Why I Crossed the Line at Beale

Beale demonstrators outside federal courthouse

Beale demonstrators outside federal courthouse

At church the other day, someone asked me about my upcoming trial, and she ended up putting me on the church’s prayer chain.  I love my church.  People are praying for me, even those who have no idea why I would cross the line onto federal property at Beale Air Force Base during an anti-drone protest.  They are praying for me “because she did what she thought was right.”

The least I can do is explain why I would do such a thing.

First, I strongly oppose using unmanned drones to kill people half a world  away.  It is my government that has put together a “kill list” and is engaging in targeted assassinations with my tax dollars, and in my name.  I have explained in past blogs about drone warfare  the reasons that have motivated me to take strong action:  the fact that it violates international law, the widespread deaths of civilians, rescue workers being targeted with secondary strikes, the threat of a drone arms race, surveillance drones being used not just in other countries but also here in the United States, the tax dollars wasted on these programs, the use of drones as part of a larger U.S. goal of dominating the earth from space, and the “blowback” effect from drone strikes causing retaliation to be visited upon my grandchildren and their grandchildren for generations.

I cannot close my ears to the cries of the victims of U.S. drone attacks without going into denial.

I cannot harden my heart against them without losing a part of my humanity.

Second, I have dedicated my life to preaching, teaching, and living the good news of peace, justice, and healing for all creation.  This is the mission that Jesus announced in Luke 4 by reading from the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  This is the mission that engages me, whether I’m teaching Sunday School, writing a book or article, speaking before a large assembly, or organizing an action.  This is the calling that energizes my ministry:  sharing the grace, love, hope, and liberating action of God.

Still, why did I go so far as to risk arrest?  Why not just stay with the writing, speaking, teaching, and organizing?  Why not stop there?  Because I can do all of these things without directly confronting the system, without risking its sanctions.  Engaging in nonviolent direct action is one way that I can exercise my spiritual authority, moral responsibility, and freedom as a human being, whether I convince other people or stand alone.  This is one way that I can refuse to be complicit, one way that I can say “No, I won’t stand for this, not in my name.”

Third, as I outlined in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, we are going down the road toward a living hell on earth.  Drones are just one aspect of that hellish future.  I’m convinced that we must be willing to take strong stands, speak out clearly, risk our comforts, and take nonviolent actions that directly challenge the system, because the stakes are so very high.  Fortunately, many people around the world are waking up and taking action to address the dangers we face.

As I face trial on April 15 with four other kindred spirits, supported by hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, I feel calm, centered, and happy. I feel connected to Jesus, who confronted empire in his day.  The possibility of peace, justice, and healing for all creation is, indeed, good news.  It is also within reach, if we human beings, with God’s help, refuse to be complicit and become willing to take a stand.

Read a Sacramento Bee article on the arraignment here.

Drones and Space Warfare

Drones use space2

People who are concerned about the increasing use of unmanned drones by the United States point to the immorality of killing people without due process, the loss of innocent life, and the illegality of targeted assassinations.  I raise an additional concern:  the use of drones as an integral part of a plan by the United States to dominate the earth from space.

Drone warfare is space warfare.  While drone operators are seated at their computer terminals, satellites map the terrain, guide surveillance and armed drones, and target those who are to be killed thousands of miles away.  U.S. Space Command incorporates drone warfare into its overarching strategy, outlined in its Vision for 2020.  The plan is to dominate the earth from space and to protect the global economic order by establishing a global satellite surveillance and positioning system and space-based weapons including lasers, not only for defensive but also for offensive purposes.

According to Vision for 2020,  this strategy will enable the United States to gain the “ultimate high ground” of space in order to enforce its will. The goal is: “Dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investments. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.”

I included information about Vision for 2020 in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, because this vision is directly at odds with the vision of a more hopeful future and because the U.S. military-industrial complex is the primary enforcement mechanism for corporate globalization.

The overarching goal of U.S. military planning is not simply the defense or protection of U.S. citizens. The current push toward U.S. political, economic, and military dominance is directly related to the goal of an integrated capitalist global economic system.   As Thomas Friedman said (although the references are somewhat outdated):

“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. And these fighting forces and institutions are paid for by American taxpayer dollars.”

Contact me for a free download of  “The Iron Fist:  Enforcing Corporate Globalization,” which is Chapter 14 of Shaking the Gates of Hell.

Today’s Arraignment

Zinn quote

The courtroom was filled with supporters today as nine people faced arraignment in U.S. District in Sacramento for trespassing onto federal property at Beale Air Force Base last October  while protesting U.S. drone warfare.  Charges were dropped against four of the defendants:  Fr. Louie Vitale, MacGregor Eddy, Barry Binks, and Toby Blome.  We don’t know why their charges were dropped, but it could have to do with the fact that they were arrested separately from the other group, at a different gate.  The five of us who were arrested at the main gate are David and Jan Hartsough, Shirley Osgood, Janie Kesselman, and me.

