Four activists arrested at California drone base; truck stops just a foot and a half from one protester’s legs during die-in

Occupy Beale Photo

Thanks to Barry Binks for his report on the action.

On May 22 and 23, peace activists gathered at Beale Air Force Base for their monthly anti-drone warfare protest. On the morning of the 23rd, Air Force police had placed traffic cones in the entry road to separate traffic into 3 lanes – one lane to exit, one lane for the military entering the base and another for contractors and civilians going in. Just before 7 a.m., Elliott Adams, Shirley Osgood, Mauro Oliveira and Michael Kerr moved the cones so that they blocked the roadway, and then laid down across the road.

The contractors began to try to drive around the die-in blockade, and the activists moved their bodies and the cones closer to maintain the blockade. One big 18 wheeler drove down the shoulder of the road past all of the stopped traffic. When the angry driver came to the gate, he stopped just a foot and a half from Elliott Adams’ legs. Several protesters ran in front of the truck, yelling and trying to stop the driver from running over Adams. The driver started screaming and swearing, revving his motor, honking his horn and threatening to drive over Elliott’s legs. Finally, one of the Air Force police spoke to the driver.

After all of the military personnel were redirected to another gate, the four activists moved out of the way and allowed the contractors to enter. They then walked onto the base and were arrested.

Michael Kerr said afterwards: “it was a scary moment with a VERY angry driver forced to stop less than 2 feet from Elliot Adams’ lower legs. I kept telling Elliot to move his legs as it wasn’t worth losing them. Later he said he felt positive that he could move them safely if the truck moved again. I am not sure! We finally moved and let the driver go into the gate along with a lot of backed up contractor trucks.”

Lessons of power at a blockade

by Elliott Adams, Veterans for Peace and Creating a Culture of Peace

We had a die-in at a military base gate. I was lying down in the commercial traffic lane about 50 feet in front of where vehicles had to be checked by military personnel. Most of the vehicles just negotiated around me. One 10 wheeler truck driver tried to scare us by driving over the safety cones and then, faster than he normally would approach the gate, drove within 1.5 to 2 feet of my legs. Chris came running over to tell him to be careful.

The next 10 wheeler truck driver decided to play chicken. He drove up to where his left tire was close to rolling over my lower legs.  Shirley, Michael and Chris ran over and screamed at him to stop. When he stopped, my legs were under the front of the truck and the front tire was maybe 1.5 feet from my leg. 

Once he had stopped, two things happened. First, he was now blocking the road so no one could get through. Second, the power balance shifted – now psychologically if he started the truck rolling it was with the full knowledge of what would happen. Our people were trying to get the base security force personnel to take action but it seemed they didn’t want to get involved because the truck was not on base yet. Shirley, Michael, Chris and Mauro had left the die-in and were standing in front of the truck with their hands on the truck, actually trying to hold it back. Their emotions and fear were tangible in the air. The driver could have realized by now that he was stopped and people were telling him clearly what would happen if he moved. With the military security there, he might even have realized that rolling over my legs would likely put his contract in jeopardy.

I chose to not watch the driver. He did yell something about needing to get to his job (of course ignoring that he chose to try and play chicken with someone, when he could have driven around me like the other drivers had done). At one point he blasted his horn, which changed nothing but suggested his level of frustration.

I kept my right eye, the one the driver could see, closed. I felt that affected the balance. He couldn’t play games with me if I was apparently not looking. My risk analysis was that if I just raised my knees it would bring my legs and feet back enough to be out of the way of the truck. The truck had to role approximately 1.5 feet to hit me, and the truck was currently in neutral. With my left eye I lined up the name of the make of truck over my sign so I could see even an inch or two of motion. I felt that if the driver decided to roll forward I could get out of the way before he could hit me.

There was lots of adrenaline flowing in all groups – actionists, truck drivers, military security guards and me.

We (those of us in front of and under the truck) decided that on the count of three we would all move away from the truck. This had the advantage of not pushing the issue to a climax and not pushing it to a point that the driver felt defeated, and it left him some dignity.

Once it was all over, it would have been interesting to assess how everyone felt – all of our people (in addition to being scared) and the guards and truck driver.

Driver – I would have liked to have spoken to the driver, ignoring his deliberate aggression, to say thanks to him for not driving over me. I am thinking that the ideal would be to have him feel he didn’t lose and that his playing chicken didn’t work. The feeling of losing is humiliating. And what about the other drivers who were blocked by his truck? They probably didn’t realize it was an aggressive driver that blocked them. Does our personal risk open their minds a little?

Security Force – Probably the base security feel the risk of injury is more real now? Do they see this as driver aggression or do they blame us? Do they have more respect for us because of our willingness to accept personal risk? Do they think less of the drivers because of their recklessness? Or did it lower their support for us?