Notes: Action and Meeting as part of the State-wide anti-drone actions in collaboration with Upstate Drone Action
Outside, six* of us gathered in the snow and blowing wind in front of the 3rd Ave offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. A leaflet distributed for the action can be downloaded here. Within the first half hour, Ms Sydney Renwick, Director Community Outreach and Intern Coordination (for Senator Schumer), with whom we had an appointment later, together with a security officer from the building joined us in the cold
The message was basically: What are we doing demonstrating in front of the office of the Senator immediately before we have a scheduled meeting! It was like this had never happened before. We were also asked not to photograph the encounter (already one taken though)! Joan used the opportunity to explain why we were there and talk about the actions at Hancock airbase, one of the sites where drones are managed. As the snow and wind picked up, we were invited to proceed earlier than scheduled to the Senator’s offices and after due consultation, we unanimously agreed to this.
After warming up, Ms Renwick invited us to a Conference Room and we continued the discussion. After introductions, we began by inquiring what the Senator’s position was. Ms Renwick indicated that he has not made any public statements on the militarization of drones since 2009. He has successfully obtained federal funds for drone research for NY universities (i.e. Syracuse, Cornell, Rochester). And two testing sites for drones have been awarded to NY. It was also noted that Senator Schumer is aware of some of the recent “accidents” by drones, the most recent in DC at the White House, but also one in NYC in which a drone almost hit a NYPD helicopter!
We summarized our efforts to enhance public awareness on drone use around the world and to generate public support for a ban on the use weaponized drones everywhere and surveillance drones in NYC, NY State and USA: the 2013 campaign with KnowDrones city-wide, collection of signatures on a petition calling for a global ban and our meeting at the United Nations; development and lobbying among the public and city council members for a resolution that would ban surveillance and weaponized drone use in the city over a 3 year period; public education and informal surveys on the public’s views on drone use abroad and possibly in NYC. (Noted to Ms Renwick that citizens surveyed at sites in Harlem, Brooklyn, City Hall said overwhelmingly that they did not want surveillance or weaponized drones used in the city)
In a more detailed review of the NYC Council amendments to the City Code on drone use, it was felt both were inadequate: Councilman Vallone’s draft bans weaponized and surveillance drones, but exempts city agencies, e.g. NYPD; Councilman Garodnick’s amendments requires a warrant for use of surveillance drones (no reference to weaponized drones). A state bill currently in draft form on surveillance drone use appeared to be the most comprehensive and protective of civil liberties, but without a reference to weaponization.
Moving to our “ask” it was noted that the use of drones overseas foreshadows possible domestic uses, especially with the militarization of NYPD (noted with concern the recent press article that NYPD will have machine guns for use against terrorists and protestors). How can the Senator use his influence, which is substantial in the State and City, to ban the use of drones for surveillance of people: individuals and groups and to ban any weaponized drones anywhere…..similar to global bans on land mines and cluster bombs. (We noted, we are not talking about use of drone use by hobbyists, around airports….etc as these seemed to be under the FAA)
Ms Renwick did ask us….in a war (declared war situation) would we rather have US boots on the ground or use drones……but she understood that we were basically against war.
Ms Renwick was not sure how the Senator could really assist and she suggested we might contact Rep Peter King, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.
We basically ended hoping the Senator would use his influence to ensure laws that protected our civil liberties and rights and that would ban weaponized drone use everywhere, including NYC. A wide range of drone materials were provided to her: from our website, the draft Code amendments and draft State legislation, Will I Be Next: US Drone Strikes in Pakistan (Amnesty International), You Never Die Twice: Multiple Kills in US Drone Program (Reprieve), and Living Under Drones (Stanford Law School/NYU School of Law).
And then we took photos in the hallway, near the elevators…..esp. for Joan who could show them to her judge, respecting his request that we contact our Representatives.
We thanked Ms Renwick for her time and asked her to inform us of any feedback from the Senator.
– Marty Rajandran
for the Granny Peace Brigade
*Edith, Eva-Lee, Joan, Marty, Phyllis and Mel from our neighbors list