Groups square off; arrests in Chicopee
By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff, and Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent, 3/23/2003
At Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, 90 miles west of Boston, a rally of 2,000 antiwar protesters included three-dozen who locked arms to block the main road leading into the base. Police arrested 53 people and charged them with disturbing the peace and obstructing traffic. John Schuchardt of Ipswich was also charged with resisting arrest.
"You sure you want to do this?" Chicopee Police Chief John Ferraro Jr. asked Jenny Douglass, 16, of Greenfield, as she sat in the road. "You'll have this on your record the rest of your life."
Douglass merely smiled and nodded before joining the crowd in singing "Lay down my sword, lay down my shield."
Organized by the Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee, protesters entwined themselves in yellow, red, and blue yarn, to symbolize the "web of justice," they said. Committed to civil disobedience, they ignored the police countdown that gave them 2 minutes, then 1 minute, then 30 seconds to move. A handful of war supporters jeered, cursing the protesters for showing disrespect to US troops.
"My job as a good citizen to this country is to sit right here," said Jean Grossholtz, 74, of South Hadley, a retired Mount Holyoke College professor. "I taught for years what the Constitution means. If I don't do this, I'd be a hypocrite to my students."
After the first round of arrests, two more waves of protesters followed, including Buddhist monks from the Leverett Peace Pagoda who walked hundreds of miles in the name of peace since last month before ending their walk in Boston on Friday.
Schuchardt, charged with resisting arrest, walked away from police and yelled "Stop the nonsense!" as they tried to handcuff him. He then lay on the ground in front of a police cruiser before being forced inside.
Protesters carried American flags and took pains to say they were not against the servicemen and women now at war, but that message seemed lost on many who passed the march. More than one driver made an obscene gesture; others ordered protesters off the sidewalks in front of their homes.
"If they don't like it here, they can damn well leave," said Gifford Fogg, 65, an Air Force veteran who served in Korea, after yelling at protesters to get out of his driveway.
A traditional scene of antiwar protests, Westover saw about 100 arrests in the opening days of the Gulf War, police said, while thousands lined the base's gates during the Vietnam War. The base has been used over the past weeks as a refueling stopover point for C5 Galaxy cargo planes headed to the Gulf, according to Brigadier General Marty Mazick of the 439th Airlift Wing, which is stationed there. About 900 soldiers have been activated there, he said.
Meanwhile, in Boston, about 500 people stood in a circle outside the Park Street MBTA station, on the edge of Boston Common, for an antiwar rally organized by the Committee for Peace and Human Rights. The group has held Saturday vigils by the common for four years to protest sanctions against Iraq. Yesterday, members passed around a petition, part of a national effort to impeach President Bush.
Drowned out at times by honking cars, speakers criticized the government for going to war without other nations' support, and the media for failing to ask tough questions of leaders. Signs in the crowd included "Mad as Hell from New Hampshire" and "Grandmother Against War." Nearby carts sold red and white tulips and Boston sweatshirts, while the smell of honey-roasted nuts hung in the air.
"It's an awful thing that's going on right now," said Toby Hartwell, 19, of Amherst. "There's not much we can do, but this is what we can do, so we're doing it."
On the other side of Tremont Street, Teddy Leonel of Waltham stood on the corner and watched as protesters cheered and chanted. "I think it's ridiculous," the 29-year-old said. "If our troops aren't there, fighting for our security, the Iraqis will come over here and destroy us."
About a dozen pro-government demonstrators with flags and striped Uncle Sam hats stood apart from the larger gathering, holding a banner expressing support for Bush and the war. "USA, USA," they chanted briefly.
The antiwar crowd later marched to Copley Square and then down Massachusetts Avenue to Cambridge, blocking traffic on the bridge for 15 minutes before proceeding to Harvard Square, where 500 to 600 people sat in the street, stopping traffic and chanting "Stop the war!"
Smaller protests dotted the suburbs, drawing diverse groups of families, students, and senior citizens. In Bridgewater, where about 20 people protested yesterday downtown, George Papas, 69, of Brockton, founder of the new group Loudly Against War, discovered unexpected common ground during a discussion with a Gulf War veteran who supports the current conflict.
"This is what we need to do, to get into civil discussions with people instead of using bumper stickers and sloganeering," said Papas.
But productive discussions are growing more difficult, protesters said, with the war escalating, and antiwar demonstrations increasingly seen as disloyal. In Reading, where 25 members of Reading People for Peace held a vigil yesterday for the fifth consecutive week, "the negative comments . . . were much angrier than what we had seen in the past," organizer Mary Ellen O'Neill wrote in an e-mail. "Traitors!" and "Commies!" were among the angry feedback.
More than 150 war backers rallied in front of Peabody City Hall on Main Street to show their support for US soldiers fighting in Iraq, organized by the Peabody Veterans Council.
Standing at the edge of the crowd, Jim Simpson, 47, a Vietnam War veteran who remembers returning home to the heckles of antiwar protesters, said he doesn't want soldiers in this Gulf War to have that experience.
"I don't want to see what we went through happen again," he said. "Thirty years later, it's still pretty tough."
Jenna Russell can be reached at email@example.com.