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Vermonters march on Washington

By Christian Avard | Vermont Guardian

Photos by Christian Avard

Posted February 2, 2007

WASHINGTON — “Troops home now!” was the common chant heard as tens of thousands of people — perhaps as many as 400,000 — descended on Washington to protest the Iraq War.

Among them were more than 500 Vermonters, who traveled to the nation’s capital by planes, trains, buses, and automobiles.

Wendy Coe, who’s been organizing trips to Washington from her perch at the Burlington Peace & Justice Center for 25 years, said four packed buses from Burlington and Rutland were joined by two others from the University of Vermont and Johnson State College.

Individuals young and old, families with children, high school and college students, and others, sleepily found their way to the mall, picked up signs, marched, and clapped their way toward the capitol.

Banners declaring, “Vermont says not one more dollar: Bring the troops home now!” were scattered throughout the crowds, along with one youngster’s homemade sign that read, “I wanta new President.”

Vermonters didn’t just march along and join in with fellow antiwar demonstrators.

Staff Sgt. Liam Madden, of Rockingham, spoke to the large crowd on the mall. He is a co-creator, along with Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto, of the Appeals for Redress, a statement signed by more than 1,000 troops. The statement allows individual service members to appeal directly to their elected representatives to end the war without fear of reprisal.

“We’re at 1,200 and the update is that it hasn’t stopped just because we handed things into Congress,” said Madden. He urged Vermonters to pressure elected officials at all levels.

A rally highlight was a speech given by Jane Fonda, the Oscar-award winning actress and long-time political activist. Fonda has been criticized over the years for her criticism on the Vietnam War and shared why she felt the need to speak out now.

“This is the first antiwar rally I’ve been to in 34 years because I’ve been afraid that because of the lies that have been and continue to be spread about me in that war that they would be used to hurt the antiwar movement, but silence is no longer an option,” she told the crowd.

Shortly after the speeches, Vermonters took to the streets and were joined by Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss and Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington.

Kiss left a meeting of the U.S. Mayors Conference to join the rally while Zuckerman took time out from a meeting at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I think it’s great to have so many [Vermonters],” said Zuckerman. “It’s obviously an expression of our feeling about democracy, and indicative of the fact that we have the most per capita losses in this ridiculous war.”

Kiss said now is the time for Vermonters to up the ante. “I think they should continue to speak out this way,” said Kiss. “It was two years ago that [Vermonters] passed resolutions to bring the troops home. Two years have gone by and we’re no closer to that.”

Dennis Duhaime of Rutland went to Washington because the mid-term elections gave him hope things may change, but only if Vermonters continue to hold politicians accountable.

“I think this is part of the push to hold their feet to the fire and to let them know we’re pretty serious about this; that our country is at risk, the country of Iraq is at risk, and the direction has just got to change. Obviously the president isn’t going to change it, so it’s up to our elected representatives to make it happen,” said Duhaime.

Hope brought Rita McCaffery of Weston to the Washington rally, but like Duhaime she agrees now is not the time to let up. “I feel that we’re close but we got to keep going,” said McCaffery. “There are so many vigils springing up the littlest towns. Ludlow now has 35 people vigiling on Sunday afternoons, which is unheard of. You never see people in Ludlow. I think people understand that the more that people are willing to not give up, the closer we’re going to get to ending the violence.”

A number of younger Vermonters made their presence known at the rally — from young kids to college students.

“It’s amazing. I never thought there would be so many people for this [protest] because they never show that in the media, so it’s quite unexpected, and awesome,” said Evan Jurant, a senior at West Rutland High School, whose parents gave him permission to go with friends to the rally.

“I thought it was really cool. It reminded me of that scene in Forrest Gump. I always wished that my generation would be that interesting,” said Savanah Pope, a senior at Vermont Academy who came down with 30 classmates. “There was just so much going on, so many different kinds of people … I mean it wasn’t just hippies it was people from all walks of life and it was really a representation of America.”

No members of Vermont’s congressional delegation attended the rally.

Andrew Savage, spokesman for Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, said Welch met Jan. 29 with a handful of Vermont protesters.

“He vigorously opposes escalation and will be hard pressed to vote for a supplemental funding bill that allows for the continuation of the president’s failed Iraq policy,” said Savage.

Vermonters also met with the staff of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT.

“They spoke passionately about the terrible human cost of this war and urged the Congress to stop the funding for it,” Leahy told the Vermont Guardian. “As one who has opposed this war from the beginning I appreciate the effort they made to come to Washington. Their concern and their activism are in the best traditions of our small state.”