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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In Iowa, occupiers picket a drone factory

From: Salon.com
Dec 5th 2011

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Cherry Building in Cedar Rapids’ revitalized New Bohemia neighborhood is a hive of artisans, small businesspeople, entrepreneurs — and soon, space for the assembly of surveillance drones.

It’s the arrival of the latter in the form of AirCover Integrated Solutions Corp. — a Northern California-founded firm— that attracted about 75 protesters Saturday afternoon from Occupy Wall Street movements across Iowa including Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Iowa City, Dubuque and Davenport.

The use of U.S.-government drone aircraft to wage war on suspected terrorists and innocent civilians from Pakistan to Gaza has become controversial as civilian deaths have mounted and civil liberties concerns have grown.

The protest lasted about an hour with the only significant verbal confrontations coming between activists and merchants in the 104,000-square-foot building who were upset that the protest coincided with — and disrupted — the annual Very Cherry Holiday Open House.

The Occupy argument: The drones, to be assembled by AirCover, will enable Big Brother to hover over the streets and homes of America, and serve as the handmaidens of death on foreign soil.

James Hill, president of AirCover Solutions, rejected the protesters’ message. In an interview with Salon, Hill insisted that the unmanned drones, soon to be assembled in Iowa, will save the lives of soldiers, police and rescue personnel who can use his company’s devices to enter danger zones remotely without risk of bodily injury.

What’s more, business leaders in Cedar Rapids are eager for the up to 25 tech jobs that Hill says AirCover will bring to this city of 126,000 people. Iowa’s second-largest city is still suffering from the effects of devastating floods in 2008.

The protesters gathered just after 3 p.m. outside the Cherry Building, carrying signs that said, among other things, “Are you listening?” “I want my right to privacy” and “Stop the police state now.”

“It concerns me a whole lot the kind of money that we spend on these kind of military, police state items when we don’t have enough money for our schools — enough money for health,” said Dr. Maureen McCue, who teaches in the public health department at the University of Iowa.

McCue, an Occupy supporter, said the potential abuse of the drone technology is greater than the likelihood it will be trained to peaceful, positive ends.

“These drone issues are completely buried if people don’t make a lot of noise about it,” McCue said.

Another protestor, Dr. Robert Schultes, a doctor in Cedar Rapids, held a sign that said “No Drone Zone.”

He doesn’t trust the remote-control aspect of the drones.

“If they make a mistake they kill a whole bunch of people,” Schultes said.


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