Joy First has been arrested about 35 times.
“I think that many,” says the Mount Horeb resident, who has been active in the peace movement since about 2002 and the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
And she’s willing to risk arrest again in act of civil resistance at Volk Field at Camp Douglas in Wisconsin. Volk is the site of the Tactical Unmanned Aerial System facility, a $4.5-million operation housing the RQ-7B Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and a platoon of operators, according to base information.
Aug. 18–25, First plans to join other peace activists in a 90-mile march from the Dane County jail in Madison to Volk. The activists plan to walk about 12–16 miles a day and spend their nights at churches, homes or campsites.
On the eve of the march, a public assembly will be held at Edgewood College in Madison.
The organizing groups are Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence and the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars.
For more than three years, the coalition has been holding monthly vigils at the gates to Volk. The first vigil was held in December 2011.
The Shadow drones at Volk are not armed but, First said, “They are part of the bigger picture of U.S. warfare. Without the Shadow, they wouldn’t be able to use the Predator.”
The RQ-7 Shadow UAV is equipped with a camera and used for reconnaissance and surveillance; the Predator is a larger aircraft with weaponry.
The Shadow is being used by ground troops to support convoy operations, field artillery and troops in contact with enemy forces, according to the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.
In August 2010, the Wisconsin National Guard at Volk launched the first test of the Shadow, which can reach heights of 15,000 feet and has a range of about 125 kilometers.
In December 2013, military leaders gathered with elected officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Volk to celebrate the construction of the unmanned aircraft facility. The Shadow, the speakers emphasized, would be deployed to help save the lives of U.S. servicemembers.
Activists decided to begin the August march at the jail to make a connection between the violence overseas and the violence committed by militarized U.S. police forces. At a short program at the jail at 10 a.m. on Aug. 18, the marchers will hear from representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We’re really trying to draw the connection by walking from the jail to the field that what the U.S. military is doing to brown people on the other side of the world is connected to what the police are doing to black people in this country,” said First.
She added, “People are coming from all over the country to participate in this walk. And it really does feel like a family reunion.”
“These drones, we believe, are illegal and criminal,” said First.
“Most of the people who go are involved in a lot of different anti-war activity,” First said. The protesters assemble at about 3:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month.
Occasionally the protesters go beyond the gates. Demonstrators risked arrest to walk on the base with a letter to the commander and risked arrest again to deliver a call to prosecute for war crimes.
“We are handcuffed and arrested. They take us to the station 20 miles away,” she said. “We get bench trials, where we’ve been found guilty.”
She said charges often get downgraded from a misdemeanor to an ordinance violation.
First has participated in other anti-war actions, including at the White House and Pentagon, and she plans to attend another demonstration in Washington, D.C., in September.
First arrived at anti-war activism in her 50s. “This is something that I just feel I’m called to do. I think about my grandchildren and I have to do this.”
She has six grandchildren between the ages of 4 and 16 and she’s spoken with all of them about war and peace.
“We’ve talked about why I’m doing this and why it’s important,” she said. “We’ve talked about war and people dying.”
Wisconsinites float Lanterns for Peace
August brings peace actions around the world. The tradition, in part, commemorates the anniversary of America’s atomic bombings of Japan.
This year marked the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki, on Aug. 9, 1945. The attacks by the United States hastened an end to World War II, with Japan’s surrender days later.
About 200,000 people died in the two blasts.
Each year, Japan’s government marks the anniversaries with a memorial at Budokan hall in Tokyo.
This year in Japan, memorials also were held in peace parks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as concerts, film screenings, art exhibits and seminars.
Memorials also were held across the country, including in Wisconsin, where Lanterns for Peace ceremonies took place at Governor Dodge State Park near Dodgeville on Aug. 2, Tenney Park in Madison on Aug. 6 and Washington Park in Milwaukee on Aug. 8.