Mix of peace and justice groups gather to protest F-35 fighter jets

Photo by Miranda Jonswold
Just one of several large banners and signs that punc-tuated a recent protest against the F-35 fighter jets coming to the Vermont Air National Guard next month. An estimated 150 people turned out for the event in front of the Burlington International Air-port on Patrick Street Sunday.

Staff Writer

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The F-35 has got to go!”

“Bernie, Leahy, Welch, and Miro: don’t make Burlington Ground Zero!”

Wielding their shields and donning their capes, the self-proclaimed “Guardians of Peace and Planet” cast the power of protest in a demonstration Sunday against the F-35 fighter jets. The first pair of jets are scheduled to arrive in September, with a total of 18 anticipated to be under the Green Mountain Boys’ Vermont Air National Guard wing by next summer.

Stationed in front of the Burlington International Airport on Patrick Street, an estimated 150 people turned out for the event to deliver their concerns regarding nuclear weapons and the health impacts of F-35s from the noise, as well as environmental concerns regarding per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemical contaminants (PFAs) from the jets.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Burlington Branch took the lead on the event with Winooski resident Marguerite Adelman at the helm. Other sponsors and supporters in-cluded Stop the F-35s/Save our Skies, People for Peace and Security, Vermont Veterans for Peace, Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont, the Peace & Justice Center and Physicians for So-cial Responsibility.

“We wanted to make this a family-friendly fun event,” Alderman said. “We feel like too many demon-strations scare people away. They’re too angry; they make people nervous. We thought if we made it a fun one that’s educational, we might be able to reach a larger audience–especially families.”

Thus, the alternative superhero direction was born. The theme honored the work of peacemakers, such as Mother Nature, the Water Spirits, the Weather God, Peace Guardian, Sunflower Power and more.

“We’d been involved with all the [anti-F-35] groups along the way in various capacities trying to pass the city referendums,” Adelman explained. “We’d never taken this on as our major project.”

Until now. The airport’s open house session last month for the updated Noise Exposure Maps with F-35 sound data and news that neighboring municipalities may have to foot some of the cost of noise mitigation left many people feeling “enraged,” Alderman said.

Homes within the Noise Exposure Map contours of 65 day/night average sound levels (DNL) are con-sidered eligible under the Noise Compatibility Program, which outlines sound mitigation efforts and means of applying for federal funds. Burlington, being the owner of the airport, is eligible to apply for the monies. In the past, the Queen City has provided matching funds – usually 10 percent – to help mitigate noise for surrounding communities. Municipalities, including South Burlington, are working with Burlington to clarify the funding process this go-around. A total of 2,640 dwelling units serving a total population of approximately 6,100 people are within the affected contour lines.

“We formed a coalition,” Alderman said. “We started meeting on a regular basis. We decided there needed to be a series of events leading up to the time that the F-35s get here that draw more and more people.”

Local voices

They came – in costume, with signs, with their families in tow, from all different municipalities, and with their own reasons for opposing the F-35.

“I like the F-35, but I don’t like it here. I don’t think it belongs here; there are other bases available,” Edward Schirmer said. Schirmer’s South Burlington home is within the 65 DNL contour. Shirmer is also a Korean War veteran.

“Sen. Leahy is the culprit; he’s the one who threw us under the bus,” he continued. “…This move is not a patriotic move. A patriotic move would consider the people involved.”

When asked what drew Charlotte resident Janet Hicks to the event, she replied, “Common sense? Good ‘ole fashion values?”

“It’s our responsibility to pay attention to health, safety, misspent money, children, grandchildren, and us,” she elaborated. “ You can’t just get up and recover from a lot of these issues. The mistake stays with us – whether it’s PFAs, trauma, kids’ intelligence deteriorated by the situation they’re living in …”

Lynn Furno, well out of the 65 DNL in her Hinesburg home, showed her support at the demonstration.

“I don’t live in a cocoon, I go to Burlington all the time,” she said. “I’m very concerned about the F-35s.”

She added her concerns range from what the noise of the planes will do to trees, animals and humans to the “target” they could paint on Vermont for countries looking to attack the U.S.

“It just makes me think that we’re not in control anymore of our own future,” Furno said. “Our voices aren’t being heard.”

She added the lawmakers who supported basing the F-35s in Vermont would not receive her vote next election.

Linda of Shelburne works for a federally-funded organization and wasn’t sure if it would be appropri-ate to share her full name – but she still wanted to express her concerns.

“There’s enough in our society already that shocks and jars and interrupts … us in our lives,” she said. “The fact that we’re inviting this into our city, four times the loudest [aircraft at the airport] already is really upsetting.”

Linda was also concerned about the potential for F-35s to carry out nuclear missions.

“The nuclear capacity is the other huge issue,” she said. “Shelburne has the luxury of being somewhat removed from the noise of the airport, but I think it’s important for Shelburne residents to support the city from which they fly in and out of.”

As for lawmakers, Linda said she’d like them to acknowledge that basing the F-35s in Vermont is a mis-take, and to change their decision.

“I would like to see a very brave and very radical reversal of the decision to base it here,” she said. “I am … sickened that our top leaders have made this decision without really considering the wellbeing of the community.”

“I think it’s an example of a much bigger national crisis of … money and military and power being more important than communities and children,” Linda continued.

Community support

In addition to the aforementioned cities and towns, The Other Paper also spoke with participants from Milton, East Montpelier and Hardwick.

Though all were open to discussing their perspectives, some took center stage. Charles Delaney-Megaso, who represented the Abernaki tribe, gave a formal welcoming to Abernaki land. Tom Niel-son, a folk musician who is internationally-known for using music to promote social change, played throughout the demonstration with lines such as:

“Healthcare and education expenses, oh, the Feds say, ‘the money ain’t there! They’d rather demol-ish our houses … with a trillion or two in the air.”

Meaghan Emery, a South Burlington city councilor who has been outspoken against the jets, was a fea-tured speaker who focused on the health issues associated with the noise from the F-35s.

James Ehlers, an environmental and public health advocate who is the executive director of the Lake Champlain International and a Winooski resident, was the second featured speaker.

Maho Takahashi, a Burlington resident and native of Japan, focused on the nuclear aspect and re-quested a moment of silence in remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Takahashi works with Peace Boat, a Japan-based organization, which promotes peace, human rights, equal and sustainable devel-opment, and the environment.

South Burlington resident Jennifer Decker, an organizer of the Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont, wrapped up the event with future actions.

The Vermont Air National Guard did not comment on the demonstration, but Vermont National Guard spokesman Capt. Mike Arcovitch said the jets are on the horizon.

“Our aircraft are currently undergoing test flights before coming to Vermont from Fort Worth, Texas,” he said. Photos are on VTANG’s Facebook page.

The demonstration was funded through donations, which are still encouraged, Alderman said.

“This movement isn’t going to go away when the planes get here. It’s going to grow,” James Leas, pa-tent attorney and fervent opponent of the F-35s, told The Other Paper at the event. “We’re not going to give up. Everything we’ve done over the last nine years has been preliminary.”

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