IOWA CITY— About 50 people gathered at the intersection of Clinton and Washington Streets to witness against our wars on Friday. Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) stopped by to join the vigil as part of their peace action called “Covering Ground to Ground Drones,” a 190-mile walk from the Rock Island Arsenal to the Iowa Air National Guard Facility at the Des Moines airport, planned site of a new drone command center. The purpose of the witness is to call attention to the fact of non-combatant casualties resulting from the U.S. weaponized drone program in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, something the corporate media has not adequately done.
The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged they don’t always know who their drone targets are, or what, if any connection they have to U.S. national security interests, so there is a specific and public reason for the protest. The information about drone targeting was only recently revealed after an investigation of classified documents by NBC News.
Voices for Creative Nonviolence coordinator Kathy Kelly was on hand at the vigil, chatting with people gathered. In a Sept. 8, 2010 article on Huffington Post, she summarized the challenge her group faces, “corporate media does little to help ordinary U.S. people understand that the drones that hover over potential targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen create small ‘ground zeroes’ in multiple locales on an everyday basis,” comparing drone strikes to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Kelly is one of a small number of people who made an effort to see the civilian perspective of the U.S. drone program by traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the background, a Veteran for Peace, his banner waving in the wind on the University of Iowa Pentacrest, coordinated his trial for trespassing at a drone piloting unit in New York state on his telephone. Several people at the vigil had previously been arrested for civil disobedience while protesting the drone program. The legal aspect of the peace movement is not insignificant, with its intentional arrests and trials. It is a drain on time and resources, but is part of the gig.
Peace activist and Catholic Worker, Brian Terrell was present. He had just been released from a six-month prison sentence for trespassing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., where he attempted to deliver an indictment of the U.S. drone program to Brigadier General Scott A. Vander Hamm, the base commander. John Dear S.J. of the National Catholic Reporter wrote in a Jan. 8 story about Terrell, “they tried to make the case that dropping bombs on women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan will not lead to peace— much less improve our own security— but will inspire thousands of people to join the violent movements against the United States.” Like on so many issues, neither the corporate media nor the public is paying much attention to the work of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Catholic Worker, Veterans for Peace and others in the peace movement.
When we compare the U.S. anti-drone protests to other political unrest, it is pretty tame. Part of it is its nonviolent aspect. Part of it is the lack of underlying tensions in society like those that caused a nation-wide protest over the Gezi Park development in Istanbul, Turkey, where tens of thousands of people turned out in protest across the country. While one can have deep respect for nonviolent action against injustice, there is little depth to the current drone protests outside the core groups. This renders them ineffective at best, a drain on resources that could be more effectively applied to more significant targets at worst.
After the vigil, the group slow-marched to the Iowa City Public Library for a potluck meal and to hear speakers. In the end, it was another day in the county seat of the most liberal county in Iowa. Outside the small enclave of peace activists, few were paying attention, and that is unfortunate.