By MARI MAXWELL / Journal Tribune Staff Writer
KENNEBUNKPORT - They say they feel the loss of the thousands killed in the Sept. 11 attacks as deeply as anyone, but demonstrators marching down Ocean Avenue Saturday said the war in Afghanistan is the wrong answer to terrorism.
More than 250 protesters waved signs, sang and beat drums for peace as they marched on the Walkers Point home of former President George Bush. Organized by the Maine Global Action Network, Peace Action Maine and Big Medicine, the peace march echoed protests that were held here during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
The group gathered at St. Ann's Episcopal Church on Ocean Avenue for a rally and speeches prior to the 12:30 p.m. march on the compound. Participants shouted their approval as speakers denounced U.S. strikes in Afghanistan.
"If we don't stop this, 7.5 million people may die this winter from starvation," said Matt Schlobohm. "That's seven times the population of this state, gone. That's the World Trade Center death count every day for four years. That's real. It's incredible. It's unfathomable. It's revolting."
Others showed the same dismay with U.S. policy in Central Asia and at home. A plywood coffin held a document labeled "Bill of Rights, 1791-2001." Posters denounced war as a tool of U.S. capitalism: "The loss of human blood, life and liberty in the U.S.A. and overseas is Wall Street's gain" one stated. Speakers denounced what they said was the administration's message to dissenters: "You're with us or with the terrorists."
Police Chief Robert Sullivan had more officers on duty in case of trouble, but said no problems developed. The Walkers Point house was unoccupied this weekend and as the march proceeded down Ocean Avenue, passers-by generally took a tolerant attitude.
Masons Kyle Shaw and Aaron Portegys were cutting and laying stone slabs at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, and they saw the march as a demonstration of America's freedom. "It's what makes America great, to be able to do this stuff," Portegys, of Portland, said.
Nearby, Chantelle Buckalew and Gary Martino of Wayne, N.J., were stuck in traffic while the parade passed by. Both disagreed with the protesters' calls for peace. "We feel like if we didn't defend ourselves now at some point they would take over our country," Buckalew said.
"I had two friends that were killed in the Trade Center," Martino said. "I think if these people had somebody that were killed in the Trade Center, they would want revenge. You have to snuff it out or you'll have something like Sept. 11 again."
Biddeford resident John Jariz patiently sat in his car smoking his pipe. "People have the right to not agree," he said. "These people have enough guts to go out and to do this I suppose then this is America. This is what this country was founded on, free speech and expression."
Cape Arundel Inn owner Jack Nahil watched unhappily with staff from the inn's porch, displaying a "Let's Roll" sign.
It was a reference that few of the marchers seemed to understand, Nahil said. President Bush used it in a recent speech, paying tribute to the last words of one of the heroic passengers who confronted terrorists on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania.
"It's my feeling: 'Let's Roll' against terrorism," Nahil said.
Linda Naczas of Newbury, Mass., who was in Kennebunkport on a visit, said the whole scene angered her beyond belief. "This is not Vietnam," she said. "They fought on our soil. What are we to do?"
From St. Ann's to Walkers Point marchers drummed, played Afghani music, bagpipes, or chanted.
At Walkers Point, the group gathered next to the Secret Service guardhouse at the entrance to the Bush compound. There author and Maine Militia member Carolyn Chute told the throng she was all for men and women bearing arms. But the problem went deeper than that, she said. "It's really, really become the merging of government with business," she said. "With that people get rowdy and with that they take away your rights."
At this point, Carl Pendleton, 29, a Saco contractor, forcefully urged the group to take their "bongs" and go home, but no real confrontation developed.
Chief Sullivan said five additional officers were on duty to cover for the event. State Police, Sheriff's Department personnel, Secret Service officers were also there and about 10 officers were seen afterwards in riot gear, though they made no appearance during the march. Sullivan said that while police respected the rights of citizens they were keeping a low-key preparedness attitude, just in case.
"You know you've always got to be prepared," he said. "Everything went well but you want to be prepared."
For Green Party member Tim Sullivan it was funny that so many law enforcement officers were present when the president was not even in residence. "It's ironic," he said. "We're peaceniks."
Peace was the focus of Peggy Smith's workshop later in the afternoon. Smith, a Lincolnville resident, leads meditation groups and workshops. While 20 men and women sat in a circle with a tall green candle lit for relaxation purposes Smith helped focus the group on a meditative peaceful state. Many spoke of trying to cope with the events of Sept. 11 and the war on Afghanistan.
Smith said emotions come all the time, some we like some we don't. Peace is an energy, she said, and not a political status.
What upset some Kennebunk High School students the most was the apparent ignoring of international law to be followed in times of crimes against humanity or acts of terrorism.
Kennebunk High School students also participated in the march and student James David Morgan hosted a presentation on "Youth Perspective on War and American Justice" for a sparsely attended group towards the end of workshop presentations. The talk included a 13 minute video, "Nine-Eleven," made by Kennebunk High School students after the Sept. 11 events.
Morgan spoke of the United States violation of international law by waging war against Afghanistan when there were laws in place to address the Sept. 11 attacks. "We're not only wrong in waging war on an emotional and philosophical effort, legally, when it comes down to the writing in the sand, we can't be doing this," he said.
For 24-year-old Liam Burnell of Belfast the youths' presentation was an invigorating one. "I'm really excited to see young people getting involved," he said. "When I was in high school I was completely helpless and apathetic."