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July 31, 2012

An Anti-Climactic Protest Bids Govs and Canadian Premiers Adieu from Burlington

Protest 1

Corrected below regarding the Burlington police presence.

What one Occupy agitator had billed earlier in the day as "an awesome action" turned out to be an anti-climactic fizzle on Monday evening. About 30 demonstrators briefly jeered a convoy of New England governors and Canadian premiers exiting the U.S. Coast Guard station on the Burlington waterfront following a cruise on Lake Champlain.

The protest would have been a bit bigger, and perhaps more militant, if the dignitaries had not engaged their detractors in a semi-successful game of hide-and-seek. Even so, Monday's demo would probably not have replicated the commotion on College Street the previous day when Burlington police fired non-lethal projectiles. Their target: a few civil disobeyers among an outpouring of 500 law-abiding protesters. The confrontational cadre was trying to block buses carrying the govs and their Canadian counterparts to a dinner reception in Shelburne.

As a followup, a group of 50 or so dissenters had initially gathered at Perkins Pier under a hot sun late Monday afternoon. They waited about an hour, expecting the VIPs to set sail from the ferry dock, as had been indicated in publicity material for the conference taking place at the Hilton on Battery Street. The patient remnant then walked or cycled to a small park adjoining the Burlington Community Boathouse. The Spirit of Ethan Allen cruise ship had docked alongside, leading the protesters to assume that the govs and premiers would actually be setting sail from there.

After another hour-long wait, a few demonstrators suddenly started running toward the Coast Guard station. Some were yelling "Non au Plan Nord!" — a francophone rejection of the 25-year, $80 billion hydro-electricity project that opponents say will shred native peoples' homelands in northern Quebec. 

A private, super-size yacht carrying Gov. Peter Shumlin and his guests had been spotted near the breakwater. It was accompanied by three small Vermont State Police craft and, soon, by a canoe from which was unfurled a sign reading "Defend Mother Earth."

Protesters waited outside a locked chain-link fence, chanting in sing-song cadence, "The governors are hiding, the governors are hiding from the people." Inside, a few state troopers with leashed german shepherds watched warily. Soon, the gate swung open and two SUVs with darkened windows drove out, accompanied by marked and unmarked State Police vehicles.

None of the demonstrators attempted to block the convoy, although there were no Burlington cops on hand to haul away — or shoot at — unruly rebels. The governors and prime ministers were gone in a matter of seconds. And then it was just another mild summer evening on the Burlington waterfront. Later, they regrouped for cocktails at the ECHO science center, with a few doughty protesters on hand to taunt the cosseted notables.


According to Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling, the BPD did have officers in the area. This post should have read, "It appeared there were no were no Burlington police in the area." Thanks to reader Ben Buckley for pointing this out.

Photo credit: Kevin J. Kelley

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