Anti-drone protest at Raytheon draws more than 100 peace activists to Largo

08/24/12 Janelle Irwin
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The Tampa Tribune reports the city will use drones for surveillance during the Republican National Convention next week. More than 100 peace activists protested the use of unmanned drones in countries overseas at Raytheon in Largo Thursday afternoon.

Tighe Barry is with the group Code Pink. One of their main focuses is on anti-war efforts. Barry has long suspected that the U.S. might start using the technology on American soil.

“And they’re going to be used on us. They’re going to be used on those that are over-policed parts of our society such as urban areas or the African-American or Hispanic group of people. They’re going to be used on those that are using their right to freedom of speech like we are right here – our First Amendment freedom of speech. They will use them to – I guess – would be control us. At the very least they’ll be used for surveillance.”

According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, more than 2,500 people have been killed by drones in Pakistan. Barry said he’s troubled by the numbered of innocent people who have died in drone strikes. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism study found that as many as 900 were civilians and 175 were children.

“And the people of Pakistan are saying they don’t want to be killed like this. They don’t want to be killed by robotics out of the sky when they don’t even have water or electricity in their villages.”

Code Pink co-founder Madea Benjamin said Raytheon builds components that are used on some U.S. drones.

“Raytheon is part of the 1%, the corporations that make a lot of money off of people suffering – in this case part of the weapons industry. And we’re particularly concerned about Raytheon’s involvement in producing drones and missiles for drones and parts for drones because this is part of the new warfare for the 21st Century.”

Peter Ramjug, a spokesperson for Raytheon, wouldn’t comment specifically on drones, but read this statement.

“Raytheon respects anyone’s right to a peaceful protest. Here in Largo and St. Petersburg, Raytheon has more than 1,000 employees making communication products and systems that protect our national security and help keep America safe.”

But Veteran's for Peace member Bob Vanwyk said he whole-heartedly disagrees with claims that drone warfare does any good.

“They’re not making us safer. They’re not killing terrorists, they’re creating them.”

Vanwyk likened the use of drones in Pakistan as an act of terror by U.S. officials because the two countries are not at war.

“Imagine if we had something over here come in and randomly hit our families – kill families, children from some enemy far way. How would we feel? If somebody had killed your kid, what would you do? You’d go after them too.”

Some of the activists at the protests led chants.

And later they started chanting “Obama’s drones killed more kids than Bush’s did”. Occupy Hernando supporter Joe Lemieux said that’s because the people controlling the drones are from what he called, a whole world away.

“I mean, we have some intelligence, but they still don’t know who’s in the houses, who’s in the area or anything else. The drones are unmanned. You know, it’s like a video game that somebody plays from a far away place.”

Lemieux agrees that Obama should stop supporting drone warfare.

“But at the same time too, you have to ask yourself – what would Romney’s administration be like? It would be worse. So, it’s really confronting a person in power to re-think their policy, not necessarily condemning them for everything they do.”

Right now both major parties are supporting the use of drones in countries where there’s a perceived threat. That’s why Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin thinks more needs to be done to sway both Republicans and Democrats.

“We need an independent movement that forces the government to stop giving all our money to the war machine.”

September 21 is the International Day of Peace. Code Pink’s Barry said some members of the anti-war group will join a thousands-strong march from Islamabad in Pakistan to Waziristan.

“And we’re going to reach out a hand of peace to these people that have only understand that we as a nation are trying to kill them as Muslims. They don’t believe it has anything to do with a war on terror because they don’t experience a war on terror. All they experience is a war on them.”

The protest began in the Raytheon parking lot. About 45 minutes into it a Pinellas County deputy told the group they had to move to the sidewalk.

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