Direct Action at Boeing


Sunday, March 23, I joined 250 peace demonstrators, comprised
of a cross-section of American society, in a nonviolent protest
and direct action at the Boeing plant in St. Charles, Missouri.
The St. Charles factory produces Joint Direct Attack Munition
(JDAM) kits. 

According to Boeing, the JDAM kit “converts existing unguided
free-fall bombs into accurately guided ‘smart’ weapons.
The JDAM kit consists of a new tail section that contains an Internal
Navigation System [INS]/Global Positioning System [GPS].”
Boeing and the Air Force are using JDAMs to fit, or retrofit,
newer or older ordnance, some of which is 30 years old, to make
the bomb in question more accurate. Boeing describes the JDAM
as “originally designed for 2,000-pound MK-84 and BLU-109
warheads.” The JDAM kits “have also been developed for
1,000-pound MK-83 and BLU-110 warheads.” Boeing has tested
JDAMs for 500-pound bombs and will make them available next year. 

Boeing and the Pentagon report that the INS/GPS systems make JDAM-equipped
bombs 98 percent accurate: impervious to bad weather, smoke, or
sandstorms. The JDAM kits cost $20,000 each, far less than laser-guided
missiles. This low cost makes JDAMs an attractive way for the
Air Force to unload their stockpile of older bombs on other countries. 

JDAMs have become one of the most popular and profitable items
in the military industrial complex.

USA Today

covered JDAMs
as their lead story in the “Money” section on Monday,
March 24. “From September 2001 to October 2002, the JDAM
program generated more than $1 billion worth of contracts,”

USA Today

learned from Boeing spokesperson Robert Algarotti.
Arms specialists describe JDAMs in the

USA Today

as “definitely the signature weapon of modern warfare”
and perhaps “the most successful munitions program of this
generation.” Boeing is the world’s second-largest weapons
manufacturer, with $54 billion in 2002 revenue. 

JDAM-equipped bombs debuted in the war on Serbia in 1999. One
of them hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade: a human error, not
JDAM’s, the Pentagon assures us. During the Afghanistan campaign
of 2001-2002, 4,600 of the 12,000 bombs the U.S. dropped were
fitted with JDAMs. The “success” of JDAM bombs depleted
the Air Force’s stockpile, leading to a big contract with
Boeing in December 2001.

USA Today

reported that “the
Air Force originally ordered about 87,000 kits, but has since
expanded its contract to more than 230,000.” At the St. Charles
plant, it appears they can’t make them fast enough. According
to demonstration organizers, the factory has been manufacturing
JDAMs round-the-clock for three years. 

It was against this backdrop that we gathered on Saturday at Christ
Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis. Midwest Regional Resistance
and the Chicago-based group Voices in the Wilderness were the
main organizers of the event. Several Voices representatives joined
representatives of the Anathoth Farm in Luck, Wisconsin to drive
down in the “Omran Bus.” (Activists named the vehicle
after the Iraqi boy Omran Harbi Jawair, who was killed on May
17, 2000 by a U.S. or UK bomb dropped near his village of Najaf
in southern Iraq.) The Omran bus has logged thousands of miles
on American roads since 2000, carrying activists devoted to telling
the tragic stories of the victims of sanctions and bombing in
Iraq. A sign in the window reads: “Start seeing Iraqi children.” 

formulated a plan for Sunday: a dozen people wearing white suits
with “CWIT” in large letters on the back, standing for
Citizens Weapons Inspection Team, would head the procession; they
would request to enter the Boeing plant to inspect the weapons
of mass destruction inside. There would be a half-dozen coffins,
complete with mock victims. We decided to wear black and emulate
a funeral procession. Some activists volunteered to refuse to
move from the Boeing plant’s gates in the event they did
not allow the CWIT members inside. We were warned that this act
of civil disobedience would likely result in arrest. 

Mike Miles, Jeff Guntzel, and Stephanie Schaudel from Voices related
the human cost of what American policy in Iraq has wrought. 

