Street Heat: Does the Hancock Reaper Drone Base Feel the Burn?

In the 1980s, the second wave of the US anti-apartheid movement — focused then on South Africa — was at a boil. In those days, “Doonesbury” had a prescient sequence satirizing the “activists” immersed in their computers.

Times have changed. Many of us now mostly dwell in the computer-domesticated indoors, generating or responding to email and chasing links. Online is now our comfort zone. Maybe too comfortable.

With Occupy and the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, it seems that here and abroad, historically and currently, much — maybe most — grassroots change only really begins when people, taking to the “street,” join en masse in solidarity and indignation. But we’re far less likely to mass anywhere if, in the first place, we seldom venture into the street.

So that is partly why some of us here in Syracuse engage in what we call “street heat.” Street heat is a very modest way to get off our duffs, to break out of our cocoons, to overcome that hesitation to go public. Ya gotta start somewhere: It gets us standing up — and standing out — for what we stand for.

Since late 2009 from 4:15 to 5pm every first and third Tuesday of the month, a handful of us — sometimes more — have been gathering across the road from the main entrance of Hancock Air Base. This is when the day shift changes at this Central New York hunter/killer Reaper drone hub. (On Saturday mornings and other Tuesdays, we also do street heat elsewhere at busy intersections around town.)

It happens that Tuesday has come to have a macabre significance: Each Tuesday, Obama and his advisers are said to choose the human drone targets for the next six months in the Islamic oil lands — assassinations both immoral and illegal.

While tactically clever (and corporationally enriching), this tactic is strategically misguided — for among other reasons, such terrorism is a notoriously effective recruiter for designated terrorist groups.

Hancock AFB adjoins the Syracuse International Airport on the north edge of the city. There with our signs we stand facing Hancock’s main gate and the rush-hour civilian traffic along East Molloy Road. We want to “out” Hancock’s 174th Attack Wing of the New York National Guard. While most everything about it is classified, the 174th has bragged that it remotely operates those Reaper drone robots 24/7 over Afghanistan (and, we suspect, probably elsewhere). Hancock is in our back yard — if we don’t expose such war crime, who will?

By our presence and by our signs, we seek to prick the conscience of the 174th’s personnel, cogs in the Pentagon’s war machine. Our bold hand-drawn signs declare “US OUT OF THE MIDDLE EAST” and “DRONES FLY, CHILDREN DIE” and “BAN WEAPONIZED DRONES” and “WEAPONIZED DRONES = TERRORISM,” and so on.

Without our stalwart presence year in, year out, it’s too easy, given US mainstream media, for the public to forget that the US has embarked on deliberate corporation-profiting perpetual war — a cowardly and Islamophobic war on numerous fronts. Those are wars not on terrorism, but of terrorism. And it’s too easy for Hancock drone operators, leading their sequestered, classified, indoctrinated, computerized, often barely adult, lives to forget they help perpetuate the maiming and killing — all the while risking PTSD.

It’s hard to measure, but ongoing street heat is part of that relentless persistence needed to dent the Pentagon’s hegemonic designs. Without such presence and persistence — also occurring at various other US drone bases — drone warfare would surely become even more normalized than it already is.

The local mainstream corporate media have pretty much ignored us over the years — after all, hey, why alienate future drone industry development and the advertising revenue flowing from it? The beauty of street heat, operating under the radar, is that it reaches at least a segment of the public despite the media blackout. While many drivers-by avert their eyes, some — whether with obscene gestures or with honks of encouragement — take notice.