VICTORY: Citing protests and a “difficult political environment”, Textron announced Aug. 30 that it will no longer make cluster bombs.
I’m standing in front of a big sign that says Textron Systems in bold, intimidating letters and a man in a pickup truck with three Trump bumper stickers just flipped me off. I don’t like to stereotype. But seriously, come on.
Almost 40 of us had come together at Textron Systems in Wilmington, Massachusetts on July 6 to protest Textron’s selling of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. government allowing the sales to proceed.
Textron Systems is the only remaining manufacturer of cluster bombs in the U.S. and it has been selling these bombs to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia in turn has then been using them to bomb neighboring Yemen. For over a year, Saudi Arabia has been leading a military campaign interfering in Yemen’s civil war and supporting the administration of the recently overthrown President. Saudi Arabia has been carrying out airstrikes and targeting many civilian areas. One type of weapons they are using in these attacks are cluster bombs, which are specifically harmful to civilians.
Cluster bombs function by shooting out hundreds of bomblets over wide areas. These bomblets often hit nearby civilians and those that do not explode on impact, stay behind on the ground, acting as landmines, killing or maiming innocent civilians that stumble across them later on. Overall, 98% of known cluster bomb victims are civilians. 40% of victims are children, who are attracted to the small, toy-like objects left on the ground.
Because of this randomized and untargeted nature, 100 countries, including Canada, Great Britain, and France, have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, banning the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions. Countries that have not joined this convention include the United States and Saudi Arabia.
So, for years, Textron has been profiteering from the manufacturing and sale of cluster bombs, selling almost $700 million worth of these bombs to Saudi Arabian forces. As Saudi Arabia has been found to be using these weapons on civilian populations, a lot of people are taking issue with the situation.
In the US, groups like the American Friends Service Committee began protesting Textron’s selling of these weapons. CODEPINK began a petition calling on Congress to ban the selling of cluster bombs.
Internationally, many spoke up as well. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Yemen says, “The use of cluster munitions in populated areas may amount to a war crime due to their indiscriminate nature.” Steve Goose, the arms director of Human Rights Watch, goes a step further saying, “The coalition’s repeated use of cluster bombs in the middle of a crowded city suggests an intent to harm civilians, which is a war crime.” In addition, according Ban Ki-moon, the UN had originally decided to include Saudi Arabia on its “list of shame” for committing violent acts that violate the rights of children. However, after Saudi Arabia threatened to discontinue their funding of UN programs, they were quickly removed from the list.
Many hoped that the US would respond to this outcry by banning the fueling of this crisis by US companies. Unfortunately, that was not the case. While an amendment that would have stopped these cluster bomb sales was proposed to the House of Representatives in June it narrowly failed to pass. With a Senate vote on the issue hopefully coming up soon, Massachusetts Peace Action saw now as the time to show how much local Americans cared about the issue by organizing a protest.
So, on July 6th, we stood, in 90° weather, on the sidewalk in front of Textron Systems, holding signs saying things like “Stop supplying cluster bombs to Saudi,” and “Cluster bombs are killing Yemeni civilians.” The responses we received were varied.
As so delicately illustrated by the man who flipped us off, some other passersby were unappreciative of our efforts. One man shouted, “Wimps! Let’s keep bombing the f— out of Saudi!”
The big problem with this comment was not that he didn’t like our protest, everyone has the right to their own opinion, the problem was he had no idea what he was talking about. Who was the “us” that was bombing Saudi Arabia? Because the United States is certainly not bombing Saudi Arabia. The US has been allied with Saudi Arabia since 1933. The issue is that we’re selling cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia to cluster bomb Yemen. Or, at least, Textron is. That was kind of the whole point of the protest.
It seemed very unfortunate to me that this man’s bad reaction was not based on a difference of opinions, or a passion for Saudi Arabia-US relations staying strong, but simply a miscommunication and a lack of education on the issue. It could be possible that if he knew more about the issue and fully understood the problem he would be standing right next to me holding a sign. Well, that was rather unlikely, but still, it was possible.
The biggest hurdle to gathering supporters for this protest, I believe, was not a lack of humanity or caring about the bombings from its critics, but simply a lack of education, awareness, and communication about the issue.
Hopefully, some people will see our protest and read the information attached to learn more about an issue that I believe to be very important. Hopefully that would not change their statements to, “Let Saudi keep bombing the f— out of Yemen!” and instead change their opinion against cluster bombs targeting civilian populations. Either way, at least then it would be factually accurate.
On a brighter note however, I counted more than 15 drivers who, upon seeing us, honked their horns and held their hands out in supporting peace signs. Clearly, these people knew what we were protesting about and agreed that these cluster bomb sales were not right. Even better, two drivers actually pulled over and came to hold a sign for a little while. Much of those informed supporters are thanks to a group of Quakers that have been protesting at Textron Systems continuously for months. Even if their protests were not enough to stop Textron’s sales, at least they raised awareness about the situation and drawn supporters.
For me, the positive reactions were worth a lot more than a negative, uninformed reaction here or there. An uninformed reaction is easy to change, with a little bit of information. An informed and strong reaction in support of our protest and against cluster bombs is much harder to change. No matter how much money cluster bomb sales make or how many times an amendment fails to pass, many, like the protesters that gathered last Wednesday and all of those who supported us, will continue to believe this action is wrong and continue to fight against it.
Watch our brief video, Say No to Cluster Bombs: Protest Textron
Karina Aguilar is a senior at Newton South High School and a summer 2016 intern at Massachusetts Peace Action.