By Janet Weil
On March 24, I spoke with longtime CODEPINK organizer Toby Blome about the recent Shut Down Creech actions...
Janet: Tell me about the Shut Down Creech mobilization at Creech Air Force Base – how did this mass mobilization happen?
Toby Blome: We’ve been going to Creech every year, once or twice, since July 2009.
When we were there last November, [retired] Colonel Ann Wright joined us and she called for a mass mobilization, coordinating with other organizations to get lots of people there. We connected with folks with Nevada Desert Experience, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Veterans For Peace, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and after lots of discussion came up with the name of “Shut Down Creech.”
We set the dates for early March, working really hard on lots of conference calls. (It turned out to be the same week as the Boycott RE/MAX actions in Las Vegas.) We had no idea how successful it would be. I come from the perspective that if you believe that you can do it, with good luck and a lot of hard work, you reach your vision. And I also believe that if we hadn’t called it a “mass mobilization,” we wouldn’t have gotten 150 people there.
Some of us wanted to have a camp, and others questioned whether it was realistic. No water or toilets are on the BLM land. Would people want to camp across from a military base? Those that wanted it, stood firm and we had a camp with at least 20 tents and a few vehicles, and brought in port-a-potties, water and food. The camp is another physical, visible way to express our outrage and resistance right across Highway 95 from the airbase. Via email discussion, we decided to call it “Camp Justice.” Ann Wright gave feedback that “freedom” sounds like US military propaganda. “Justice” brings it back to human rights violations and war crimes, so it seemed very appropriate to me, and others.
A lot of us saw the play “Grounded” about a young woman drone operator at Creech AFB. I absolutely loved the play [in Las Vegas], but it did break up our communal time together at the camp in the evenings.
After the protest at Hancock AFB [in upstate New York] in 2012 (38 arrested), this is the second-largest civil disobedience action at an Air Force base. It was the largest protest at Creech AFB, ever. The direct action on Friday, March 6, was the most beautiful coming together of people from all over the country, quite magical, as if the goddesses and gods were helping us. We broke into affinity groups and I was so impressed with my affinity group, we were able to come quickly to decisions. Creech has two gates, and we wanted to have waves of actions over time, to prolong the time we were able to shut down both gates.
You can bet they had lots of military police at both gates, watching everything. Lieutenant Martin of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police was the commander in charge of the arrests, and I had contact with him throughout the week. We are building good relationships with the [civilian] police; it really helps to be respectful. Being a woman, and white, helps too. When we were arrested and booked in the jail in April 2014, as opposed to earlier arrests, the police were joking with us and probably some of them agree with our outrage, as they become more aware themselves.
FBI officials were there, too. A Pakistani-American woman got arrested inadvertently, and a couple of FBI officials pulled her aside (from the larger group of arrestees) and questioned her. I said to her, please let me know how I can support you. I recognize to be Muslim in this country, it’s much more risky. People of color, in general, are the ones who are often the targets of police harassment and abuse – racial profiling for sure. So great to have her and her cousin, who is not an activist, there.
One of the biggest successes, for me, was the diversity: the vets, the young people from Las Vegas, two children, the elders, the people from all over the country. If an 88-year-old woman can be part of Camp Justice, anybody can.
I had a conversation with Lieutenant Martin very early in the morning before the action, to not take us all to the Las Vegas downtown jail. I didn’t make a bargain with him to not protest again. When they arrested us, in a total of 4 affinity groups, they brought us all to the south gate in handcuffs by the side of the access road, with dozens of police. They held us for some time so that the morning commute could proceed, until about 9:30 AM. They loaded us on a bus, and then drove the bus up the access road and across the highway. It was a feeling of victory for us to not go through the grueling experience of being booked in the jail (except for Father Zawada of Nevada Desert Experience, who was on probation for an earlier arrest), and do the debriefing right afterward from the different affinity groups.
At least one woman was grabbed aggressively around the breasts and crotch by a policewoman. I was walking up and down, checking in with people. Two men were asked to sit down next to a generator that was putting out toxic fumes; I asked for it to be turned off and it was. I advocated with 2 policemen for another person to be able to pee, while handcuffed – and the arrested person was able to do that.
The second group that got arrested, with the panels of images, were treated more roughly and impatiently, with 3 policemen on horseback.
Janet: What are some next steps?
Toby: CODEPINK will be at Creech in early October. We need to keep welcoming new people to oppose weaponized drones. We women can stay and camp out at the Goddess Temple Guest House (at nearby Cactus Springs.) We would like to see different organizations plan to stay there throughout the year.
There’s a high dropout rate for drone operators, and I feel like our ongoing protests have been part of making that happen. My daughter, a high school English teacher, was with me at Camp Justice. When she returned to work, another teacher approached her, and her co-worker said that her nephew was a drone operator at Creech AFB and then committed suicide. “Be sure and thank everyone for being there,” said the teacher. It makes me realize we need to come up with more messages specifically for the airmen.
This is the first time we’ve connected with local people in Indian Springs, a great step forward.
Connecting to the global movement against militarism – that’s the future. We just need to stop war as a way to deal with anything.