Standard articles have generally sidestepped the moral, ethical and legal issues, and ignore Reaper war crime.
Also in 2009 the Peace Council's Peace Newsletter began publishing occasional articles that do raise such issues.

To further educate ourselves and the public, SPC and Upstate Drone Action have sponsored drone-oriented talks here by prominent national activists. These have included Col. Ann Wright ; Dan Pearson and Kathy Kelly (Voices for Creative Nonviolence); Brian Terrell (Catholic Worker); Elliott Adams (Veterans for Peace); Debra Sweet (World Can’t Wait), Leila Zand (Fellowship of Reconciliation) and Medea Benjamin (CodePink).  ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse often hosts these talks.

In turn SPC speakers have spoken about the Reaper to audiences in Cortland, Binghamton, Utica, Albany, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, New York City and Connecticut. This spring we’ll also be talking at SUNY Oswego  (March 6), at Berkshire Community College (March 7), and at the (April 5 to 7) Historians Against the War conference in Baltimore.

Each August since 2010 the “SPC Players” perform a tableau at the main entrance to the NY State Fair. Our tableaux involve a costumed cast of about seven who stay silent and motionless for about 20 minutes. The tableaux, featuring a five foot-long scale-model Reaper, a pilot at a computer, an Islamic mother and dead infant, several corpses covered by  bloody shrouds, an “al quaeda” recruiter, and a young recruit.

The backdrop is either rubble or a banner depicting rubble. There’s signage identifying the tableau elements and one by the corpses and mother saying, “How would you feel if this were your family?”  We do several performances every other day of the ten-day Fair and have distributed thousands of our flyers [[link]] to fairgoers.

Beginning in September 2009 we’ve been holding ongoing weekly, monthly or twice-monthly (depending on the season) anti-war/anti-drone demonstrations and vigils outside the main gate of Hancock on East Molloy Rd. and elsewhere in the county.

November 2009 saw the first of several rallies at Hancock drawing in 200 and more folks from Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, NYC, Utica and beyond. These events have sometimes been preceded by folks with signs and banners walking from Ithaca, downtown Syracuse or from the nearby village of Mattydale.

On several occasions since the spring of 2011, members of SPC/Upstate Drone Action has engaged in nonviolent direct actions attempting to deliver letters or citizens’ war crimes indictments to the base. As these attempts have been rebuffed, we have blocked Hancock’s main entrance. NYS troopers, Onondaga County sheriffs & Town of DeWitt police have arrested us. So far there’s been no rough stuff.

  • April 22, 2011…38 arrests for dying-in with bloody shrouds. In a week-long bench trial Judge Gideon found all 38 guilty of trespass and sentenced us to 20 or 25 hours community service + $375 fines (which many of the defendants diverted to a peace group in Afghanistan). We had originally been also charged with interfering with government administration, a misdemeanor --  but that was dropped, presumably to prevent us having a jury trial.
  • Amy Goodman attended one court session and did a nationwide TV broadcast of “Democracy Now” from Syracuse featuring interviews with two defendants. Check out our closing statements on YouTube.
  • April 22, 2012…33, mostly pre-emptive, arrests as we got within a few hundred yards  of the base during a two-mile silent and solemn procession from Mattydale. The charge of assembly without a permit was eventually dismissed.
  • May 2, 2012…two arrests during our bi-monthly Tuesday afternoon shift change vigil; the charge of disobeying a “legal” order to disperse was dismissed. In this and the previous Hancock arrest the police seemed woefully ignorant of the First Amendment and their oath to uphold the US Constitution.
  • June 28, 2012…15 arrests for blocking Hancock’s main entrance with banners as we unsuccessfully attempted to hand deliver a citizens’ war crimes indictment.  Judge Jokl found all guilty of trespass after a several-hour bench trial on December 13.
  • Most of the H15 were fined $375. Five former H38 defendants served a week in Jamesville Penitentiary.
  • October 5, 2012…10 arrests for blocking the main entrance with banners. The trial for trespass is as yet unscheduled.
  • October 25, 2012…17 arrests for blocking three base entrances resulting in charges of trespass and disorderly conduct and  an order of protection against the 17. The trial has yet to be scheduled.

Note: We call our Hancock actions civil resistance not civil disobedience. The latter phrase suggests breaking the law, whereas our actions seek to enforce the law – international law. Under Article 6 of the US Constitution, international law is the supreme law of the land.

