Earlier in the week, our Veterans for Peace (VfP) chapter went to the capitol in Augusta to be with Russ Christensen who has walked 130 miles since May 4 calling for an end to the war in Iraq. Russ is a Korean War veteran and is 73 years old. As h e walked he passed out a proclamation calling on Maine’s Governor Baldacci and leaders of the Maine State House and Senate to demand a recall of U.S. military forces stationed in Iraq.
A dozen VfP members met Russ at the capitol for a news conference. I brought along a handful of signs saying things like: Money for jobs not war; Fund human needs not warfare; Healthcare not warfare; War drains economy. As we were preparing to set up our vigil and news conference inside the capitol rotunda two women approached us and suggested we move up one floor and stand in the hallway between the entrances to the senate and house chambers. The two women then went around looking for media folks and tried to steer them our way. One of the women then asked us for a list of all the VfP members present and our hometowns. Come to find out she was a state representative from Lewiston, called herself a pacifist, and after we had held the signs for about an hour in th e hallway, she told us to go sit in the balcony of the house and she would have us recognized from the floor.
So we moved to the balcony, carrying our protest signs with us. After the house had taken a few more votes they moved to announcements and the leader of the house said there was a motion to recognize members of Maine Veterans for Peace who were sitting in the balcony. So the house leader began reading our names and home towns and we all stood up. We lifted up our signs so the house members below us could see them. One person on the floor began to boo us and about 1/3 of the house members stood up and applauded us. Many who remained sitting also applauded.
It was quite a moment. I’d never done a protest action inside a legislative assembly before and have them applaud on top of that. Russ made sure that he got a member of the house and senate to sponsor the passing out of the VfP proclamation to each member.
The two-page proclamation ended with this statement, ‘It is time for you, as our elected leaders, to stop quarreling among yourselves and to unite in a demand that the federal government stop squandering the wealth and the lives of the American people in service to a dream of world domination. The resources that the Bush administration is spending in the futile attempt to seize control over Iraq are needed at home to care for the American people; and you, as our elected leaders, need to say that to Washington. Such a forthright stand, beginning in Maine, might well spread throughout the country, thereby reversing the disastrous course upon which our nation is now embarked, under the disastrously short-sighted leadership of the Bush administration.’
We are now talking about another walk in Maine. I’ve suggested that we do a walk to Brunswick before the planned September 10 Veterans for Peace demonstration at the Naval air station where the Blue Angels will be performing that weekend. This would help extend the demonstration beyond Brunswick and bring out message of opposition to the war in Iraq to a larger audience in Maine.
It was another bright moment for our VfP chapter. It came one day after a man wrote a letter to the editor of the Brunswick Times Record complaining about our VfP participation in the recent Memorial Day parade. He contended that our presence in the parade ‘was discouraging and sad’ and had ‘tainted the uplifting event that a Memorial Day parade should be.’ ‘If the Veterans for Peace insist on marching again, I would encourage the parade committee to refuse its entry due to the fact that its intentions are politically motivated,’ the letter writer concluded.
Once more we see how some American citizens wish to ignore the insanity of war. It is a pleasure to belong to a group like VfP that is determined to stand in the face of silence.