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National Politics Mon Sep 30 2013

Midwest Action Against Drones Protests Boeing Chicago Headquarters

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This past Saturday, September 28, activists from communities across the region gathered at Chicago's Millennium Park for the Midwest Action Against Drones to protest drone warfare and surveillance.

After a number of demonstrators sounded off against U.S. drone warfare programs, the group marched through Chicago's Loop towards Boeing's headquarters to rally against the company's role in drone proliferation.

One of the voices that spoke out was that of influential activist Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK and the international human rights organization Global Exchange. She is also the author of eight books including her latest work Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

"The only thing that is keeping the drone warfare going is secrecy, is the covert nature of these wars. That's why what you're doing here is so critical," Benjamin told the crowd. "Because as we rip away the veil of secrecy around these drone wars, guess what? The American people like them less and less."

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Chris Getowicz, a Minnesota public school teacher and organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, criticized the U.S. government for billions spent on drone warfare operations while public education is left to crumble without adequate funding.

"What I see everyday are a million and one things that our $259 billion Pentagon budget could be spent on with the children," Getowicz said. "80 percent of the children at my school live below the poverty line. Because we can afford to bomb the hell out of other countries, we can't afford to take care of the children in our own towns and cities across the United States."

Joe Iosbaker is an organizer with Antiwar Committee Chicago, the group that spearheaded this regional drone protest. He explained in an interview that the action targeted Boeing because it is a Chicago-based company with deep ties to U.S. drone warfare and surveillance programs.

"Boeing is competing along with three other major arms manufacturers to build the Pentagon's next combat drone," Iosbaker said. "We are determined to ruin that plan."

Benjamin explained that the American people are not only war-weary, but they are also war-wise. The people are demanding diplomacy and non-violent solutions, she said. They've seen what 11 plus years of war has brought, "Only more death and destruction. Profits for a few companies like Boeing, but destruction." Benjamin said.

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"It's important that we acknowledge the fact that we go out on these humanitarian crusades in places like Libya and Syria and ultimately we're not doing anything humanitarian except bombing people," Getowicz said. "That is our legacy to the world."

Iosbaker said that anti-drone sentiment is stronger than ever right now. The international protests taking place against U.S. drone strikes, particularly in Pakistan, and the growing opposition to Syrian military intervention have galvanized the movement against drone warfare, he said. This weekend's action built on that momentum, he said.

"We are on a roll. We are starting to change U.S. policy. We are starting to force the politicians to do what we, the people, want," Benjamin said. "That is a watershed. History will mark this time as the time that the American people forced their government to use diplomacy."

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