Nonviolent Direct Action and Christian Peacemaking

Sharon arrested with Debi in the 1980s at the Nevada Test Site at a  Good Friday service

Sharon arrested with Debi in the 1980s at the Nevada Test Site at a Good Friday service

This Youtube video, “The Role of Nonviolent Direct Action in Christian Peacemaking,” is from my recent presentation at Parkside Church in Sacramento.   It includes stories about what has shaped my peacemaking journey over the years.  It also includes stories about Jesus and his participation in nonviolent direct action, which inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. in their organized nonviolence campaigns.

I hope this video inspires some readers to come to the main gate of Beale Air Force Base at 6:30 a.m. on the morning of March 5 to participate in the Ash Wednesday Service of Repentance that will be held there.  The service will be led by clergy from several denominations.  It will involve a call to faithfulness and action, songs, prayers, scripture, and Holy Communion.  We will use ashes to symbolize repentance and to acknowledge our mortality and interrelatedness with the whole web of life.

All people of conscience, including people from various spiritual traditions, are welcome to join this action, and to bring whatever signs or symbols they find meaningful.  To find out more about the Ash Wednesday events go to the Earth Justice Ministries FaceBook page   or contact us at ashwednesdayaction@earth-justice.org.  You can “join” the action on the Ash Wednesday FaceBook Event.

I am posting this video about nonviolent direct action and Christian peacemaking because the Service of Repentance at Beale is taking place on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a Christian holy day.  Here are a few excerpts:

Nonviolent direct action is the culmination of Christian peacemaking.  Jesus engaged in nonviolent direct action every time he ignored the purity codes of his day, every time he healed on the Sabbath.  It culminated in the direct action at the Temple, when he overturned the tables of  the moneychangers there.  Jesus really was a subversive.  He really was a threat to the domination system of his day. That’s why the authorities put him to death.    

Christian peacemaking takes conscience, it takes courage, and it takes commitment to follow Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a better world.  Jesus called that better world of peace, justice, compassion, and healing “the kingdom of God.”

Wheatland 4 Found “Guilty” in Beale Action

Wheatland 4 plus Barry Binks (of the original Wheatland 5)

Barry, Toby, Martha, Robin, and Bill (the original Wheatland 5)

On Monday, February 3, I attended the support rally and federal trial of the “Wheatland 4.”  The four anti-drone activists, Toby Blome’, Robin Ryan, Martha Huber, and Bill Daub, had been  arrested last April, 2013, during a nonviolent protest for crossing the demarcation line at the Wheatland Gate onto Beale Air Force Base.  The judge found them “guilty,” sentenced them to 10 hours of community service, and issued “ban and bar” letters to prevent them from crossing onto base property in the future.  Veteran Barry Binks also attended the trial.  He had been arrested with the four, but was subsequently released.

This was the second trial of Beale anti-drone protestors.  (I was one of the defendants during the first trial.)  A third group will be arraigned next Tuesday, and protests at Beale continue.

At the trial, it was interesting to hear the prosecutor question a Beale officer about the unique importance of Beale in the structure and role of the US military.  The officer said (paraphrased):  “Beale has a unique role in the overall mission of the US military, and has for over 60 years, because both U2s and Global Hawk Drones (housed at Beale) participate in surveillance that supports military activities around the world.”  In other words, in addition to finding targets for drones, Beale has an integral surveillance role in varied U.S. military missions around the world.

We cannot know for sure, but I believe that these kind of ongoing anti-drone actions at Beale may be contributing to the growing public opposition to U.S. drone warfare, and perhaps even to decreasing drone attacks.  I do know that sustained resistance is an effective means of bringing about social change.  That’s what we are trying to do with our ongoing actions–to plant seeds of peace that will ultimately bloom in a culture of peace.

To find out about the monthly anti-drone vigils at Beale, go to Occupy Beale AFB.   At the demonstration on February 24-25, Colonel Ann Wright, a dedicated peace activist, will join us.   On Ash Wednesday, March 5,  there will be a “Service of Repentance” at Beale’s Main Gate.  

Go to the Occupy Beale FaceBook Page to keep abreast of actions and issues related to Beale.  Go to Sharon Delgado’s blog to read more of her writings about drones, anti-drone actions, and trials and statements of protestors.   

