Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

« "Bad assumption, my frigid Norwegian ass!" | Main | Russian Teens Go Viral »

March 19, 2008

Burlington Protesters to General Dynamics: Get Out of Town

Just before 7 this morning, a few college-aged students blocked the entrance of a Lakeside Avenue parking lot belonging to General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products. Its parent company, General Dynamics, "is the sixth largest defense contractor in the world," reports Sam Maron, a University of Vermont senior who coordinated the event. Maron showed up today "to make a stand and show that, as Vermonters, we want a peace economy, and not one based on war."

The event lasted about five hours and was attended by some two dozen supporters. Maron says he and others intended to cause "disruption" and "financial damage" to the company's operations. No arrests were made, and aside from a "brief traffic congestion," protesters didn't interrupt any business, according to Burlington Deputy Police Chief Walt Decker.

The Lakeside Avenue facility, which is located off Pine Street near the Burlington Department of Public Works, employs about 500 people and is the main facility among three Burlington-area offices. Other General Dynamics employees work a two nearby Burlington laboratories and the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho. The building has been owned at various points by Queen City Cotton Mills, General Electric and Lockheed Martin, another major defense contractor.

Company spokesperson Tim Haddock reports that while the Burlington facilities are primarily used for engineering, company employees also manufacture the "Goalkeeper Close-In Weapon System." The "Goalkeeper" is a 14,000-pound gun that's mounted to ships and can fire up to 4200 shots per minute of "missile-piercing" ammunition. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, General Dynamics spent over $9 million in lobbying during 2006. Ssecurities and Exchange Commission filings confirm that between 2003 and 2007, the company's annual net earnings doubled, from about 1 to 2 billion.

Jennifer Berger, who directs the Burlington Peace & Justice Center's "Recruiting for Peace" campaign, says the protest was intended to raise a larger issue. In her view, General Dynamics' presence in Burlington contradicts the spirit of the town's reputation as a peaceful, environmentally responsible place. Haddock of General Dynamics declines to respond.

This morning's event was also intended to point a finger at Vermont's congressional delegation. In a few days, Maron will be sending a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asking him to withdraw his support for General Dynamics. Over the years, Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, has secured millions of dollars worth of defense contracts for the company.

Ever since the Iraq war began in 2003, Burlington activists have questioned the Vermont congressional delegation's stance on war funding. While all the candidates, including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), are vocal critics of U.S. defense policy, they have all signed legislation that enables defense-related spending. House Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) who is up for reelection this November, has thus far accepted $3500 from General Dynamics in the 2007-2008 election cycle. "If Peter Welch wants to really live up to his words and show that he is against the Iraq war," says Maron, "he should return the money."

"I don't deal in any of that arena of campaign matters," says Welch Spokesperson Andrew Savage. "The congressman believes this war is a travesty and agrees with the protestors that it must be ended. Every chance he gets, he'll be voting on that."

"General Dynamics provides good Vermont jobs" and ensures "that our country has the defense it needs," he adds. Peter "completely agrees with the protesters that we have to end the war and the price tag associated with it. But the troops that don't have a vote in the war have to have what they need.'' Welch is a co-sponsor on a new bill, the Government Contractor Accountability Act of 2007, that "would impose oversight on contractors," Savage says.

Earlier today in Montpelier, activists broadcasted audio from the ongoing "Winter Soldier" hearings that were held last weekend in Washington, D.C.. "Winter Soldier" is an anti-war campaign being undertaken by anti-war Iraq veterans that closely mirrors a similar campaign from the 1970s. Earlier this month, four members of a local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War held a pre-D.C. event at the University of Vermont.

At 7 p.m. tonight, the Langdon Street Café in Montpelier hosts a community discussion entitled, "Beyond Iraq." For more information, call 476-3154.

Good, responsible coverage. Thanks.

While Seven days missed the boat in getting someone down to report from the protest, I commend the investigation that went into this piece. Thanks!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684