NEW YORK -- They sang songs, read poems, and chanted, "Drones fly, children die."
More than 50 protesters from a group called Grandmothers Against the War gathered in New York City on April 3 to protest the U.S. government's use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones.
During the Iraq War, the same group held protests in the same plaza in New York every Wednesday for nine years.
The grandmothers' protest kicked off what participants say will be a month of rallies called April Days of Action, organized by the New York-based group Know Drones. There are demonstrations planned across the United States at drone-manufacturing plants and universities that research drone technology.
Joan Wile, the 81-year-old founder of Grandmothers Against the War, had retired from activism last year to pursue her love of piano. But she told RFE/RL that she was spurred back into action and organized the April 3 rally out of a sense of horror at the effects that U.S. drone strikes are having in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"I just found the whole thing so immoral," Wile says. "In this country, you're presumed innocent until you're found guilty. And here we were acting as judge, as jury, and executioner, without a trial."
The U.S. administration's use of drones to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan is controversial and has drawn sharp criticism from various political quarters in the United States, as well as the scrutiny of the United Nations.
The administration of former President George W. Bush used drones to target terrorist suspects, but the frequency of drone strikes has increased under President Barack Obama.
In March, the head of a UN task force investigating casualties from U.S. drone strikes concluded that attacks from UAVs in Pakistan violate that country's sovereignty. The UN's special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, said Pakistani officials had told him they can confirm at least 400 civilian deaths due to drone attacks.
The U.S. Air Force announced that it had removed data about air strikes carried out by UAVs in Afghanistan from its monthly air-power summaries.
Also in March, U.S. Senator Rand Paul (Republican-Kentucky), used a delaying tactic known as the filibuster to hold up the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director for 13 hours over concerns that drones could be used against U.S. citizens domestically.
'Blasting Away' Rights
Nick Mottern, the founder of Know Drones, is a 75-year-old retired journalist. He calls drones a threat to freedom both in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
"We've got some very fundamental human rights that these weapons are blasting away," he says. "[They are] totally unrelenting and out of control."
Likewise William J. Gilson, a 77-year-old veteran of the Korean War, calls Obama's use of drones "illegal."
"We have a Nobel Peace laureate right now as president of the United States who is also a constitutional law professor by trade," Gilson says. "And yet he sees absolutely nothing wrong with invading foreign airspace against all sovereign rules and regulations of international law."
The Obama administration has tried to assuage fears about drones by affirming that the president does not have the authority to use the weapons to kill U.S. citizens on American soil who are not engaged in combat.
But for the protesters in New York, that's not enough. They are proposing a resolution to the New York City Council that would make the city a drone-free zone.