On May 1st, International Workers’ Day, ten peace activists in Burlington, Vermont entered General Dynamics and locked themselves together in the main lobby of the building in protest against the company’s weapons manufacturing and war profiteering. University of Vermont student Benjamin Dube, one of the dozens of other activists present at the event, leaned out a window of the lobby, and pointed to the GD building, explaining, “This is the gas tank of the war machine, and we are the sugar.”
The demonstrators entered the lobby at around 3 pm, and proceeded to lock their arms together with PVC piping, duct tape and other materials. According to a press release put out by the group, the activists were demanding that “General Dynamics stop giving campaign contributions to the politicians responsible for regulating it, stop making Gatling guns, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and give back the $3.6 million dollars in Vermont tax breaks General Dynamics received in 2007.”
While activists at GD chanted slogans such as, “Hey GD, what do you say, how many kids did you kill today” and “GD out of the Middle East, No Justice, No Peace,” banners against GD and the Iraq War were set up on three major streets and highways in the area. This anti-war action in Burlington took place at the same time thousands of dockworkers at 29 major ports across on the west coast refused to go to work in protest against the Iraq War. In March, Vermonters in Brattleboro and Marlboro passed a measure in town meetings to arrest George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for crimes against the constitution if they ever arrived in either town.
Rachel Ruggles was one of the activists locked down in the GD lobby. Wearing a green bandana and glasses, this 19 year old from Vergennes, VT, and student at the University of Vermont, said “we are participating in this non-violent direct action to get attention and make a statement against the Iraq War, to say we don’t support GD’s war profiteering… GD is not contributing to the peace economy. The money from their tax breaks should go back to the Vermont community.”
General Dynamics is a national company whose branch in Burlington produces, among other things, Hydra-70 rockets and missile launchers. Mike Ives, a journalist with VT based Seven Days, wrote in March of this year that, according to General Dynamics company spokesperson Tim Haddock, GD employees in Burlington make the “Goalkeeper Close-In Weapon System,” a large gun used on ships that can fire 4,200 shots per minute of “missile-piercing” ammunition.
According to Time Magazine, St. Louis-based General Dynamics is the top defense contractor in the US. The Bush administration’s “War on Terror” has been good for GD business. In 2007, GD’s revenues were $7.8 billion, with $382 million in profits, an increase of 33% since 1983. GD also has a particularly close relationship with the Pentagon; 94% of its contracts come from the US government.
During 2007-2008, Vermont Democratic House Representative Peter Welch received $3,500 in donations from General Dynamics. An online petition in protest of this campaign contribution to Welch is available to sign here.
While holding a bag of bread and fruit for those inside the lobby, bearded, 20 year old activist, Dube said “it’s becoming clear that after five years people are against the war. And throughout New England there are weapons manufacturers making it possible for the US to subjugate the Iraqis.” He participated in the protest at GD in part because in spite of all the economic needs in the US, hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent in on the wars abroad. “Our government is not dealing with the problems in our economy and global warming, and at the same time we’re giving tax breaks to weapons manufacturers like GD.” Regarding the importance of the group’s tactics, Dube said, “We are trying to renew the focus of anti-war activism more on the complicity of our communities in war.”
Peace activist Jonathan Leavitt was quoted in the press release as saying, “While our state struggles with [Governor] Jim Douglas’ budget cuts and layoffs, gas prices, affordable housing and lack of health coverage, war profiteers like General Dynamics steal tax breaks from working families. We’re here today as Vermonters to say no more handouts for war profiteers.”
Dozens of activists remained in and around the GD lobby for over six hours, chanting slogans, waving signs and sharing food. The protesters in the lobby said they would not leave the building until their demands were met. However, officials from GD refused to speak with the activists. Burlington Lt. Emmet Helrich said “Nobody from General Dynamics is going to talk to you, that’s a fact.” The activists in the lobby were arrested at 8:45 pm when the police went in to cut them loose.
Meanwhile, GD continues to reap enormous profits on the Bush administration’s wars. On May 2, the national company was awarded a $51 million dollar Abrams Tank contract.
See this video of the May 1st action at General Dynamics in Burlington, VT. Filmed and edited by Sam Mayfield:
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Benjamin Dangl is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a Vermont-based publication on international events. Photos by Dangl