More Arrests at Beale

Beale arrests november

Flora, MacGregor, Shirley, Michael

On Tuesday, November 26, I was at Beale Air Force Base when four more people were arrested  while nonviolently protesting drone warfare.  Flora Rogers, Mike Kerr, MacGregor Eddy, and Shirley Osgood (with whom I was arrested at Beale in October 2012) were attempting to deliver a letter to Colonel Phillip A. Stewart, the base commander, demanding a halt to Beale’s participation in the U.S. drone warfare program.  Beale is home of Global Hawk Drones, surveillance drones that assist in finding targets for drones that carry weapons to targets half a world away.

Not everyone lives near an air force base that actively participates in drone warfare.  I feel both privileged and responsible, since Beale is a half hour from my door.

People have been demonstrating at Beale for over three years, with occasional arrests for civil disobedience.  During that time, as the killing of civilians has multiplied, opposition to drone warfare has become more widespread.

Through ethically-motivated, sustained, nonviolent resistance actions, movements are built and public support grows.  At that point the opposition becomes more vocal and punitive, but that is part of the evolution of successful nonviolent struggles, as described by Gandhi:  “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Civil disobedience has a long and respected history and is an effective method for bringing about social change when all other means have been exhausted.  It is a form of freedom of speech.

For the most part, the relationship between demonstrators and Beale personnel has been cordial and courteous.  But on November 26, in addition to the arrests, there were two incidents of violent endangerment of nonviolent protesters by irate drivers who were angry at being stopped by the blockade at the Beale entrance.  We understand their anger.  But we are nonviolent demonstrators who accept the legal consequences of our actions, and we should not be  targets of aggression.

To find out more and to support the safety of Beale anti-drone protesters, read and sign this letter to Colonel Phillip A. Stewart.  Here is a KPFA interview about the action with Flora, Shirley, and Toby Blome.  For a written first-hand account of events, see Demonstrators Assaulted at Beale.

Let’s keep this movement of resistance to drone warfare alive and growing.  Who will join us?

Go here for more of Sharon’s blogs on Beale actions and drone warfare.

Speaking Out Against Drone Attacks

drone victim child

Nabila Rehman, injured in a U.S. drone strike that killed her grandmother.

I was moved the other day when my daughter posted to FaceBook and commented on the story of the drone strike in Pakistan that killed a grandmother, Mamana Bibi, and injured several of her grandchildren while they were working in the family garden.  My daughter wrote:  “Imagine a 68 year old woman picking vegetables with her grandchildren… killed by a drone while they watched.”  Imagine!  I knew she was thinking of her children, their cousins, and me.

I’m an involved grandmother, very close to my grandkids.  One thing we love to do is garden together.  The children especially love digging potatoes and making them into French Fries.  Life is so precious.  Family ties are such a blessing.  Perhaps Mamana Bibi was thinking the very same thing before she was blown to bits by a U.S. drone.

There is so much that is hard to face in this story.  First, how can we accept that human beings are so vulnerable, and that disaster can strike at any time?  Here in the United States we don’t have to worry about deadly drone strikes–not yet.  But there’s still the risk of random violence, accident, or “natural disaster,” made more likely and more severe by climate change.  We can come to terms with this reality by facing our human condition, acknowledging our dependence on God and our interdependence with all parts of creation, drawing deep from the wells of Spirit (revealed in so many ways), facing death, and living for the well-being of all.

Second, how can we face our complicity in systems of evil that leave injury, suffering, death, and environmental devastation in their wake?  Our tax dollars bought the drone that killed Mamana Bibi and wounded her grandchildren.  Our silence is complicity.  It implies a “go ahead” to our lawmakers that allows these policies to continue.

Yesterday Mamana Bibi’s son, Rafiq ur Rahman, and two of his children Nabila and Zubair, who were injured in the drone attack, testified on Capitol Hill during a historic Congressional hearing on U.S. drone strikes.  They traveled all the way from Pakistan to give lawmakers a first-hand account of the attack.

Only five members of Congress showed up to listen. Popular Resistance.org, incorporates several accounts of this hearing in its report:  “Congress Disgraces United States– Fails to Show for Drone Hearing.”  This low turnout is a disgrace, and shows the bankruptcy of our current system of government.  What does our lawmakers’ lack of interest and empathy say to the victims of our drone attacks and to rest of the world?

This will change only when “we the people” refuse to be complicit.  We can make clear to our lawmakers and to the world that we do have interest, empathy, and concern for the victims.  We can demand that our lawmakers take action to stop these illegal attacks.  We can engage is sustained actions of nonviolent resistance.  One way to resist is to begin speaking out, standing in solidarity with the victims of our policies, sharing their stories, putting ourselves in their place (Imagine!), and making clear that there has to be a better way, a way of peace.  Keep sharing these stories.

