Why Direct Action?


On January 8, the day after tomorrow, my codefendants and I will be arraigned in federal court in Sacramento, 501 I Street, for trespassing onto federal property at Beale Air Force Base in October as a protest against U.S. drone warfare.  A legal team has been assembled to defend our actions in light of our claims that the drone program violates international law.

Our hope is that our action at Beale and the subsequent trial will help shed light on an issue that has been shrouded in secrecy, and expose the false statements that have been used to justify the program.  Supporters are invited to gather with us at 8 a.m. for a rally and press conference, followed by courtroom solidarity during our arraignment, which begins at 9. Go to the Occupy Beale website to find out more about the case and about other events scheduled later that day.

As this case develops, I’ll be writing more about the harm done by drone program itself:  about civilian deaths, including the deaths of children and rescue workers; about the widespread accessibility of drones and the dangers of a drone arms race; about the use of drones for surveillance against people within the United States; about the use of drones as part of a larger U.S. strategy to “dominate the earth from space in the 21st century.”  All of these issues and more contributed to my feeling that it was necessary for me to take strong action.

Today, though, I want to talk about why I found it necessary to go so far as to break the law by crossing the line onto federal property in order to make my point in this matter.  Why not just speak out, hold signs, write letters to the editor, visit our congressional representatives?  Why nonviolent direct action?  I answer by quoting from a chapter in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization:

Nonviolent direct action is an effective and viable form of active democracy. Many may prefer to take a less confrontational role, hoping that social change will come about gradually through education, negotiation, and advocacy. I have become convinced that there is nothing like nonviolent direct action to boost these very necessary activities to a whole new level of effectiveness. Disciplined, creative actions of nonviolent resistance have the potential to reveal the bankruptcy of the current system that dominates the earth, to awaken conscience, kindle hope, and demonstrate freedom and creativity.

Civil-rights-movement leaders recognized that calls for incremental change often merely stalled real progress and reinforced the status quo. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “You may well ask, ‘why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Witnessing at Beale


On January 8, 2013, the “Beale 9” will stand trial in federal court in Sacramento.  On October 30 I joined about 100 people for a demonstration at Beale Air Force Base calling for an end to drone warfare.  Beale is home to the Global Hawk Drone, a surveillance drone that is used to determine drone targets.  After stopping traffic onto the base for four hours, nine of us were arrested for trespassing onto federal property.

I took this action because I am convinced that the use of drones for targeted assassinations is immoral and illegal and that their use threatens us all.  Now is the time to stop the new drone arms race in its tracks.  This act of nonviolent direct action at Beale was my way of witnessing to my hope that “another world is possible,” a world based not on domination and violence, but on peace, justice, and environmental healing. My “no” of resistance is based on a “yes” of faith.

The U.S. use of drones for extra-judicial killings is immoral and illegal under international law.  It assumes that the whole world is a battleground and that the United States has the right to inflict capital punishment without trial on whomever it has put on its “kill list.”

Targeted assassinations by drones is not a clean as many people seem to think.  Many innocent people have been killed, including children.  In Pakistan, whole communities are paralyzed with fear because of ongoing drone attacks.  “Secondary kills,” that is, drone strikes on rescue workers, if eyewitness reports are true, would constitute war crimes.

There are other complications to drone warfare.  Drones are sold on the open market.  Weapon manufacturers, whose sole purpose is profit, have no loyalty to any country but only to their bottom line.  Over fifty countries now have drones.  Most are currently used for surveillance, and in fact, many law enforcement departments in U.S. cities are purchasing drones for that purpose.  But drones can be equipped with weapons, and many countries already have weaponized drones.  With the United States setting the standard and leading the way, we are in danger of a drone arms race without an international legal framework for their use.

The public must become aware of the dangers of this deadly program.  We must rise up in resistance and demand that the United States propose, sign, and ratify an international treaty on drones.  Clearly, this is a tall order, especially given that the United States has not even signed the  Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.  Such an outcome can only take place if there is widespread public awakening to the multiple dangers facing us as a species, and spiritual renewal motivating us to work together for global transformation.  This will entail a rising up of people willing to work for a peoples’ democracy rather than acquiescing to the current system of global corporate rule.

In the New Year, those of us who were arrested at Beale will stand trial, or rather, put drones on trial.  I’m grateful to have this opportunity to witness to my conviction that another world truly is possible.