The remaining five of us pled “not guilty.”  Yes, of course we engaged in civil disobedience.  There are videos showing that we blocked traffic, stepped across the line onto federal property, held signs, and refused to leave.  We tried to deliver a list of demands to the base commander.

I chose to plead “not guilty” by reason of necessity; that is, I acted in order to prevent a greater harm from taking place.  My co-defendants and I will be discussing defense strategy with our team of lawyers, who are working pro bono in order to help bring the issue of drone warfare into the public eye.

Our trial is scheduled for April 15, Tax Day.  That is the perfect day for this trial.  Beale is the home of Global Hawk Drones, which are used for surveillance and for targeting of weaponized drones.  According to the New York Times, the Air Force’s Global Hawk program costs $12 billion; the estimated cost for one of these drones is $218 million.  The Navy is on board with its own version of the program, for an estimated $11 billion.  That’s where our money goes.

For those of you who have Facebook, here’s today’s Facebook event site where pictures have been posted.  The Occupy Beale AFB website gives background and updates about scheduled events.  Earth Justice Ministries will keep people updated through our website, Facebook page, and email newsletter.  I’ll also be keeping people informed who follow this blog.

Thanks to everyone who is supporting our efforts to raise awareness about this issue.  Please pass on information and action opportunities as they become available so we can turn the tide against global domination through violence and sow the seeds of world peace.

Light in this Present Darkness

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In the midst of winter darkness, people of various spiritual traditions are preparing to celebrate the return of the light.  For me, this year’s Christmas pageant was especially poignant, as the children acted out the story of the birth of a special child.  Following the killings at Shady Hook Elementary, a shroud of darkness has settled across our land.  How can we celebrate in the midst of such unspeakable tragedy?  Where is God, where is the light?

The only light I see is the light of Love, which brings us into being, nurtures us and works through us to nurture others, and leads us in the direction of hope for a more peaceful, just, and compassionate world.  This Love, which is the only God I know, enables us to keep going, caring for the children, enduring hardship and even suffering to make their days bright.  It was this day-to-day Love that motivated Shady Hook’s principal and teachers to try to protect the children in their care.

This Love, “in which we live and move and have our being,” is the light in the midst of this present darkness.  This Love is our only hope.  It points toward a brighter future.  But we can’t see the way Love is pointing if we can’t see where we are.  We must awaken to where we are as a people if we are to see the direction we need to go.

Many of us think of ourselves as spiritual, but we live in and tolerate a society that is violent to the core.  We can see the outward evidence:  bullying of children and others, child and spousal abuse, hate-filled rhetoric in the media, violent movies and video games, military-style weapons available on the open market, gun violence.  We are outraged and frightened by the most shocking incidents, but we don’t know what to do.   Start carrying guns, as suggested by the gun lobby?  Will more people with more guns make us safer?  I don’t think so.

The problem is that there is also an inner dimension to the violence that we see all around us, and even within us.  The violent milieu of our society is supported by a world view that is largely unquestioned by politicians, by the media, or by religious institutions.  US society glorifies domination and violence.  We see ourselves as the Number One nation and promote the “American way of life” as better than other ways of life.   We take for granted our right to use any means at our disposal, including drone warfare, to enforce our will.  Our criminal justice system, which is racially biased and unfair to the poor, is based not on restoration, but on retribution.  Our foreign policy is based on a view of global Empire and is supported by a military-industrial complex that seeks to dominate the world.

At the same time, our society glorifies the Market.  We are told that the Market can best allocate society’s resources, and that taxing the wealthy at a higher rate or putting rules on corporate behavior will drag down the economy.  This is the rationale for cutting services of every kind.  Giving “the Market” so much power means giving power to those with money.  This enables powerful corporations and wealthy individuals to consolidate their power and wealth by dominating political and economic policies.  Such policies do not support services for the mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, or other vulnerable people.  They do not, for that matter, support schools, libraries, or any other public institutions that we have until now taken for granted.  Rather, they increase the gap between rich and poor, which studies show is linked to increasing levels of violence.

To prevent more mass killings, gun control laws are necessary, along with increased funding for mental health services.  But these actions alone will not bring about the social transformation that is needed.   To live into a more compassionate future will require us to face the current darkness and acknowledge that we, as a people, are on the wrong track.  We have allowed ourselves to be swept along by compelling myths and powerful institutional forces that harness money and use violence to dominate our world.

We can choose to resist complicity and join with others to work for the common good.  We can face the darkness, celebrate the light, and by our actions embody hope so we can assure the children that there are brighter days ahead.  Love will be our guide.

Witnessing at Beale

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.