Fifteen activists bound together by a mixture of roofing tar, chicken wire and nails wrapped around PVC piping were arrested Tuesday after trying to block the entrance to General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products Co.
Protesters Emily Posner, left, Susan Ellsworth, center, and Maia Campoamor embrace Tuesday after being released from the Saco Police Department. The women, roommates at Colby College, were charged with criminal trespassing. (PPH Photo/Gregory Rec)
No one was hurt in the protest, which lasted about four hours. More than 30 police officers and firefighters used scissors and wire cutters to untangle the protesters enough to load them onto a waiting bus. Nearby, several dozen protesters chanted and sold cookies by the road for Veterans for Peace.
The activists said they were there to raise awareness about the disparity between military and educational spending, as well as Maine's dependency on defense spending in its economy. Tax dollars, they argued, should be spent on teachers and social services, not the grenade launchers and machine guns produced by companies like General Dynamics.
"We need an economy to support Mainers that doesn't produce weapons," said Tennessee Watson, one of the 15 arrested. "They have great union jobs at (General Dynamics), and I'm glad for the workers, but why do all the good jobs (come) tied to the military complex? What kind of future is that for kids and for this world?"
The protesters, many of them students, came from various places in Maine and denied they were part of any organized group. Most of the arrested students attend Colby College in Waterville.
Saco is unaccustomed to anti-military demonstrations despite General Dynamics' long-standing presence in the community. The plant has operated in Saco for more than 50 years, formerly under the name Saco Defense, but gained new attention recently because many of the weapons manufactured at the plant have been used in the war against Iraq.
Although Maine has seen dozens of demonstrations since the war began, Tuesday's event involved a more elaborate form of civil disobedience than most other protests.
"We knew that in order to cut through the news of the war . . . we had to do something undeniable," said Rob Fish, a protest organizer from Bar Harbor.
The protest began shortly before 7 a.m. as workers were getting ready to report for another day at the plant. Traffic to the building was impeded, officials said, but not stopped. Many trucks simply drove around the protesters, leaving tire tracks in the ground along the pavement.
Protesters chanted messages such as "Taxes for education, not militarization." The group numbered more than 40 people at one point and drew many onlookers, including students from Young Elementary School across the street.
About 20 Maine state troopers were called to the scene and stood in riot gear in two lines around the protesters. Saco Police Chief Bradley Paul said he called for the troopers so police would be prepared for every contingency when they moved in to separate the group.
Paul told the protesters at about 10:30 a.m. that they would be arrested if they did not move. The group tried to negotiate, asking to stay until 4 p.m., but Paul said that was not an option.
"You have to leave now, I'm sorry," Paul told them.
As police and firefighters prepared to separate the group, each person in the circle reaffirmed they were prepared to be removed and face charges of criminal trespassing. In the background, other activists sang and yelled encouragement to the 15 sitting on the ground.
Police used a saw to cut through two metal drums that the protesters had linked their arms through. Towels were brought out to protect the faces of those sitting next to the drums.
The bindings that the protesters used to attach themselves were decorated to look like crayons. Underneath were layers of duct tape and chicken wire mixed with roofing tar covering a piece of PVC pipe. Inside the pipe, the protesters were bound together by chains linked with spring-loaded rings so they could release themselves at any time.
It took police about an hour to separate the group. In many cases, groups of three or four people were still attached to each other by one arm as they were put on a school bus to be transported to the police station.
"It's worth it," Alec Aman of Ellsworth said as he sat on the bus. "It's worth it to draw attention to the fact that our federal government uses our federal tax dollars in outrageous disproportion toward the military compared to education."
Aman's father, Tony Aman of Penobscot, snapped a picture of his son as he was put on the bus.
"I support him absolutely," Tony Aman said. "He's standing up for what he believes in."
Ken Morgan, a spokesman for General Dynamics, said another protest was held at the company's division headquarters in Burlington, Vt., on Tuesday afternoon. Neither protest disrupted the company's operations, he said.
"Obviously, in our business, we're big believers in democracy and free speech," Morgan said.
The 15 arrested protesters were released on personal recognizance, and are scheduled to appear May 22 in Biddeford District Court. As each emerged from the Saco police station Tuesday afternoon, they were greeted by cheers and singing from their fellow activists.
"We accomplished what we wanted to do," said Fish. "Today was definitely not a normal day for General Dynamics. We got the word out that Mainers would rather support the schools than build another grenade launcher."
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