It was 9am on a beautiful Hawai`i morning . Our drone replica was loaded into the truck. Our car windows were painted, and signs were taped to the sides. We were headed to Wheeler AFB, one of O`ahu's official drone bases - and a place where we'd never demonstrated before.
Wheeler is adjacent to Schofield Barracks, one of the largest U.S. Army bases. Both are located in Wahiawa, a military town filled with pawnshops, fast food joints, rim shops and massage parlors, and we were feeling pretty apprehensive. Our spirits were lifted when two women said they'd just heard a news program on NPR reporting on an anti-drone protest at a Waddington base in England and then said there were protests against drones elsewhere that day. Someone immediately pulled up photos of the protest at Waddington. Another said she'd seen a crawl on the local morning news reporting on drone protests elsewhere. All of this reminded us that our small crew was part of an international movement much larger than just ourselves.
When we hit the highway to Wheeler we noticed we were getting thumbs-up and from fellow travelers, and we were surprised when we could pull our cars right up to the intersection in front of the gate to Wheeler, where our decorated cars would themselves be a demonstration. As we began to assemble our drone a guy in a pick-up truck pulled up to ask if it was a Predator or a Reaper, and then proceeded to launch into a rant about the occupation of Hawai`i by the U.S. military. Maybe it wasn't going to be such a rough day after all!
Our group of 14 occupied the area in front of the gate with our banners, signs and drones for two hours. Most of the military personnel going in and out of the gate completely ignored our presence; a few shouted that we were "ignorant" or defended drones. Two going into the base dressed in military camouflage asked each other what drones were. A civilian worker stopped his car to ask whether we had a petition because he wanted to get signatures on base, and many of the vendors going into the base gave us a thumbs up.
Most of the people who responded to us were traveling along the highway that runs past the base. While there were some thumbs-down and middle fingers, the majority of those who responded hit their horns or gave us a thumbs up. Two young women pulled their pick-up to the front of the gate, hopped out, and took their pictures with us. Many of the people were local people who live in the rural areas and it was really heartening that the response was so positive. As we left one of the protesters remarked that the reception from passers-by in this military saturated area of the island responded to us more positively than students at the University of Hawai`i had the previous week. Another added that the response was even better than at the First Friday Art Walk.
We left wondering about the response from people in other areas and eager for news about what was happening elsewhere - including on the island of Hawai`i, where a protest is being held on Sunday at the Pohakuloa Military Training Area and where two ads against drones are currently running in island newspapers. After more than a year of protesting against drones in Hawai`i, there's a real sense that drones are at least becoming a contentious issue, and there's a growing basis to build a real movement against drone warfare and surveillance.