On a warm day this past September, 75-year old Edith Cresmer stood with a clipboard outside the New York Public Library by an 11-by-8-foot replica of a weaponized military drone. She collected petition signatures, spoke with passersby and pushed for a ban on all unmanned government aircraft—especially those that kill.
A member of the Granny Peace Brigade, Cresmer was among 60 volunteers doing a week of anti-drone demonstrations in New York City. She’s part of a growing movement in the United States opposing drone strikes, which have killed thousands of people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2004.
The U.S. government only recently acknowledged the existence of these drone strikes but has yet to disclose an accurate count of casualties, particularly civilians. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism‘s highest estimate, however, about 950 civilians have died in Pakistan alone, 200 of them children.
Five members of Congress recently heard, in a briefing, from family members of a 67-year-old Pakistani midwife who was killed by a drone while gathering okra with her grandchildren. Rafiq Rehman and his two children asked for an explanation and an end to U.S. strikes altogether. Said Rehman’s son Zubair,
I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who organized the briefing, said that although the lawmakers were moved, he doubted Congress would call a full committee hearing anytime soon:
The appropriate committees generally are staffed by people, if I may say this, who are friends of the military industrial complex, not even enemies, or even skeptics of it.
Cresmer hopes her own activism can help save other civilians. She attends regular meetings of the Granny Peace Brigade, which encompasses women in their 60s through 90s. The “grannies” have written letters to U.N. officials and plan to talk with New York legislators, as well as raising public awareness of drone strikes by talking with schoolchildren and other citizens.
We’ve just become accustomed to [civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes] as a huge side effect, not about each individual as a life that’s lost. I think that’s the biggest problem with the term ‘collateral damage‘ … It’s harder to [feel] some sort of personal indebtedness for [taking] someone’s life when it’s done remotely.
CODEPINK is working toward getting compensation for drone victims’ families, both from the U.S. government and private contributions. Because the strikes kill mostly men, a family of women and children may end up destitute after losing their breadwinner, says Mir, a native Pakistani.
Moreover, Mir stresses that the U.S. government needs to look for better solutions to combating terrorists than drone strikes:
There are ways to talk about peace policies, and there are ways to think about the structural problems that people are combating in these regions [such as Pakistan] that may make [people] susceptible … to the [ideologies] of the Taliban. Those are the things, if we took the time to combat, [that] would have a much more long-lasting effect on the psyche of the people and help create a better world.
CODEPINK has organized an anti-drone summit this weekend in Washington, D.C., which will bring together drone survivors, activists and experts from around the world. It will stream and tweet live at #drones2013.