By Jason Kotoch
NORTHAMPTON — Activists and supporters of the group Demilitarize Western Mass blockaded the entrance to L3Harris Technologies early Thursday morning to protest the weapons manufacturer’s role in violence abroad and their contributions to surveillance systems that militaries and police use globally.
A spokesperson for the group, Jeff Napolitano, said that police have now arrested five activists who locked themselves to trailers and a large boat that blocked access to the driveways leading in and out of the L3Harris manufacturing facility at 50 Pine St. in Northampton. The activists were joined by around 40 supporters who held signs and played music in order to disrupt manufacturing and to educate the public about the company.
Paki Wieland, one of the activists who locked themselves to a metal trailer, has traveled the world on numerous humanitarian and peacemaking efforts, from getting humanitarian aid into Palestine through the Rafah border to visiting families of drone strike victims in Afghanistan.
“The desperate situation we face must be named and changed, so we can have a just and peaceful world,” Wieland said.
The direct action took place just as Israel launched yet another bombing campaign in Gaza over the weekend, this time following Hamas’ killing of some 1,200 civilians in areas near Gaza. The Israeli Defense Force has leveled entire city blocks inside Gaza, where some 2.3 million residents have nowhere to flee, and have killed over 1,100 civilians, according to the Associated Press.
L3Harris has produced components for munitions systems that the Israeli military has used in past bombings of Gaza that resulted in thousands of civilian casualties, according to research from the American Friends Service Committee.The Israeli Defence Force is now believed to be planning a ground invasion of Gaza.
In addition to weapons contracts, the American Friends Service Committee has found that L3Harris has produced surveillance technology for U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and police departments that police the U.S.-Mexico border.
Priscilla Lynch was another protester at L3Harris on Thursay. She was locked to Wieland in a pipe that ran through the side of an old boat that blocked the main driveway to the weapons facility.
“The amount of money that goes to these contracts can be used to build a better world,” Lynch said. “I don’t want to see anymore migrants and refugees dying on the border trying to cross a river. I’m here to say no.”
U.N. experts have previously found L3Harris missile parts in Yemen at the sight of a Saudi Arabia military bombing that the United Nations found to have broken international law, The Guardian reported. Demilitarize Western Mass pointed to other examples around the world that they said showed L3Harris equipment targeting ethnic and religious minorities and occupied people.
Demilitarize Western Mass issued a series of demands on L3Harris, including that the company either close or convert its manufacturing away from military technology to producing technology “that improves — not destroys — humanity.”
An L3Harris spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Demilitarize Western Mass is a collective of anti-war, anti-imperialist and abolitionist activists who confront the military industrial complex in their communities. The group has also co-run teach-ins at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where L3Harris actively recruits from the engineering department.
Among the supporters standing out Thursday morning were Kala and Ava, UMass Amherst students and activists working to cut ties between Raytheon Technologies, the largest missile manufacturer in the world, and the university.
“I am here standing in solidarity with Demilitarize Western Mass at L3 Harris because our struggles are so closely linked,” Kala said. “At UMass, engineering and business students are heavily incentivised to work for the war industry. L3Harris actively recruits at UMass.”
Zehra Parvez, another protester, smiled as the sun came up while their arm was locked inside of a steel tube that had been welded to the frame of an old boat trailer.
“When my kids or grandkids one day ask me what I did while my country was complicit in one of the worst genocidal humanitarian crises of my time, I can look them in the eye and say I did the right thing,” Parvez said.
Jason Kotoch is a photographer and videographer living in western Mass. Additional reporting was contributed by Dusty Christensen.
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