Robert Rast sits in his front yard in South Bend, Indiana, under a replica of an MQ-9 Reaper drone like the one that killed his son, Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast and Marine Staff Sergeant Jeremy Smith in Afghanistan in April 2011 due to misidentification. Mr. Rast is using the replica to attract passersby so that he can tell his story to as many people as possible.
I had rented a small van to take my new 8' drone replica back to Chicago; I knew that, even when it was broken down for transport, the drone replica and the display stand would require a bit of space. I was curious to see how Nick and George were managing FOUR drone replicas! Before long, Nick and George arrived from New York, via Columbus, towing a 12-feet-long enclosed trailer.
My jaw dropped when they opened the trailer and I saw the four model drone fuselages resting on foam cushions, with their wings neatly strapped to the front wall of the trailer. "These are some very, very serious people," I said to myself.
And, indeed, the Know Drones Tour has taken their replicas to do anti-drones activism throughout the U.S. Northeast: in Brooklyn, NY, southern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and northern Maryland. A tour of Ohio is planned for September.
Perhaps more importantly, they have assisted the Upstate NY Coalition to Ground the Drones (in New York) in building Reaper replicas and provided replicas to the NH Peace Action (in New Hampshire), Code Pink (in Washington, DC), World Can't Wait (New York City) and to Larry Carter Center, a peace activist in Charleston, South Carolina, in order to boost the drone opposition movement that is becoming a nationwide phenomenon.
Nick, George, and their colleagues at Know Drones have recently figured out how to double the rate at which they can produce drone replicas, to enable them to deliver a dozen more models in the next 45-60 days. This will be crucial as the presidential election heats up in the U.S., and activists work to demand that drone killing and drone surveillance be talked about -- and NOT swept under the rug -- during this period of national debate. Plans are already under way for drones protests at the RNC in Tampa, Florida, at the end of August, and drones protests at the DNC in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the beginning of September. Drone replicas are already on order for delivery to activists in Oregon, Hawaii, and Delaware.
To get an idea of how activists are taking the "No Drones!" message to the general public and incorporating the drones replicas made by Know Drones, consider the case of Robert Rast ....
Mr. Rast's son, Navy corpsman Benjamin Rast, was killed accidentally in a Reaper drone strike in Afghanistan in April 2011; that strike also killed Marine Staff Sergeant Jeremy Smith. Robert Rast has set the replica up in his front yard and sits with it, telling those who stop what happened to his son.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the very active progressive community in Madison has had the chance to encounter drones model brought out by No Drones Wisconsin.
In Chicago, we've been pushing hard against the Obama administration's drone killings - starting with our protest against Eric Holder when he made his announcement "justifying" extrajudicial executions in Chicago, and continuing with our protests of the drone killings in Pakistan in March, our protest to make the drones killing 100% VISIBLE during the NATO Summit, and our protest against drones killings at the June 1 Obama fundraiser.
No Drones Illinois will be featuring our new model as part of a large-scale antiwar outreach (including Chicago World Can't Wait, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) Chicago Chapter, Occupy Chicago, Pakistan Federation of America Chicago (USA), and Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ) at the Chicago Air & Water Show on August 18.
As Nick Mottern has said, the proliferation of drones and the daily increasing reliance on drone warfare is carefully calculated by our government to discourage us from criticizing U.S. war-making and killing, or even thinking about it. In effect, the nameless, faceless drones are part of an effort to "systematically deprive people of empathy" for others. (This absence of empathy is a phenomenon I wrote about in a blog post entitled "Drone Victims: Just Dots? Just Dirt?") The Know Drones models are part of an urgent effort to reverse that trend. People begin to think about the significance of drones when they feel the model hovering over them. They can begin to get a sense of the size of the drones. They start to ponder the facelessness of the drone when they are looking at it and realize that there are no windows, that there is no on-board pilot. Most important, they get it into their heads that this problem is REAL, and they become unable to shake that thought.
So: New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, DC, Maryland, South Carolina ... Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio ... Oregon ... Hawaii ... and discussions are now underway with activists in Michigan, North Carolina, and Colorado, and others, on using replicas of the Reaper, which has become the primary work horse of drone killing, and which will be produced in larger and larger numbers in the coming years by its manufacturer.
Soon "No Drones!" groups -- with drone models from Know Drones -- will be active in every state. All of these groups are in urgent need of support from activists with a wide range of talents, to enable them to carry out the public outreach that is so desperately needed.
STOP THE DRONES! What are you prepared to do?