26 September 2004
Speaking in front of armed guards and with a military helicopter hovering above, author and acclaimed peace activist Helen Caldicott explained why she came to Vandenberg Air Force Base on Saturday.
"They need to shut down Vandenberg," she said after speaking before a crowd of 60 protesters assembled outside the base's main gate.
"Vandenberg is all about blowing up the planet," she said, describing the effect of the armed guards and hovering helicopters as "terrifying."
Air Force spokeswoman Sgt. Rebecca Danet defended the deployment of helicopters and guards, saying they were needed to protect the base from trespassers and any unruly demonstrators.
Sgt. Danet also defended the Air Force's decision to cover up the base's sign adjacent to the front gates near the protest area.
"We're trying to provide them with a location where they can voice their opinions," she said. "The purpose is not to give them a backdrop for their agenda."
Speaking on a battery-operated microphone to members of the Vandenberg Action Coalition, the Lompoc Coalition for Peace and Justice and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Ms. Caldicott criticized the base's role in the country's missile defense program.
Vandenberg is home to four of 10 interceptor missiles that are the opening salvo of the nascent National Missile Defense system. The other six are at Alaska's Fort Greeley.
"The significance is that, for the first time, we will have at least a limited defense against a ballistic missile attack," Rick Lehner, communications director for the Missile Defense Agency, told the News-Press earlier this year. "That's something we don't have now."
It's something else we don't have now that scares Ms. Caldicott.
"It will create a new nuclear arms race," she said, adding that she thinks the world today is under greater threat of nuclear war than even the 1980s.
For example, Ms. Caldicott said the remnants of the Soviet Union's large arsenal could easily fall into the wrong hands, such as those of terrorists from Chechnya. She also said weapons in the United States were vulnerable to attacks from hackers.
Organizers said the event was the first in a week of planned protests targeting weapons proliferation in space. The protesters said they hope to bring attention to the build-up of lasers, nuclear weapons, satellites and missiles that could reach beyond the earth's atmosphere.
"We want to get the word out to the general public about what they are doing here," Vandenberg Action Coalition member Bud Boothe said. "We are going to control space. Anyone (who) controls space controls the whole world."
The front gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base will serve as the stage for a Saturday afternoon protest to keep space for peace, and will include an anti-nuclear author as guest speaker.
The activities begin at 11:30 a.m. with a three-mile march from the Highway 1 offramp at Vandenberg Village to the base's main gate.
From 1 to 3 p.m., protesters will converge on the corner to hold signs, sing songs and hear speeches.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, author of "The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex," will be the keynote speaker. She also is president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute.
"We hope there's going to be a fairly large demonstration," said Bud Boothe of Los Olivos.
He is a member of the Vandenberg Action Coalition, an umbrella group for several organizations opposed to missile defense and military space programs.
Boothe said the event is designed as a peaceful protest. It's up to individual people if they intend
"I've had no indication anyone plans to do it," Boothe said.
The group gathers twice a year - in the fall and on Armed Forces Day in May - to stage protests. A smaller group also gathers at least once a month for small vigils at the gate.
Dozens of sites around the world will host vigils and other actions between Saturday and Oct. 2 for "Keep Space for Peace Week" and "International Days of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space."
Associate Editor Janene Scully can be reached at 739-2214 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.