Protesters Outside Obama's West Point Speech Call on Army to Refuse to Fly Drones

Nick Mottern | May 31, 2014

Drone protestOn Wednesday, May 28, about 25 protesters mounted a sunrise anti-drone war witness at the two gates to West Point where family and friends of cadets were entering by the thousands for graduation ceremonies and to hear President Barack Obama’s commencement address.

For the protesters, it was a remarkable experience of standing next to roadways jammed with hundreds of cars, vans and pick-ups from across the United States - bumper to bumper, creeping along at a pace too slow to be registered on their speedometers.  Most vehicles held three or four people who could not avoid seeing our signs, large-scale color photos children killed by drones and the steel gray MQ-9 Reaper drone replicas with their signs that said: “Army – Refuse to Fly Drones.”

It was a very raw moment along the road, accentuated by the grayness of the overcast, misting morning, as we injected evidence of the reality of war and death into an event that is intended to be an unalloyed celebration, lofting newly trained young warriors on a cloud of pride, nobility, patriotism and glorification of war into a future of unbounded personal and national triumph.

DSC_0491wPhoto by Len Tsou. Anti-drone war protesters who joined Joann Robinson and Bennett Weiss at West Point’s Stoney Lonesome gate on May 28, 2014.

Indeed, several people riding into the Stoney Lonesome Gate, where I was stationed, shouted out at us words to the effect: “How can do this at graduation?  How can you dare to spoil our day?”

For many going into graduation, and for us too, it was a somber day, not only because the specter of a black body bag is conferred with each West Point diploma, but because of the depth of the lie to which the graduates and their families are committing their lives.

I had a feeling that quite a number of people going in were uneasy with the notion that the United States Army, their daughters and sons, will be involved in endless war.  There was an atmosphere of skepticism, it seemed to me.  Undoubtedly, in not a few cars, there was a suspicion or certainty that the beloved graduates might going into harm’s way, not for the sake of “freedom”, but to ensure that Western corporations have profitable access to oil and other precious resources.

I speak of skepticism, because compared to other protests at West Point graduations we received a surprising number of thumbs up and peace signs and a surprising lack of negative response.

One African-American man said to me quietly as he passed with his van window rolled down: “I secretly support you.  I can’t talk about it with my friends though.”  I think he was speaking about disliking drone attacks, but it was also a day when drone protest was the symbol for war protest.

There were several people who shouted at us that we would not be able to protest in Russia or in poorer countries where they are dictatorships.

The most common response we got was to be photographed with cell phones and cameras.  

And there were those, a significant number, who kept their car windows rolled up tightly and stared straight ahead, shunning us as obviously as possible.

Richie Marini, of World Can’t Wait, who protested at the Thayer Gate, the other graduation entrance, observed:

“Just find it strange that it appears, from various expressions, that the military members (and families) see themselves as abstracted from what the military does as the strong arm of the U.S. Empire.  I mean they're literally pulling the triggers -- but there is still this lingering sense that they themselves are unable to effect change if they resist.  The "it's just a job" thing -- it's frightening.  As for the others who truly believe the military is doing good -- well that's a whole other kind of scary.”

DSC_0514wPhoto by Len Tsou. Anti-drone war protesters along the entrance road to West Point’s Thayer Gate on May 28, 2014.

After watching the occupants of the cars for two hours, I concluded that most of the people we saw are sick of war and would be happy and grateful if the West Point graduating class never had to experience it.

DSC_0522wPhoto by Len Tsou. Protesters gather for a group picture along the entrance to West Point’s Thayer Gate at the close of the May 28th demonstration.

By about 8:30, all of the graduation guests had entered the base, and all of the protesters gathered in downtown Highland Falls, NY, home of West Point.  About half our number had come up from New York City, thanks to organizing by Debra Sweet, Director of World Can’t Wait.  

After we had a group picture taken, some of us went to a deli near the Thayer Gate to talk about the day.  Our conversation moved quickly into a discussion about the daunting challenge of causing the federal government to do virtually anything in the public interest because of it is largely under corporate control.

Pointing up the reality of the situation, Debra, who was monitoring President Obama's commencement address, announced that the President is going to ask for more money to fight  “terrorism”.

The president also made it clear that he will continue drone attacks.

Note: I spoke above of the message on the Reaper drone replicas: “Army: Refuse to Fly Drones.” 

Photo 1[5][2][1]Photo by Chuck Bell. 

The Army has been using relatively small drone, like the Raven and the Shadow, for several years.

However, the Army is beginning to use larger-scale hunter-killer drones, buying 152 MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones, a deadlier version of the Predator, deploying 12 to each of its 10 active-duty divisions, with the remainder for special operations forces, training and other uses.  The Army is now operating at least 8 Gray Eagle drones in Afghanistan.

Here are photos and press coverage of the West Point protest:

Len Tsou's photos

Times Herald-Record

Westchester News Channel 12

And we had the last word in the report of the Obama speech in the Journal News, a regional Gannett newspaper.

Nick Mottern is the coordinator of, where this report originally appeared.