Report on Blue Angels Protest in Brunswick

12 September 2005

From: Bruce Gagnon

Over 300 people from throughout Maine marched from downtown Brunswick to the Naval Air Station on September 10 to protest the “Great State of Maine Air Show” that featured the “Blue Angels” flight team.  Organized by Maine Veterans for Peace (VfP), and co-sponsored by many peace groups throughout the state, the event was clearly a success as the Maine Sunday Telegram reported with their front-page headline, “Air show thrills fans, irks opponents.”  As usual though, the Portland-based paper had to get one negative shot in, and they did, by reporting that “about 100 protesters” were present.

Any reporter worth their salt would have noticed that the very long-line of marchers who walked the two-miles to the Navy base had to be more than 100 people.  The march was lead by VfP president Doug Rawlings (Farmington), carrying the organization’s flag, and behind him followed VfP members Tom Sturtevant (Winthrop) and Eric Herter (Harpswell) carrying a big banner that read “Real Angels Do Not Drop Bombs.”  Next in the line was a series of large white banners with many small caskets on them, each labeled with the name of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. 

A large contingent came from the Blue Hill area carrying a huge and colorful puppet with  hands that said “Disarm” on them.  They needed 20 volunteers to also help carry long sticks that had black cardboard jets on one end and butterflies on the other.  Judy Robbins (Sedgwick) would call out “Disarm” and the sticks would be flipped and the butterflies would replace the jets in the sky.  It made one think of Herschel Sternlieb’s (Brunswick) idea that the Naval Air Station, set for closure in 2011, should be turned into a lovely world class botanical garden.  Surely many species of butterflies would be attracted in such a conversion process.

The response from the public, driving or cycling to the air show, was not as intense as some had expected.  Sure we got our share of middle fingers and catcalls, but not nearly as much as one might have expected.  The previous day the local Times Record newspaper carried nine letters to the editor, including one by Doug Rawlings, expressing opinions on the coming protest.  Along with several weeks of front-page protest coverage in the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald, the main goal of VfP was accomplished.  The intention of the protest was to make the air show a controversy and have the public debate the real purpose of the event.  VfP maintained that the air show was not really just for “clean family entertainment” but was instead an expensive military recruiting gimmick.  It was clear the VfP message was heard across the state.

Once at the main gate a one-hour rally was held that featured several singers and speakers.  Following a stirring opening speech by Doug Rawlings, Mary Beth Sullivan (Brunswick) reported on the all-night candlelight vigil that she organized at the main gate of the base.  Over 25 people joined the vigil and all were moved by the community-building experience. Dexter Kamilewicz (Orrs Island), whose son Ben is now in Iraq with the Vermont National Guard, shared the sad story about how after only two-months in the country Ben has already faced several near-death situations.  Ben reports that the U.S. is doing nothing to solve the sewage problem, the lack of water problem, the joblessness problem, and that the Iraqi people’s hatred of the U.S. is growing day-by-day.  (Sounds a bit like New Orleans but not as widely reported.)  Ben encourages his parents and supporters to create even more pressure on the government to bring the troops home now.

Keynote speaker Kathy Kelly, from the Chicago-based group Voices in the Wilderness, has been to Iraq many times.  She told stories of innocent Iraqi civilians who are suffering from the war and asked those assembled at the Navy base to do more, to take greater personal risks to end the war.  Kathy suggested that war-tax resistance needed to be considered as a way to say, “I won’t pay for this immoral war any longer.”

Leaning up against the barbed wire fence of the Navy base were two long wooden poles holding up a large banner called the “Iraqi War Cloth.”  This particular cloth was the one that was used months ago when the names of the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, and an equal number of dead Iraqi civilians, were read in the Portland office of Rep. Tom Allen.  It was on that day that we realized that each time we marked the cloth with a red or black X, as a symbol of a dead soldier, or Iraqi civilian, the marks bled through the cloth and left an X mark on the white office wall.  It was that event that helped force Rep. Allen to finally agree to hold a public town hall meeting on Iraq, last July 17, that drew over 500 attendees.

During the rally I announced that we’d now done five such readings of the names in the offices of senators Snowe and Collins and Tom Allen.  In the beginning the reading took five hours but the last time we did a reading it took six hours as the numbers of the dead mount.  I announced that the next reading would be held on October 14 (Friday) in Biddeford in the office of Senator Olympia Snowe. 

Surely, as Kathy Kelly said, we can all do more.  Surely, our lives in Maine, are much less chaotic and traumatic than the lives of those in Iraq today, or even those who are from New Orleans.  Can’t we step up and risk a bit more in a non-violent campaign to end the senseless killing in Iraq?  Can’t we all do more to say fund human needs not war?  As one sign read during Saturday’s protest at the Navy base, “Make levees, not war.”

(For photos of the Blue Angels air show protest click on this link )


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