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Anti-drone movement takes flight

Ann Wright addresses the crowd outside Rockefeller Center. (WNV/Eric Stoner)

Ann Wright addresses the crowd outside Rockefeller Center. (WNV/Eric Stoner)

With drones seemingly more in the public’s conscience than ever, anti-drone activists have just launched their most ambitious campaign to date. Called the “April Days of Action,” the newly-formed Network to Stop Drone Surveillance and Warfare is coordinating protests in dozens of cities around the country — including Washington D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia, Honolulu, San Francisco, Sacramento, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Des Moines — over the course of the month. (The full list of actions can be found here and new ones can be added to the list here.)

While protests of all sorts are now planned for nearly every day of April, organizers originally attempted to give some structure to the month’s actions by designating specific dates for different targets: April 4-7 for those against drone manufacturers, like General Atomics, the San Diego-based maker of the Predator and Reaper drones; April 16-18 for sites where drone research and training is being conducted, especially colleges and universities that are plugged into the military industrial complex; and April 27-28 for drone bases around the country. At the end of the month there will be workshops and panel discussions on drone warfare in Syracuse, N.Y., followed by a rally at Hancock Air Base, which has been targeted by activists many times before over its drone operations.

Under the enormous American flags hanging outside Rockefeller Center on 5th Avenue in New York City, dozens of activists turned out for one of the first actions of the campaign last week. By and large the crowd was made up of the usual antiwar suspects. Despite a noticeable dearth of young people, the Granny Peace Brigade kept things festive by singing their original anti-drone tunes. Several speakers addressed the crowd, including former U.S. Army colonel and diplomat Ann Wright, who resigned from the State Department to protest the invasion of Iraq. The lack of amplification, however, made it difficult to follow what was being said.

“It’s targeted assassination,” explained Richard Greve, a member of Veterans for Peace who attended the rally. “The people that send them are judge, jury and executioner all at once. They wind up killing a lot of people nearby who are totally innocent, like women and children. To me, it’s state terrorism. It makes people have feelings of revenge against us and it’s only creating more enemies.”

In their effort to sway public opinion and build a movement, however, anti-drone activists have their work cut out for them. While the public is strongly opposed to the use of drones domestically, a new Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans approve of their use to “launch airstrikes in other countries against suspected terrorists.”

Despite these grim results, Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin and Noor Mir argued in a recent article for Alternet that there are many hopeful signs that the tide is beginning to turn against drones. In addition to the unprecedented series of actions this month, they detail a flurry of new activity at the city, county and state level to regulate or ban domestic drones. They also point to new initiatives by Congress and the courts as evidence that even these lumbering institutions may be waking up to their responsibility on the issue.

The faith-based community is beginning to speak out as well. For example, in a surprising development, the National Black Church Initiative, a coalition of 34,000 churches comprised of 15.7 million African Americans from 15 denominations, recently “issued a scathing statement about Obama’s drone policy, calling it ‘evil’, ‘monstrous’ and ‘immoral.’”

The challenge before anti-drone activists will be to tap into this growing anger and translate it into collective action that involves a much more diverse group than is currently mobilized on the issue.