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Antiwar Rally by Veterans for Peace Caps Convention

by Melanie Creamer

PORTLAND, Maine - The crowd, estimated at more than 300, gathered at Post Office Park in Portland, where the Maine chapter of Veterans for Peace held a rally to mark the organization's 25th anniversary.

A throng of flag-bearing Veterans for Peace are gathered around their banner as they march through the Old Port Sunday. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer) The rally capped the national Veterans for Peace annual convention and business meeting held last week in Portland and themed "Lifting the Fog of War."

"It's about connecting the war spending to the economic collapse," said Bruce Gagnon, of Bath, who organized the march and rally. "We are spending $7 billion a month in Afghanistan. You can't spend that kind of money and not have a negative impact on your economy.

"We want to use those dollars for needs back home that aren't being met, like education, health care, and social and mental health programs."

One of the speakers was Gerry Condon, president of Greater Seattle Veterans for Peace. He asked the crowd to support the military personnel who are resisting the wars.

"Thousands of soldiers are AWOL at this time in the United States and there are hundreds who have fled the U.S. to other countries," Condon told the crowd. "We have over 200 war resisters in Canada seeking sanctuary. The Canadians have done a great job taking care of our war resisters. We need to do more."

Marcher's signs included sentiments such as "Endless wars steal money needed at home in Maine;" "Education not War;" and "How is the war economy working for you?"

Woody Powell, of St. Louis, Mo., attended last week's convention and was at the park during the rally. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War.

"I am a veteran who has seen the effects of war. I have learned something about the causes of war, and I feel I can do something about ending war," Powell said. "War is a disaster for our country, the economy and our human soul."

Matthew Welch, a teacher in Cape Elizabeth, attended the rally to show his support for the peace movement.

"It saddens me that so few people seem to care about the last nine years and the violence that has occurred," Welch said. "What the policies of the United States say to populations and to students is that the real way to solve the big problems is through war. We are realizing now that after nine years in Iraq, they don't have a democracy. They don't have an existing government, a police force, or a judicial system. They have nothing and now we are leaving."

Some members of Cape Codders for Peace and Justice also attended the rally. Beth Verani, a teacher at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in Massachusetts, received the peace group's Citizenship Award for Justice and Peace. She was recognized for her efforts opposing the expansion of military recruitment in high schools.

At a recent senior assembly, Verani and another teacher held a small "End War" sign during the military speeches. They were both put on administrative leave. Verani has appealed her suspension.

"We are there to educate and teach about democracy and debate, and that is not the military's message."

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