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Drone protesters are on a 165-mile walk from Syracuse to Niagara Falls

Tom Magnarelli
Drone protesters in downtown Syracuse.

A coalition of peace organizations are making a 165-mile walk from Syracuse’s Hancock Air Base to the Niagara Falls Air Base, to bring attention to the military's drone operations that take place there. One of the goals is to educate the public on what it is like being in Afghanistan, where the fear of drones is a part of life for many.

For Julienne Oldfield and about 20 others, the day started at the Hancock Air Base where protesters have rallied against drone warfare for years.

“Well, all we did was walk by and of course they get rather nervous because they think, 'Oh no, here they are again, they’re coming again!'" Oldfield said, "But of course we didn’t stop, we just went right by and walked and walked and walked."

It was about a six mile walk to downtown Syracuse where they were joined by more activists at the federal building. Kathy Kelly has been traveling to Afghanistan since 2010 and most recently got back from a trip there in September. She wears a blue scarf made by young people living in Kabul who want to see an end to the war.

“When they find out that a hospital in Afghanistan was bombed and bombed repeatedly at 15 minute intervals, do you know what question they ask me?" Kelly said. "They ask, ‘Kathy, do people in your country think that we’re human beings like they are?’ And I say, what kind of a question is that? But now, I’m wondering.”

Kelly is referring to the Oct. 3 bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital, carried out by U.S. airstrikes, that killed 22 people. The United States military said the airstrike was a mistake. Kelly said she’s met families in Afghanistan who have had their young men killed by drones just because of suspicion.

“The drone surveillance also frighten people," Kelly said. “If people know that there are drones flying around overhead then they don’t want their children leaving the home even just to go to school. They feel certain that if there are drones flying overhead than they’re looking for somebody. It could be a neighbor, it could be a cousin, it could be me.”

Kelly and the other protesters are preaching nonviolent solutions and humanitarian aid to those in crisis overseas. It’s the beginning of a long trip some of them will make to Niagara Falls where an Air National Guard unit has started remotely piloting drones. They plan to get their by Oct. 20.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.