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The Burlington Free Press

Antiwar Sit-Ins: A Personal Perspective

Michael Colby

Vermonters have been seemingly inundated lately with news and images of an energized antiwar movement. Dozens of citizens have taken our urgent calls to "end the Iraq War now" directly to the offices of Rep. Peter Welch and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, and many -- myself included -- have engaged in peaceful acts of civil disobedience in an effort to dramatize the urgency we feel this issue deserves.But after participating in several of these actions and then reading about them in the newspapers, I'm amazed by the extreme differences in what I experienced compared to what I've read. Frankly, what I read had next to nothing to do with what I experienced. And that's a shame.

First, what I read had to do with unlawful behavior, police, handcuffs, arrests, tension between the office staff and the protesters, and -- sadly -- about people who "don't understand the system."

But what I experienced was enormous camaraderie, laughter, solidarity, hope and an amazing commingling of a very diverse collection of people. We were there because we felt frustrated and rather helpless in our urgent desire to end this unjust war. By coming together and taking these collective actions, we were united in addressing our need to take action and be heard. We were, after all, just practicing democracy -- peacefully.

As a participant, it was a rich and rewarding experience. It was social. It was cathartic. It was rejuvenating. And, most importantly, it was about believing in the very system that the war-promoters claim to be "exporting" to Iraq.

You didn't read anything in the media, for example, about the diversity of the people in those offices who took those actions. Ranging in ages between 9 months and 87-years old, I encountered nuns, farmers, students, full-time parents, lawyers, the unemployed, horse loggers, professors, painters, health officials, landscapers, writers, Iraq veterans, Vietnam veterans, filmmakers and poets. It was, quite obviously, an amazingly diverse group. And there were no "leaders" -- only willing and enthusiastic participants.

We shared food. We shared stories. We read the names of some of those killed in this war -- both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens. We expressed our opinions. We asked to be heard. And we clearly stated that we wanted answers from our elected officials.


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And there were the police. They treated us with respect and we did the same to them. We all understood that our little dance with democracy had led us to what could have been an uncomfortable confrontation. But we stuck to our stated principles -- a pledged vote against more war funding or we weren't leaving willingly -- and they did their job of explaining our rights, attaching handcuffs and walking us out of the buildings. There's a reason, you know, that it's called an act of "civil" disobedience.

We do not have the luxury of time in this struggle to end this war. Bullets are flying. Bombs are dropping. Limbs are being lost. Lives are being wasted. And every month that we allow it to continue, thousands more will have their lives changed -- or ended -- forever.

That's why our message has been clear: Time is up. The charade is over. And this war must end -- now. And by partaking in the time honored traditions of civil disobedience, it is our hope that more people will be moved to do more to end this war now and not in two more blood-stained years.

We believe in democracy. We believe we have the power. And we believe that if enough people lead, our elected officials will follow.

It's all about hope. And I thank my new friends and colleagues in this effort for letting me share in this collective hope. It's been powerful and empowering. We will stop when the war stops.

Michael Colby writes about and works with draft horses in Worcester.

© 2007 The Burlington Free Press

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