International Day of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space; Report from Vandenberg

October 7 2000

by Jacqueline Cabasso,
Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation

From the back of a flatbed truck, Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, was telling the gathering how the United States Air Force had brought Nazi rocket scientists from Germany after World War II to start the U.S. space program. At that moment, an enormous black “gunboat” helicopter appeared overhead, hovering ominously above the assembly, its thunderous engines drowning out the speakers. This was the scene across the street from the main gate at Vandenberg Air Force base on Saturday, October 7, as approximately 200 people gathered to peacefully express their opposition to ongoing U.S. plans to deploy a “Star Wars” National Missile Defense program. Rally speakers included Medea Benjamin, Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate in California, “Butch” Turk, representing Greenpeace, Carah Ong, Coordinator of the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, and actor Martin Sheen.

After the rally, surprised nonviolent demonstrators, singing and holding hands at the main gate of the base, were met by camouflage-clad, baton-wielding “storm troopers,” dogs and a water cannon. A few people who were prepared to risk arrest by attempting to deliver a letter to the base commander were handled unnecessarily roughly, inspiring others to join them. By the end of the day 23 people (including Martin Sheen) had been arrested — some of them literally grabbed off the sidewalk by military personnel. In an unusual and disturbing development, arrestees were read their rights and “interviewed” before being released. They also received letters banning them from the base along with trespass citations.

The Vandenberg rally and nonviolent direct action was part of an internationally-coordinated day of protest to stop the militarization of space. Demonstrations took place in 16 countries and 39 U.S. cities. Vandenberg Air Force Base is the U.S. launch site for Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) interceptor tests, first-strike nuclear missile tests and military satellites. When President Clinton announced his decision on September 1 to delay deployment of a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system, he also mandated a “robust’ program of continued development and testing, including 16 more BMD tests at $100 million each.

The next BMD interceptor test is planned from Vandenberg in January 2001.

Letter Read at Vandenberg Rally
October 7 2000

by Bruce Gagnon,
Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

[This letter was read at Vandenberg rally and I tried to deliver it to the base commander with all participants signature on it when I was rudely manhandled by the military.]

Col. Stephen L. Lanning
30th Space Wing
Vandenberg AFB, CA.

Dear Col. Lanning:

On this day in 16 countries and in 39 cities across the U.S., concerned global citizens are gathering with one voice to call for an end to plans to put weapons into space.

The overseas protests will be held in the following countries: Australia, Azerbaijan, Germany, Romania, England, Denmark, Mauritius, France, Greece, Nepal, Japan, Norway, India, South Korea, and Canada.

In the U.S. events will be held coast to coast, from Cape Canaveral to the U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, from White Sands Missile Testing Range in New Mexico to the streets of Seattle.

This growing global expression of outrage is due to the reckless and expensive plan to "control and dominate" space in order to protect corporate "interests and investments."

When President Eisenhower left office he warned the American people against the undue influence of the military industrial complex.

We understand that the aerospace corporations view space as a new market for a high-tech arms race. We know that weapons are the nation's number one industrial export. We realize that global instability is the corporate marketing strategy for the merchants of war.

All across our planet hunger, poverty, and environmental decay are in need of our attention. But when we plead with our political leaders, those same leaders who receive millions in contributions from the aerospace corporations, we are told that there is no money to deal with these problems.

We are tired of being misled. We are tired of seeing our hard earned tax dollars promoting the bad seed of war, greed, and environmental degradation. We are tired of seeing $100 million national missile defense system tests at Vandenberg while Iraqi children die by the millions from starvation and preventable disease. We are tired of hearing that $60 billion will be wasted on National Missile Defense (NMD) and $30 billion more will now be thrown away on testing the space-based laser program, the real Reagan-era Star Wars plan.

We are here at Vandenberg on October 7, and at the places around the world, in a real celebration of liberation. We are liberating ourselves from the corrupt political system that steals from the people. We are liberating ourselves from the self serving politicians and political parties that guard the gates to the Space Command bases and aerospace corporation factories.

