Monday, May 14, 2012




We will discuss this action on Monday, May 14 at 7:30 PM at my house.  Come and listen and add your thoughts.






Joy First  Madison, WI   May 12, 2012

On Tuesday May 8, nine activists, as part of an action organized by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR), occupied the office of the president of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) for eight hours, calling on the university to end the drone research that is being conducted at the Applied Physics Lab (APL).

Drones are being used with more frequency than ever before.  Obama has greatly increased the number of drone strikes.  It is difficult to know how many innocent people are being killed by drone strikes because our government tries to keep this information undercover  There are credible reports of 175 children being killed in Pakistan over a period of time, however the number of actual deaths of innocent civilians is expected to be much higher.  I think about how people in this country would react if 175 of our children were murdered by a foreign country.  How can we sleep at night with these atrocities going on in our name? 

Drone warfare is illegal.  The use of drones goes against the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions, and the principles of the Nuremburg Tribunal.  They are also against US, and other international human rights laws, the laws of war, and the law applicable to the use of inter-state force.  They constitute extra-judicial killings.  In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, said that the use of drones by the CIA amounts to, “a license to kill without accountability.”   He sharply criticized the legal arguments invoked to justify drone bombings.   

We must fight against drone warfare with education and actions at military bases, but we also must target corporations that make the drones and universities that provide research on drones. 

In April and early May there have been actions against drone warfare in California, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Wisconsin, New York, and Washington, DC.  NCNR joined this national movement by organizing an action at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.  On May 1, NCNR sent a letter to Robert Daniels, president of JHU, and Dr. Ralph Semmel, director of the APL, expressing our concern about the research being conducted at the APL, citing the urgency of the matter as innocent people are being murdered almost daily from U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other places across the globe.  We asked if we could meet with them to discuss what they are doing.

Johns Hopkins has a reputation for being a leader in research that benefits humanity.  What is not as well-known is that they get billions of research dollars from the Defense Department each year, and some of that money is going towards drone research at the Applied Physics Lab. 

We got no response from anyone at JHU, so in the morning of May 8 members of NCNR met at the Homewood Friends Meeting House and worked out the final details of our plans to visit the office of the president that afternoon.  I was wearing a t-shirt that I have been wearing to so many actions lately and that speaks so well as to what our purpose is.  It says “We will not be silent”.  It was a short 15 minute walk from the meeting house to the office of the president, and we arrived at the office at approximately 12:15 pm.  We walked into the outer office carrying our signs and banners and were met by a young woman who said she would check and see whether President Daniels had received our letter.

A young man, identifying himself as a vice-president, came to greet us in the outer office.  He was very polite and listened to what each person said, nodding his head as we spoke.  After each person had a chance to speak, he thanked us for coming, assured us he would share this information with President Daniels and said we could leave now.  He really believed that if he listened politely to what each person had to say, we would leave.  But being heard (and I would argue we weren’t really heard) is not what we wanted.  We wanted a dialogue and we wanted to stop the research on drone warfare.  We were told that the president was on a plane to Japan and so he could not be reached, but we said we could talk to someone else who had policy-making powers, including the director of the APL.

All nine of us were carrying pictures of drone victims.  I carried a picture of three small children, probably five years old and younger, who were lying dead because of a drone attack.  I also carried a picture of a mother who looked like she was weeping uncontrollably, wracked by grief, because her children had been murdered by our government.  We explained that this matter is urgent and that we could not leave, rather we would wait until we talked to someone in authority.

The nine of us settled into the space, some people standing, some sitting on the floor, and some sitting in the three available chairs.  We spent the next several hours discussing many different social justice issues, including the drones, knowing that the JHU officials, security, and the Baltimore city police officers were listening to us.  Once in a while someone would be sent to talk directly with us and ask us to leave.  They told us that we were trespassing and would be arrested, that we were keeping the students from studying, along with many other excuses about why we should leave. 

