Peace coalition protests 10 years in Afghanistan

BRISTOL — The U.S. military marked its 10th year of war in Afghanistan last Friday, and the Five Town Peace Coalition wasn’t prepared to let anyone passing through Bristol’s Main Street forget it. 
Since February 2003, the group has held peaceful demonstrations on the corner of Bristol’s West and North streets across from Holley Hall, opposing the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. On Friday, close to a dozen local protestors — all older than 30 — hoisted signs and stood next to a large banner that read “10 years … 920,000 dead … $1.29 trillion.” The 920,000 dead referenced the combined casualties resulting from both wars, as estimated by some groups, and the $1.29 trillion represented the financial cost of the warsto the United States.
Seeking a peaceful withdrawal from the war, the protestors have met in Bristol almost every Friday for more than eight years.
“This was wrong then and it’s wrong now,” said Dave Rosen of Bristol. “I don’t think we can ignore … our responsibility to speak out.”
Over the years, children, high school students and other local citizens have participated in the demonstrations. But the core of the group has primarily consisted of older, seasoned protestors. The most experienced member of the team is 95-year-old Bristol resident Harriet Bensen.
“I try to get here as much as I can because it’s important to me,” she said. “It’s a horrible thing to be killing and maiming people. For what? To make a few other people rich … I’ve lived through quite a few wars … but war is not the way to settle a problem.
“Generally war never leads to a good end for most people. It leads to a good end for a few people. This war is mainly for the people making billions of dollars.”
What excites this group of veteran protestors, said protest organizer Bunny Daubner, is that the youth of the country is finally waking up to social injustice and taking action.
“It’s hard, but kids are not inclined to join in,” she said. “That’s why I’m so excited about Occupy Wall Street. Because it was started by the young people … a few of us went to Burlington last Sunday and it was started by young people.”
Daubner was referencing the ongoing protests in New York City aimed at removing corporate greed from the U.S. political system. The impact of these demonstrations has rippled across the country, hitting Burlington for the first time two weekends ago, when Daubner attended. Last weekend, a protest that began on Burlington’s Church Street, and then spread to Citizens Bank on College Street, amassed between 500-1,000 demonstrators.
Vermonters in support of Occupy Wall Street and the organization’s fundamental mission are organizing via the web at occupyvermont.wordpress.com, and similar demonstrations are slated this weekend for Rutland, Montpelier, Brattleboro and, again, in Burlington.
Patty Heather-Lea, a Champlain Valley Union High School math teacher and Bristol resident who frequents the Bristol peace demonstrations, is glad to see today’s youth staking a claim to their future. The recent protests remind her, in some ways, of demonstrations when she was in college in the late 1960s.
“If many people do something small, it makes a big difference in the world,” said Heather-Lea. “Take a snowflake. It seems like nothing. But if you put many of those snowflakes together, you stop traffic.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected],

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