280-mile walk planned to protest drones

 Peace Actions
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  October 11, 2013

IN ACTION A US military drone (a/k/a unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV) can watch, or strike, while hidden in the sky.

A group of peace activists is walking from Limestone to Bath this week to protest the international proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. The walkers will be led by Buddhist monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji order from Japan, who specialize in leading peace walks all over the world.

The walk, which is being organized by Maine Veterans for Peace and the Maine Campaign to Bring Our War $$ Home, will average about 13 miles per day (some driving will be necessary in certain regions) between October 10 and 19; participants will be fed and housed by local hosts in the evenings. Organizers hope to bring public attention to the weaponized drones being used in places like Afghanistan, Libya, and Pakistan, as well as about how domestic use of drones is expanding.

“This walk is important to raise awareness of how the government spends our tax dollars on very expensive drones to keep us all under surveillance,” says Lisa Savage, a co-organizer for the Maine Campaign to Bring Our War $$ Home. “Drones are being used to kill thousands of innocent civilians, including hundreds of children, around the world. People here in the US say they want their tax dollars spent on health care, education, jobs, and veterans’ benefits — not drones.”

This year has seen a significant uptick in public awareness about drones. In May, President Barack Obama told the American people that drone use in war theaters is effective and legal, and that “the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.” In July, the FBI admitted that “UAVs have been used for surveillance to support missions related to kidnappings, search and rescue operations, drug interdictions and fugitive investigations.” And a recent story in the New York Times detailed how Chinese hackers were stealing and copying drone designs in an effort to get ahead in the latest international arms race.

Meanwhile, on a local level, the state legislature passed a bill last session that would have required police to obtain a warrant before deploying drones, except in emergency situations; Governor Paul LePage vetoed the bill but instructed the Maine State Police to develop a policy regulating the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by February of next year. 

Peace activist Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Brunswick-based Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, notes the significance of starting the anti-drone walk in Aroostook County, which almost became a UAV hub. Representatives from the Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle and the Loring Air Force Base in Limestone met last year to discuss the viability of applying to be one of six Federal Aviation Administration test ranges for drones; ultimately they decided against it because “other states were way ahead” in terms of infrastructure already in place, according to Carl Flora, president and CEO of the Loring Development Authority. However, given that drones are a “rapidly developing part of the aerospace industry,” Flora said he would not be opposed to other opportunities to bring this technology (and the manufacturing and engineering jobs it represents) to Maine.

Those interested in joining the anti-drone walk, even for a portion of the trek, can find the full schedule at vfpmaine.org or bringourwardollarshome.org. A protest against drones is planned for October 18 (the ninth and penultimate day of the walk) in the Hall of Flags at the State House in Augusta at 3 pm. The following morning, the walk will conclude with a vigil outside Bath Iron Works, where a stealth warship is currently being built.

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