As we sat there, I realized that I have never been so confident that I needed to be sitting in this place, at this time.  I knew that I was not breaking the law, even if we were arrested.  We were engaging in nonviolent civil resistance, acting in resistance to the law-breaking of those in power.  We were not there because we wanted to get arrested, and we were not trying to get arrested.  But we were willing to risk arrest because we MUST do what we can to stop the murders of innocent people.

At one point I heard the head of security say to another officer “at 5:01”.  I thought they would likely arrest us when the office officially closed at 5:00.  But 5:00 came and went and we were not arrested, though they threatened arrest several times.

By 6:00, we had been occupying the office for almost six hours, and some of us were feeling desperate to use the restroom, but we didn’t want that to be the reason we left.  Max asked if they could be respectful and afford us the human dignity of using the restroom, but they refused, posting two Baltimore police officers outside of the restroom door, which was only a few steps away from us. 

As the situation became more difficult, Max increased his requests.  Finally, he walked out onto a balcony area and loudly asked the 40 security officers and Baltimore PD, “Is there not one person who has the courage to disobey an illegal order….. not one person?”   With that remark, the head of JHU security asked the officers blocking the door to move and to allow us to use the bathroom.

Malachy reminded us and the security personnel that though we were in a difficult situation, he was holding a picture of a dead child who will never go to the bathroom again.  Holding the pictures of the drone victims helped us to keep our focus on why we were there.  Malachy wrote a poem on the back of his picture about the connection we have with these victims and with each other.  It is so important for us to remember that the people being killed by the bombs are children and parents and grandparents who love each other and live in families just like we do, and we are indeed all connected in this tragedy.

At about 6:30 a big, burly Baltimore police officer came into the office and tried to intimidate us, yelling at us that we were breaking the law and that we were going to be arrested.  When he saw talking loudly and letting us know we were breaking the law and we would be arrested.  When he noticed someone in our group smiling, he yelled that this is no laughing matter and getting arrested was something that we would not want to happen.  As my friend Malachy pointed out, he didn’t know who he was talking to.  We probably have several hundred arrests between all of us, and though none of us enjoys getting arrested, we know what happens when we are arrested and we know we can and will endure it.

With this latest pronouncement from the officer, and seeing all the Baltimore PD officers gathering, we were certain an arrest was imminent.  But by 7:30 or so we noticed that all of the Baltimore police had left the building with no arrests taking place.  At the same time, it seemed that the JHU security officers were settling in for the night.  We circled together to discuss what we wanted to do.  One person had to leave by nine to take care of a family member.  We all agreed that we had a strong sense of community and wanted to stay together.  We also felt that our work was done for now, but that we would return.  During the eight hours we were there, we were able to raise awareness of the drone research and why it is so egregious with mid-level JHU administration officials, JHU security officials, and Baltimore police officers.    

We decided that to end our action, we would read the letter we had sent to President Daniels and Dr. Semmel out loud, Tim would announce that our work was done for now, and we would leave singing:

And every one 'neath their vine and fig tree
Shall live in peace and unafraid
And every one 'neath their vine and fig tree
Shall live in peace and unafraid

And into plowshares turn their swords,
Nations shall learn war no more
And into plowshares turn their swords, 
Nations shall learn war no more

As we left the office, the head security officer told us we would be arrested if we ever stepped foot on the campus again.  It was surprising that they didn’t arrest us as we “illegally” occupying the office, but would arrest us if we came back, not doing anything illegal.  We cannot know for sure, but we suspect that there were orders given from above that we should not be arrested. JHU officials may not have wanted the publicity this would have garnered.

We walked several blocks to Max’s van and as we waited for Max to pick up his keys, we noticed that one of the Baltimore police officers had followed us to make sure we weren’t going to get into any more trouble.

We must continue these actions.  We all have a Nuremberg obligation to act in resistance to the illegalities of drone warfare.  There is talk of a national period of actions against drone warfare in Sept. and October.  Please join an action in your area so that we can bring an end to drone warfare.

Those involved in the action included Ellen Barfield, David Barrows, Tim Chadwick, Cindy Farquhar, Malachy Kilbride, Max Obuszewski, Manijeh Saba, Alice Sutter, and myself, Joy First.

For information, please contact me at

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