NIAGARA FALLS – About 30 protesters held a one-hour Mother’s Day “peace holiday” on Sunday in front of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station to speak out against the military use of unmanned remote aerial vehicles – drones – and suggested turning the military base into a solar farm.
Town of Niagara Police, Niagara County sheriff’s deputies and Air Force base officers surrounded the area, while the group held up signs reading “Solar Power - Not Killer Power,” “Ground the Drones,” “Fund Healthcare not Warfare,” and “All Mother’s Tears are the Same.” The group read a Mother’s Day proclamation and the names of children killed in drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan.
Currently there are no drone missions at the base, but discussions late last year brought up the possibility of locating a “Remote Split Operations Squadron” with more than 500 people assigned to the unit.
“The U.S. uses drones to execute people. Who makes the list and says someone is a terrorist? It is execution without a trial,” said Charley Bowman, interim executive director of the Western New York Peace Center. “We are offering an alternative.”
Bowman, of Getzville, said for the past year they have been working on a proposal for solar farms to be housed at both the base and the Lewiston Reservoir. He said the $280 million project would create 800 construction jobs, 150 long term jobs and create millions of dollars worth of clean energy. A plan to put the panels at the Lewiston Reservoir would cost $422 million, create over 1,000 construction jobs and over 100 jobs, according to their proposal.
“The New York Power Authority could write the check,” Bowman said.
However, it was clear that no matter what else comes to the base, protestors would not support drones.
No Drones Niagara, an affiliate of the Upstate New York Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, organized the event and called any use of drones illegal, both because of high civilian casualties including children, and because of violations of the rights of foreign nations.
Several protesters in Niagara Falls on Sunday had been arrested recently at a protest at the Hancock Field base in Syracuse where there are already drones in place. But all said the Mother’s Day protest in Niagara Falls was planned to be peaceful.
“It’s very important to challenge the assumption that to get jobs is to spread the war machine,” said Rae Kramer, 66, of Syracuse who was arrested in the Syracuse protest.
She said in the United State people don’t understand what it is like to be constantly under siege and running from bombs.
“That turns to anger,” Kramer said, referring to the resentment in populations targeted by U.S. drones.
Also arrested in Syracuse and attending the Niagara Falls protest was 83-year-old Cynthia Banas of Vernon. Banas, a retired librarian and UNICEF volunteer who was in Iraq during U.S. bombings, helping children who were injured in the fallout.
“Drones are against all humanity,” Banas said.
She compared the use of drones to Germany using crematoriums against Jews and policies in Vietnam to “shoot anything that moved.”
“I saw a little kid turned into a paraplegic,” Banas said of her work in Iraq. “We are supposed to speak out when our country is committing war crimes. They need to be investigated and charged with that.”