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Peace activists infiltrate military base

Peace activists infiltrate military base



Mar. 24, 2003
By Dion Nissenbaum
Mercury News Sacramento Bureau

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE - Anti-war activists brought their anger and anguish to the doorstep of America’s military Sunday by launching a series of protests designed to disrupt life at this West Coast nerve center for the war in Iraq.
Small groups of demonstrators sneaked onto the sprawling 99,000-acre military facility to hang anti-war banners, but none of the 18 activists was caught or arrested, and there were no serious confrontations with base security.
Organizers had hoped for a larger protest, but said that some activists may have been scared off by reports that Vandenberg was threatening to shoot demonstrators who illegally entered the base.
Rather than running the risk of alienating average Americans by blocking city streets as thousands have done in recent days, these demonstrators sought to focus their attention on the military.
“Soldiers are risking their lives every day for war, and we’re not risking anything for peace,” said Rev. Meg Lumsdaine, a 33-year-old Lutheran minister from Santa Cruz. “Until we’re willing to risk something for peace, the forces of war are always going to win.”
Lumsdaine and the other demonstrators focused on Vandenberg because the base, 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles, is a major launch site for military satellites being used to guide soldiers marching toward Baghdad.
They tried to gum up the works by forcing Vandenberg security to focus their attention on them instead of the war. But Air Force officials said the chances were slim that the demonstrators could have any effect on overseas operations, and that the weekend cat-and-mouse game may have had an upside.
“It actually provides some really excellent training for our security forces,” said Maj. Stacee Bako.
And for the protesters, Sunday’s actions were in part a test run for a long-planned week of civil disobedience in mid-May to coincide with Armed Forces Day.
Despite heightened security at Vandenberg, several groups of demonstrators managed to get onto base property undetected to hang two protest signs, spray paint an anarchist symbol on a road and scout out spots for the May action.
Just before dawn, one trio strung a cloth banner reading “Not in our name” from a water tower overlooking Highway 1 less than a mile from the main gate. The sign, barely visible from the main road, stood hanging most of the day before base security noticed it and took it down.
Jessica Wolf said she took the action with her 10-year-old son in mind.
“I care desperately about the world that my son will inherit and want to put myself on the line to say that life is about our human connection,” said Wolf, a 34-year-old re-entry student at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “I’m willing to risk something for that.”
For part of the weekend, activists engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse with military security by scouting out the base boundaries to see how long they could go undetected.
On Saturday, Lumsdaine drove one group down a winding canyon road that ends at base property overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a solitary radar tower.
Within minutes, security forces descended on the remote road from all directions. Soldiers armed with M-16s stood watch as a Huey helicopter circled overhead.
“We do have the possibility of terrorist threats, so we don’t want to let our guard down,” said Jim Mercier, the base’s wildlife enforcement officer as the activists drove off.
Since the early 1980s, peace protesters have focused on Vandenberg because of its longstanding role in overseeing military satellites and taking part in ongoing tests of the country’s burgeoning missile-defense program.
In 1988, activist Katya Komisaruk was sentenced to five years in prison for sneaking onto the base and causing a half-million dollars in damage to a military computer she thought would help the United States launch a nuclear first strike.
Contact Dion Nissenbaum at dnissenbaum@mercury or (916) 441-4603


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