We call for justice. We call for peace. We call for democracy - not a shallow democracy of empty slogans and flag waving - but a true democracy that promotes human development and kindness, not a new arms race in the heavens.

We pledge ourselves to work toward building a nation and a global community that views the moon and the stars with wonder, not as places to put military bases and weapons of "control and domination."

We urge you Col. Lanning to lead your troops out of Vandenberg AFB and into the real peace movement.

In peace,

Bruce K. Gagnon
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

TV's Mr. President arrested at Vandenberg protest

October 7 2000

By Rick Tuttle, Lompoc Record Staff

Actor Martin Sheen, star of NBC's "West Wing" TV series, is hauled away, hands cuffed behind him, after being arrested by security police during a protest at Vandenberg Air Force Base Saturday. Photo by Mark Powell/Lompoc Record.

America's television president, Martin Sheen, was among 23 peace activists arrested Saturday during a non-violent but tense standoff at Vandenberg Air Force Base's main gate - the culmination of local protests against a developing national missile defense system and the perceived "militarization of space."

Sheen, the veteran actor who plays the U.S. president in the Emmy-winning drama "West Wing," ignored numerous warnings by base security forces and attempted to walk into Vandenberg hand-in-hand with two Bay Area Catholic priests and two activist friends.

Like all of those arrested, Sheen was quickly placed in plastic handcuffs, amid a shower of cheers from fellow protestors, and loaded onto a bus.

A human wall of helmeted and baton-carrying members of the Vandenberg's Confrontation Management Team met protestors as they approached base property alone or in small groups.

When the crowd of about 140 protesters finally dispersed, the arrested were transported to an on-base processing center for booking on charges of trespassing and failure to disperse, authorities report.

All were released from custody last night, each handed a letter from 30th Space Wing Commander Col. Steve Lanning barring them from entering the base for at least one year, with the exception of required appearances in Vandenberg's federal magistrate court to face the charges.

Some of the arrested may face other charges, base officials said, including a female protester caught on videotape striking a member of the security force, which included about 50 personnel, two dogs and a water cannon. The cannon would have only been used if the group had stormed the base en masse, according to Maj. John Cherry, Vandenberg spokesman.

"We're very sure that the level of response was appropriate for the level of action from the protesters," he said. "I hope you all saw what I saw which was people being treated very fairly, no one being force down to the concrete or anything like that."

The tense confrontation came after a "Stop Star Wars" rally, sponsored by the Vandenberg Action Coalition, which included two and a half hours of folk singing and speeches amplified from a flatbed truck parked on the northwest corner of the intersection of Highway I and Lompoc-Casmalia Road.

The protests, often drowned out by base helicopters patrolling overhead, were part of similar actions taken in 16 other countries and 39 U.S. cities.

Protesters had promised stealthy invasion of base security zones to disrupt base operations, but base officials reported no back country arrests were made. Three local hikers were stopped and quickly released after they wandered on base near Point Sal, Cherry said.

Prior to his arrest, Sheen, no stranger to political activism, told the Record that he had traveled to the Vandenberg rally "to protest the continuation of Star Wars research and planning. It's foolhardy, it's destructive, it's wasteful and it can't work."

"Star Wars" is the term used by protesters to describe the ground-based system the Pentagon is developing to protect the United States from limited long range missile attacks by rogue nations. The name is taken from a space-based program proposed two decades ago.

The next $100 million intercept test of the NMD system, in which a "kill vehicle" launched from Kwajalein Atoll - 4,200 miles away - attempts to strike a "target vehicle" launched from Vandenberg, is scheduled for next January.

Before the main gate action occurred, Sheen said he was unsure whether he would try to enter the base and risk arrest.

"I leave that to the Holy Spirit,' he said. "I just stand on line and let the spirit lead me where I have to go."

