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Camp Douglas, WI — On Tuesday, Brian Terrell and I, peace activists with Voices for Creative Nonviolence, were arrested when we attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to drone operators at Volk Field — an Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin which trains pilots to operate Shadow drones over other countries.
Voices activists have lived alongside ordinary people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Gaza. People who can’t flee from drone surveillance and attacks have good reason to fear people from the United States, but instead they have broken bread with Brian and me, and have welcomed opportunities for deepened mutual understanding.
We carried the loaf of bread to signify the worth of relying on words rather than weapons.
Before entering the base property, I made the following statement:
“Living alongside ordinary people who can’t escape drone surveillance in places like Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan, and knowing that a drone operator could be ordered to assassinate civilians who have nowhere to turn and nowhere to hide affected my conscience.
“I wanted to ask drone operators in Volk Field whether they had been asked to target any people for possible assassination that day.
“I want to ask how the base training manual teaches people to distinguish between civilians and armed combatants. If an operator wants to quit, what does the commander of Volk Field do?”
Brian also spoke:
“Wisconsin is where I was born and raised and so I feel that coming to Volk Field is a responsibility that I owe in gratitude to my home state.
“The premise that drones will limit the parameters of war and make for fewer civilian casualties has proven false. General Stanley McChrystal, who led troops in Afghanistan from June 2009 to June 2010, warned that the drone ‘lowers the threshold for taking operations because it feels easy, there’s a danger in that.’
“And yet the evolution of drones in the militaries of many countries around the globe has been anything but cautious. Instead there is a reckless proliferation of this deadly technology.”
Watch a video of the event, taken by Joy First:
Yesterday we appeared before Judge Curran from the Juneau County jail via the jail’s video link after being held overnight. We were served documents charging us with trespass at the “dwelling” of Volk Field.
I told Judge Curran that I wished to plead no contest and that I would not be able, in conscience, to pay a fee. Additionally, I preferred not to promise that I’d return to the court since I don’t believe I committed a crime in the first place.
“Oh, I get what’s happening here,” Judge Curran said. “You have some people out there who will give you a gold star and a pat on the back for being so courageous.”
He then said he would not impose a cash bond, and he set a pre-trial conference date for March 23 — even though I already indicated I wished to plead no contest and was not seeking a trial.
Brian appeared next. He reiterated what I had said, wishing to plead no contest and go directly to sentencing. “It would save the county, the court and everyone involved time and trouble if the judge would accept the no contest plea,” he said, “and go right to sentencing. I don’t understand why a pre-trial conference was scheduled when we haven’t asked for a trial.”
“It’s not necessary for you to understand the process of this court,” Judge Curran said. “That’s why God made lawyers.”
We were released after signing personal recognizance bonds.
Today, we returned to the court to attend Mary Beth Schlagheck’s trial for a protest at Volk Field last August. Hers is the last of seven trials stemming from nonviolent civil resistance actions at Volk Field that were undertaken as the culmination of the “Let It Shine” walk from Madison to Volk Field. The witness of the activists who protested at Volk Field, and who testified so eloquently in court, inspired our action this week. Due to an emergency hospitalization of one of the state’s witnesses, her trial was postponed until later this year.
Later today, District Attorney Michael Solovey agreed to an informal conference with us. He discussed a motion Brian filed this morning to dismiss the criminal charge of trespassing at a dwelling. Solovey said he expected the charge to be changed to the less serious “forfeiture of trespassing on land.”
Solovey was ready to accept a plea of no contest when he learned, at the end of the conference, that the U.S. Air Force was asking for another criminal charge of disorderly conduct, alleging that we had disrupted traffic in their protest.
We told him that the video would verify that we did not disrupt traffic.
We are awaiting word from the DA about whether he will seek an additional charge.
“We’re building on earlier efforts by Wisconsin activists,” Brian said today, “and we see today’s events as part of a continuum.”
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For over 100 years FOR members have led the strategic application of nonviolence to political and social change movements worldwide. We honor and count among our number Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, Thich Nhat Hanh, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Muriel Lester, Sulak Sivaraksa, James Lawson, Jean and Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Andre and Magda Trocme and many more.
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Since 1918 FOR has produced publications and a national journal to shape and reflect learning on the power of nonviolent social change. Since 1934 that award-winning journal has appeared under the title Fellowship, now issued twice yearly in summer and winter. FOR's national newsletter, Witness, is produced in spring and fall and provides highlights of campaigns and projects led by grassroots FOR chapters and affiliates.