Thank you, my daughter, for speaking out.

Find Sharon’s previous blog postings on drones here.  

 

Aren’t Drones Better than All-Out War?

PRISM article

I wrote the following article, which was published Monday by Prism Magazine:

RESISTING DRONE WARFARE

Posted by  on Monday, September 30, 2013

by Sharon Delgado

Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, Calif., is the home of Global Hawk surveillance drones, which identify targets for armed drone attacks.  Drones are remote-control, pilotless, aerial vehicles that are controlled by “pilots” who sit at computer terminals in the United States and launch attacks in countries half a world away.

I was arrested last October for crossing the line onto federal property during an anti-drone demonstration at Beale.  During this act of civil disobedience, I was wearing my clergy collar as a symbol of the authority of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the Prince of Peace.  I was arraigned with four others for misdemeanor trespass, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.

At a party I attended a few weeks later, a woman approached me and brought up the topic of drones.  She said, “I believe in peace.  I’ve gone to anti-war demonstrations.  But isn’t it better to use drones to take out a few bad guys than to have an all-out war?”

She was struggling with whether the use of drones in targeted killings could be justified.  Her question reminded me of the argument of Caiphus before the Sanhedrin so long ago:  “It is expedient that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50).  The case against Jesus was built upon the claim that he was a threat to national security.   The argument that it is expedient to use drones for the sake of national security is a big part of the conversation today.

JESUS DIDN’T TALK ABOUT POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY BUT ABOUT LOVING GOD AND NEIGHBOR.

How can Christians sort through the moral complexities reflected in public perceptions and attitudes about drone warfare?   The teaching and example of Jesus can provide a compass with which to navigate our way to clarity and solid ground.

Jesus didn’t talk about expediency but about loving God and neighbor.  He even said that we should love our enemies, a radical idea both at the time and today in the age of international terrorism.

You’ve seen the bumper sticker that states: “When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ I think he probably meant don’t kill them.”  In reality, however, Christians differ in their beliefs about whether or not war or execution by the state can be considered just.  If we could target and use surgical strikes to assassinate terrorists who are planning to attack the United States, wouldn’t that prevent an even greater harm?  Wouldn’t that be morally justified?

This question is debatable, but the idea that US drones are simply “taking out a few bad guys” is erroneous. Only 2 percent of drone victims are so-called high-level targets.  Our nation’s “signature strikes” target groups that fit a particular profile.  In some regions of Western Pakistan all military-age men are considered militants and therefore legitimate targets, which makes accurate accounting of civilian deaths impossible.

US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, including children, with many more injured.  These people are our neighbors, precious souls for whom Christ died.  These “extrajudicial” killings take place without trial, judge, or jury, often in countries where we are not at war.  Although the Obama administration justifies the legality of such attacks, many claim that drone attacks violate international law.

Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), but friends who have traveled to rural Pakistan tell about whole communities being terrorized by drones, where people are afraid to gather for weddings or funerals, afraid to send their terrified children to school.  Our drones have engaged in secondary strikes, attacking the same target twice.  This makes it difficult for emergency response teams and would-be good Samaritans to rescue victims or alleviate their suffering.

Drone attacks foster anti-American sentiment and create future terrorists.  Violence begets violence.  Our policies are creating enemies that may last for generations.

Furthermore, over 70 countries now have drones.  If the United States acts with impunity, other countries will follow our example.  This could lead to a drone arms race and a complete breakdown of international law.  What we do to others, they may in the future do to us.

Who is responsible for the use of drones in targeted killings and signature strikes?  We can’t blame just the drone operators, some of whom suffer from PTSD.  Those responsible include religious leaders who, like Caiaphas, provide moral justification for the preservation of empire at any cost; public officials like Pilate, who wash their hands of culpability; corporate lobbyists who promote increased military funding for high-tech weaponry; an out-of-control military industrial complex that has taken on a life of its own; a corporate media that both interprets and shapes reality; and a public that suffers from moral confusion, the failure of critical thinking, and resignation to the powers of this world.

Jesus ushered in a new way of being, not based on domination and violence but on love of God and neighbor.  May those of us who follow Jesus live and love accordingly, for the well-being of the world and for the glory of God.

Sharon Delgado is a United Methodist minister, the executive director of Earth Justice Ministries, and author of Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization (Augsburg Fortress Press, 2007).

See the article at Prism Magazine. 

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