Beale goes to Code Pink

After a night of pounding rain and howling winds, the dawn drive to Marysville turned out to be surprisingly peaceful.

Most of the 10 or so Code Pink activists were coming from the Bay Area, leaving their homes at 4:30 in the morning, getting to Beale Air Force Base—home of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing—in time for the morning shift to arrive.

Once there, they tried not to get splashed by passing cars as they handed out fliers to the drivers on their way to the main gate. The fliers urged support for Bradley Manning and condemned the U.S. military’s unmanned drone program.

“Have a peaceful day,” the activists told soldiers and civilians as they drove past toward the guard booth.

Manning is the 23-year-old Army private accused of providing the WikiLeaks website with video of an Army helicopter firing on and killing a dozen Iraqi civilians and two Reuters reporters in a Baghdad street in 2007. He’s also believed by the Army to be the source of the much larger leak of tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.

The United States considers him a traitor and has held him in solitary confinement for seven months. Many of the protesters say that equals torture, and consider Manning to be a hero, like Daniel Ellsberg. “We’re trying to reach out to his fellow soldiers and let them know that they are torturing Bradley Manning for exercising his First Amendment rights,” said Leslie Angeline, one of the Code Pink activists from San Francisco.

Manning has no connection to Beale. But the drones do. Not far from the main gate is a wide billboard with a picture of sleek gray Global Hawk reconnaissance drones that are run out of Beale. The ad sports a company log for Northrop Grumman and the tag line “Securing the globe, 32 hours at a time.”

The drones save U.S. pilots’ lives, to be sure. Arguably they work too well, extending an almost godlike power around the globe. Then again, they often fail horribly, and have been blamed for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

“Once in a while, a Taliban leader is targeted. The other times it’s homes, hospitals or schools,” said Robert Zeuner, a protester from Nevada City.

But Beale’s drones are all about surveillance. The attack drones are operated from other bases, located in other rural towns in other parts of the country.

Without the drones, and the hundreds of flesh-and-blood soldiers who deploy from Beale every year, it’s tough to say what would become of Marysville.

Laura Nicholson, CEO of the Yuba Sutter Chamber of Commerce, told Bites the base contributes about $330 million annually to the regional economy. And the community is looking forward to a new mission at the base, called Project Liberty, which will add hundreds of new jobs. As for the protesters, Nicholson wasn’t too excited, but said, “They certainly have their right to pass out fliers.”

That about sums up most of the reaction to protesters at the Beale gate. “We get a lot of smiles and peace signs. Occasionally we get one of these,” said Code Pink organizer Toby Blome, extending her middle finger. Blome came up from Berkeley, like many of her fellow protesters, from pretty far away from Marysville.

They plan to return next month, and in the months that follow. Bites asked Blome if she thought she was really reaching people. Tough to say, though she thinks that “a lot of these soldiers are tired of being redeployed over and over again.” That’s something that the folks from Beale and the folks from the Bay Area can probably all agree on.