RUTLAND, VT – As Castleton Junior Matt Kimball stood shivering along the slushy sidewalk of Rutland’s Main Street Park on Sunday afternoon, he took a moment to tighten the hood of his black ALL sweatshirt, shielding himself from the frigid blast of a waning Vermont winter.Pinned to the back of his shirt, with the aide of four precisely placed silver safety pins, was a message many Vermonters were hoping would echo throughout the country:
“Vermont says not one more dollar. Bring the troops home now!”
Kimball joined dozens of Vermonters of all ages in on March 18 as part of a nationwide anti-war demonstration and protest, marking the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The event was organized by members of the Student Peace Alliance of Rutland County (SPARC) and Central Vermont Peace and Justice (CVPJ).
“We are protesting the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan, and we are trying to prevent war with Iran,” Kimball said, clinging to the “Justice or Just Us?” sign in his icy hands.
Kimball is a communication major at CSC and one of the lead organizers of SPARC, a coalition of high school and college students brought together with the goal of educating the youth on issues of peace, justice, and the Iraq war.
“Iraq never attacked us. Preemptive war was exactly what the Nazis stood on trial for after World War II,” Kimball said. “Why not preemptive peace? Why war at all anyways?”
Fellow SPARC organizer Dianna Bessette encouraged the youth of the country to stand up and question the policies of President George W. Bush.
“People know his lies. People are starting to know and he better be friggin’ scared,” Bessette said with distaste in her voice. “He’s just a puppet!”
Sanjukta Ghosh, a communication professor at Castleton who helped organize the march, also questioned the current administration’s reasoning behind the U.S. led invasion of Iraq.
“If Iraq was the biggest producer of oranges in the world and didn’t have the world’s second largest reserve of oil, would you [President Bush] have gone there for regime change?” Ghosh asked.
Some demonstrators waved their signs denouncing the war, while others sang anti-war songs to keep their minds from the artic chills sweeping across the state. A giant white dove made from bed sheets and paper-mach towered over the protestors, urging peace to the passersby.
Adam Cram, a reggae/folk musician proficient in numerous instruments including guitar and didgeridoo, spoke softly with peace in his voice while the Bob Marley button pin on his sleeve caught snow from the breeze.
“It’s the same war that’s been going on since the beginning of time. It’s the war of religion, it’s the war of money,” Cram said. “Money is the biggest drug.”
“Society needs to exist with the earth and each other,” Cram continued. “We all bleed the same color.”
Many motorists traveling down the slippery streets of Rutland could be heard blaring their car horns in support of the demonstrators, often chanting phrases such as “down with war!” or “impeach Bush!” from their frosty side windows. Others were less enthused, choosing instead to drive by shouting obscenities and heckling the protesters from the safety of their vehicles.
“I’m in the military!” a man screamed from his blue minivan, as he threw a giant thumbs-down gesture across the street at the protestors.
Although the protest was met with mostly warm reception, there were a few people who felt that the demonstration was in poor taste. The largest object of controversy revolved around a certain set of costumes worn by various protestors.
The costumes resembled disfigured Iraqi women, draped in black hoods, standing expressionless and silent – each clinging to the mangled and bloodied body of the lifeless infant child in their hands.
“We made them with the help of a friend who worked in the Bread and Puppet Circus for years and years,” Jane Newton said from within the interior of the 7-foot-high costume.
“Pretty soon we’ll be calling them Iranian ladies with their dead babies,” Newton said.
Carol Tashie, director of CVPJ, said she believes the images of the battered children and their mothers helped serve as a reminder of the realities of war, which may help persuade more people to stand up and take action against it.
“As we all know, the greatest casualties of any war are women and children,” Tashie said.
Others didn’t seem to find the costumes to be anything but repulsive, believing them to be more of a slap in the face of the U.S. troops than a political statement.
Patricia Jillson stood strongly outside of the 2nd Battalion 172nd Armory on West Street in support of her son, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. National Guard who is currently stationed just outside of Baghdad.
“I’m against this war, but as long as my son is over there, I have to support his decision to be there,” Jillson said.
Jillson also said she understood the need to protest the war, but also denounced the use of dead babies as a means of doing it.
“Have your rally, do your march, but don’t do the other stuff,” Jillson said. “That’s killer. Our boys aren’t over there intending to kill babies.”
Jillson’s son was communicating with his family via satellite video from Baghdad at the time of the interview, just inside the armory behind her.
“I have a grandson who wanted to know what was in the arms [of the costumes],” she said. “How do you tell a 4-year-old, who’s in here now to see his dad, ya know?”
A Castleton student, who wished to remain anonymous because of fears of discrimination, also supported Jillson’s view of the war.
“You should support the war out of respect for those soldiers that are over there trying to accomplish a goal, instead of sitting here disrespecting them and protesting the goddamned war,” she said with fire in his eyes.
She also mentioned seeing a soldier in uniform standing on the opposite side of the street from the protestors, yelling and screaming in defense of his fellow troops.
“He was so angry,” she said. “I think he was drunk, but I also think he had every right to be angry. This isn’t right.”
At 3 p.m. the crowd began to march down West Street, slipping and sliding as it struggled to keep its footing on the ice-glazed hill. Eventually it came to a stop inside the Unitarian Universalists Fellowship Church – amidst stained-glass windows and electric guitars.
Punk rockers decked in painted-on pants and spiked leather vests scattered themselves about the musty church. Other people, everyone young and old, hippies and soccer moms, filled the pews with their eager minds and ears.
Various individuals took turns speaking their mind to a crowd of dozens. Matt Kimball also made his voice heard to great applause, passionately denouncing the war and its potential affect on generations to come.
“My future and the future of all my fellow youth is destroyed,” Kimball said.
Joseph Gainza, field director of the American Friends Service Committee and “tireless activist,” took a few minutes to give a history of war in the U.S. He also offered up some possible ideas that may better the country, as well as the rest of the world.
Gainza applauded President Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” as an ideal alternative to the current administration’s policies, as it was designed to create a “mutual respect between the world’s people.”
“We need to control the people in control,” Gainza said to booming applause.
Hannah Kretvix, a blonde-haired 13-year-old Mill River student, spoke briefly about the difficulties of making the voices of youth resound on a national level, especially at times when no one seems to be listening.
“Being in a peace movement makes me feel like my thoughts and opinions are being heard,” Kretvix said. “Sometimes the best thing you can do isn’t the cool thing to do.”
A number of bands also took the stage for their cause, ranging in musical style from 60’s era protest songs to punk-thrash metal mayhem.
With the help of her Martin acoustic guitar, Melissa Chestnut-Tangerman’s angelic voice echoed Joan Baez’s best work as she sang through the chorus of The Youngblood’s classic “Get Together”– a tune that seemed to sum up the day in one great, big, patriotic nutshell
“C’mon people now, smile on your brother, ev’rybody get together, try to love one another right now.