All our court appearances and trials take place at the DeWitt Town Court. Most of the defendants “go pro se,” i.e. defend themselves without legal counsel.

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark spent four hours on the witness stand for the H38 defense. The AG testified that the defendants’ action was consistent with the Nuremburg principles and that Hancock drones perpetrate  war crimes.

In our further defense we argue that our arrests have violated our First Amendment right to petition our government for a redress of grievance.

In a gross violation of this First Amendment right, one of the H38, Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa, later was arrested for attempting to deliver a version of the Hancock citizens’ indictment to Whiteman AFB in Missouri. Brian is now serving a six-month federal sentence.

Here are some of our other “educate, agitate, organize” anti-Reaper activities:

  • One summer day we flash mobbed our busy outdoor farmers’ market in downtown Syracuse. As our scale model drone entered the market, we screamed out, “The drones are coming! The drones are coming!” Several of us then dropped to the pavement as if dead, covered by bloody shrouds.  Although cops drove us out within a few minutes, we got the video on YouTube.
  • Last year several SPC folks took part in a two-day National Drone Summit in DC  organized by CodePink, a key player in the national campaign against weaponized drones.
  • In October 2012 several Upstate Drone Action members took part in the CodePink-led delegation to Pakistan to meet with Reaper drone survivors. (Our October 5 Hancock action was timed to coincide with the delegation. Much applause when delegates told Pakistanis about this gesture of solidarity.)
  • Last year the “Peace Council Players” did several public readings of Jack Gilroy’s play, “The Predator”.
  • Last fall young SPC activists organized a “Drone Country Tour,” a teach-in and caravan – with sheriff cars following close behind -- to drone-implicated sites around Onondaga County (Lockheed, SRC, Hancock). Presentations at each site explored the role these entities play in the burgeoning drone industrial/military complex. A wine and cheese party topped off the Tour.
  • Currently the SPC anti-drone committee has a sub- committee working on getting a “No Surveillance Drones Over Syracuse” ordinance passed in the Common Council.
  • Also we’ve had dozens of copies of the Stanford & NYU Law Schools’ superb report, “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan,” copied and bound.  We’ve distributed these -- some free, some at cost -- to activists and other influentials.
  • On January 11, 2013 about 20 supporters walked miles in the rain from Hancock to our downtown federal building and then much of the way on to Jamesville Penitentiary. We were giving three of the H15 a sendoff as they self-surrendered there to begin their sentences.  

La lucha continua – The struggle continues.


Latest Anti-drone Actions - February 2015

In spite of a major snow storm, during the week of February 2, anti-weaponized drones activists visited seven Senate offices were visited across NYS. Organized by the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars (www.upstatedroneaction.org), activists in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, New York City, Peekskill, Rochester and Syracuse spoke with staff and provided information. A Washington, D.C. activist brought materials for us to offices on the hill. Some reports have come back.
: Two activists met with Sen. Schumer’s aide, and had a friendly, informal discussion. The aide was interested in the strange use of the Orders of Protection that have been used on Hancock drone resisters.
: Three activists met with Sen. Schumer’s aide and were told that they could see e either Schumer’s Defense Staffer or the Senator himself (maybe) in late April in Washington, D.C. At least one of them plans to go down.
: Six activists met with Sen. Gillibrand’s and Schumer’s aides for two hours, who were very interested.
They met with Sen. Schumer’s aide.
: Seven members of SPC’s Ground the Drones End the Wars Committee met with Sen. Gillibrand’s regional director for over an hour. It was productive, and we are inviting her to see the play Grounded, being shown on Monday, March 9 at 7pm at May Memorial Unitarian Society. View the poster; other details.
All in all, we felt good about the meetings. Locally we plan to meet with Sen. Schumer’s and Rep. Katko’s offices.
Read the materials we brought:
--letter from Afghani Raz Mohammed requesting that the U.S. courts protect his family and village from drone attacks. His brother-in-law and four of his friends had been killed in a drone attack.
--talking points
--Drone Strikes: tears in Congress as Pakistani family tells of mother's death (The Guardian, 10/29/13)
--You Never Die Twice (Reprieve)
--Living Under Drones (Stanform and NYU Law Schools, Sept. 2012).

For more information, contact Carol at carol@peacecouncil.net or 315.472.5478.