SKOWHEGAN — Marchers protesting the use of unmanned aircraft for surveillance at home and for weapons delivery systems overseas brought their message to the highways of central Maine on Sunday.
“Ditch drones” was the basic message of about 30 walkers, quietly banging hand-held drums, carrying placards and chanting.
“They’re killing machines,” said march organizer Bruce Gagnon of Bath, a member of the group Veterans for Peace. “Our walk is really about two things — the growing concern about drone surveillance and weaponized drones they are using today in Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of the African continent, killing a lot of innocent civilians.”
The Maine Drone Peace Walk began in Limestone, in Aroostook County, on Thursday. Marchers walk about 13 miles a day, and the march is scheduled to pass through Farmington, Waterville and Augusta en route to Bath on Saturday.
“We walked to Caribou and then to Presque Isle because some politicians in this state would like to put a weaponized drone test center in Aroostook County and that’s one of the reasons for doing this walk,” Gagnon said. “They’d have drones test-firing Hellfire missiles to practice.”
President Obama approved use of drones for surveillance in the United States in February, and Gagnon, 61, said that as many as 30,000 will be used for that purpose in the coming years. Thirty-seven states have applied to host one of six military drone test centers — including in Limestone.
When they’re not walking, the marchers ride in a converted bus driven by Frank Donnelly, 67. Donnelly, sporting a bushy mustache and ponytail, said he was a war protester while serving in the Army during Vietnam and was put in the stockade for refusing to go to war.
He also has been in federal prison as a war tax resister, he said.
“I’m a longtime peace activist,” he said. “I’m cynical, but it would (be) nice to achieve â€˜no drones’ killing innocent people around the world and spying on ourselves.”
Lisa Savage of Solon, co-coordinator of the Maine Campaign to Bring Our War $$ Home, another of the peace walk sponsors, said she walked 13 miles Saturday and returned to the bridge in Skowhegan where she and others have protested war for many years.
“This walk is important to raise awareness of how the government spends our tax dollars on very expensive drones to keep us all under surveillance,” Savage said.
“Drones are being used to kill thousands of innocent civilians, including hundreds of children, around the world. People here in the U.S. say they want their tax dollars spent on health care, education, jobs and veterans’ benefits, not drones.”
Gagnon said there will be a rally at 3 p.m. Friday in the Hall of Flags at the State House in Augusta, and then the marchers will go on to Bath for the scheduled launch of a destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, at Bath Iron Works on Saturday.
The ship’s christening has been delayed because of the partial shutdown of the federal government, but Gagnon said the group will carry out its plans to demonstrate, anyway.
Gagnon said to call such a military launch a christening is an affront to Christians and to people of all religions.
“It’s a blasphemy to use Christ’s name — the prince of peace,” Gagnon said.
Gilberto Perez, a Buddhist monk from Washington state whose order has joined the Maine march, said Americans from every corner of the nation are threatened by war.
“As a religious order with Catholic workers, Jesuits, Quakers, we pray and walk that we can abolish all wars and live at peace with each other,” he said. “We pray at military bases, whether it’s North Korean, Palestinian, Israeli — any weapons. We don’t take any sides. War is bad. As Jesus said, we should love one another, even our enemies.”
Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:[email protected]