When asked if his voice was significant considering his commander-in-chief television role, he said, "You tell me. I do this for myself. I'm not the president, I'm the acting president."

"My producers have a life and I have a life. That's what I do for a living, this is what I do to stay alive."

As he was being loaded onto the bus, witnesses heard Sheen offering in-character presidential humor and spiritual encouragement. He also spoke at the rally, but limited his remarks to the recitation of a poem.

Other speakers included Green Party Senatorial candidate Medea Benjamin and Bruce Gagnon, coordinator for the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

"They are not here to protect us, we are here as slaves to feed this machine to build these pyramids to the heavens," said Gagnon, referring to base personnel across the street. "The aerospace corporations are the Pharaohs of our age and we the taxpayers will be the slaves to build these pyramids to the heavens."

Some demonstrators carried large puppets representing companies that fund defense research. These include Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon and TRW which rally organizers said have split more than $2.2 billion in missile defense research and development in the last two years - approximately 60 percent of Pentagon contracts.

Vandenberg Action Coalition member Frank Nolan, of Los Osos, an English and philosophy professor at Allan Hancock College's Lompoc Valley campus, said he opposed the NMD system because it would start a new arms race.

"One of the reasons I'm here is to be an example to my students, that they should be active and they should speak out on issues of conscience," he said.

Despite being from where protesters consider to be the base's "company town," first-time protester Lisa Williams, of Lompoc, said her presence at the rally showed "that there is a concern even among people that are part of the immediate community ... about our children, about what we're showing our children about violence and about nuclear arms."

Terms of the protests were negotiated two weeks ago, which included a time limit on the protests and vows of non-violence from both sides. But base officials feared many out-of-towners- many of the protesters came down from the San Francisco Bay Area - would not comply with the predetermined conditions.

"One of the main reasons why we were out with our Confrontation Management Team is that they had made threats that they would break the line," Cherry said, "and a couple hundred feet (from the main gate) you have family housing. We were not going to allow anyone to go into family housing and infiltrate that area."

Vandenberg received security and traffic control assistance from the U.S. Marshal's office, the FBI, the California Highway Patrol and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department.

Base officials estimated it was the largest protest at the main gate since the actions against the Peacekeeper missile in the early 1980s.

Protest at Vendenberg

October 7 2000

from: FLORIDA TODAY Space Online
Daily News

Actor Martin Sheen is arrested by Vandenberg Air Force Security Police at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2000. Authorities arrested 23 peace activists including Sheen, during a protest against military space technology. Sheen also spoke at the event, which drew about 200 demonstrators, said Lawrence Turk of Greenpeace USA. (AP Photo/Phil Klein)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) - Authorities arrested 23 peace activists, including actor Martin Sheen, during a protest Saturday against military space technology.

The 23 people arrested were cited for misdemeanor trespassing and failure to disperse, warned in writing not to return to the base for at least one year, then released, said sheriff's Lt. Mike Burridge.

Vandenberg Action Coalition, an alliance of peace organizations, sponsored the ``Stop Star Wars´´ rally outside Vandenberg Air Force Base´s main gate. Sheen and Green Party U.S. Senate candidate Medea Benjamin spoke at the event, which drew about 200 demonstrators, said Lawrence Turk of Greenpeace USA.

The event was part of an international day to speak out against military space technology. Protests were being held in 16 countries and 60 cities, organizers said.

``We are protesting everything from Star Wars (the proposed national space defense system), to hunter-killer satellites, to space surveillance systems,´´ Turk said.

Base officials increased security at Vandenberg's entrance during the rally and rerouted vehicles to other gates. ``There have been general threats of activities against the base,´´ said Air Force Capt. Tom Knowles.

In July, seven Greenpeace activists were arrested for trespassing at Vandenberg during the launch of an unsuccessful national missile defense system test. Five other protesters were cited for trespassing at the launch of a Minuteman II missile but they were not detained.

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