Miles also told the story of Voices’ trip to Omran Harbi
Jawair’s village in early 2001. They met Falah, Omran’s
30-year-old brother, and his mother, who was so grief-stricken
that she could not speak. After the Voices people explained to
them what the Omran bus was doing, Omran’s mother was moved
to tears and eventually gave them her only picture of her dead
son. Falah said, “your visit today changes everything,”
because up until that point they did not know that Americans had

 Guntzel had recently returned from three weeks in Baghdad.
He talked of the kind shoeshine boy, his helpful cab driver, and
other people he met. Guntzel talked of the surrealism he was experiencing
of not knowing whether the Iraqi people he met were alive now
or would survive the coming days. 

Schaudel gave powerful analysis of the current situation in Iraq
by placing it in a global context. Schaudel talked about the Iraq
Peace Team, which currently has 25 people in Iraq in order “to
witness, understand, and expose the situation of both the civilian
population of Iraq and highlight the importance of facilities
such as water purification plants that are critical to daily life.” 

One of the Voices people in Iraq is Kathy Kelly. She wrote from
Baghdad on March 25: “Most of us are angry, very angry and
yet I believe that we can channel our anger, our disappointment,
our frustration and our rage into the kind of energy that will
champion nonviolent resistance to the works of war and an ever
deepening desire for the works of mercy.” 

After lunch, 250 of us set out for the plant. We were met by 50
police, many in riot gear, and about 60 pro-war demonstrators.
It was difficult not to respond to the insults they were throwing
at us. As organizer Bill Ramsey was quoted in Monday’s

Louis Post-Dispatch

, “We’re not going to argue with
people. We’re going to find people who agree with us and
build, so Bush doesn’t take the American public for granted.”
This approach made it easier to concentrate on the task at hand,
namely focusing our attention on opening the gates. 

We conducted two “die-ins,” in which an air raid siren
prompted us to hit the ground and die for five minutes. 

A stated objective of the protest was to shut down the shift change
at the plant. Organizers said that the plant has been operating
continuously for three years. One organizer said that he believed
Boeing called off their shifts for that day to avert a showdown.
Other protesters who were familiar with the St. Charles plant
told me that there were other exits at the factory, which were
used to move workers in and out in past protests and perhaps on
Sunday too. 

I found it interesting how the media covered the event. I think
many reporters are interested in what we are doing. Mainstream
reporters do not have much space to present our views, thanks
to the framework in which they operate, but they were taking pictures
and talking to us. It is a mistake for those against this war
to disqualify from our efforts the participation of mainstream
media people. It is worth remembering that the institutions that
employ them are not friendly to us, but the reporters might well

After most of the protesters had left safely, the gates were opened.
Fourteen activists, most in CWIT suits, sat down and refused to
move. They were arrested. The


reported that
four women and nine men were booked for trespassing and released.
One 16-year-old boy was “turned over to juvenile authorities.” 

As the American and British aggression in Iraq unfolds with greater
horror each day, it is important to consider both the material
sources and the consequences of what is happening. We saw in St.
Charles a branch of the military machine that is humming along
at peak efficiency, and will continue to do so unless people demand
otherwise. The St. Charles plant is an integral part of the machinery
that kills and maims other people, mostly innocent civilians.
It is a well-documented fact that most casualties in this modern
age of warfare are civilians. 

Another striking part of the weekend was the first mention on
television reports of a “terrorist” suicide bombing
within Iraq. Apparently a couple of these attacks have occurred
in the past week, one of which tragically claimed the life of
a journalist. I wonder whether such suicide attacks to repel an
invading force in New York or Washington would be described as
“terrorist.” Is America headed, and prepared, for treating
Iraqis as the Israelis have treated the Palestinians for years? 

I found the weekend thoroughly empowering and enlightening. Despite
the Boeing gates, police, and abusive counter-protesters, we stayed
firm and made our point. There is no more powerful solidarity
and no more instant and moving friendships than those forged in
the quest for peace and justice.

Benkard is an actor, music publicist , and activist in Lawrence,