For several years Eastport has seen a dedicated group of people who stand in front of the Post Office, good weather or bad, to protest the war in Iraq. Their numbers range from 7 to 12 on average but there are others who stand vigil in a more impromptu fashion. Visitors and residents alike have been known to jump in and join the protest.
Their vigils, held every Saturday morning, are peaceful and can attract a fair amount of attention. Although these men and women are omnipresent, they really caught my attention of the weekend of July 4th.
With the USS Hawes in port and thousands of locals and people “from away” swarming downtown Eastport, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to protest the war in Iraq on the most patriotic day of the year, in arguably the most patriotic city in the country.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Ann Cornelison of Eastport and ask her about protesting the war in Iraq.
LDE: What exactly are you protesting?
AC: The invasion and continued illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq by the US, which is responsible for the death or maiming of countless citizens and soldiers.
LDE: How did your protest group start?
AC: David Gholson [Cornelison’s husband] and I were in St. Stephen [Canada] before the US first invaded Iraq and were inspired by the people who held a peace vigil right at the little park as you cross into Canada. We sent out a few emails to see if there was any interest in this area.
LDE: How do people react when they see you protesting?
AC: Occasionally, since we’ve been [protesting] at the Post Office, an individual will express, in some way, their disagreement. Sometimes they are civil. Sometimes they are not. We try to be polite and non-confrontational with all of them. It is, after all, their right to express their opinion, just as it is ours.
LDE: And July 4th weekend, how was it to protest the war in Iraq on a patriotic weekend?
AC: It was so quiet downtown this year. In years past there have been more
people downtown and so we got more response from both sides. Generally, the people who
react negatively to us on the 4th weekend are not from here, and they don’t really want
to have a conversation with us — they mainly just spout meaningless drivel that I assume
they’ve heard on right-wing radio.
LDE: What are some of the reactions you receive?
AC: One fellow backed up his van from the stop sign as he drove down Washington Street, rolled down his window and called us, over and over, “Stupid God damn idiots.” That wasn’t exactly a conversation.
This past Saturday the same man crossed the street, heading north on Water Street, and waited until he was almost past the corner and almost past our peripheral vision even, to say, “Shame, shame, shame.” Once again, not a conversation.
Last week a local man approached us to ask if we’d be there on the 4th weekend. When we said
that we would, he expressed dismay. We responded by telling him about the veterans, both from
here and away, and the uniformed (and not uniformed) Navy personnel from the ship who have, in years past, approached and thanked us for what we do.
He continued to argue, and I repeated the bit about the uniformed Navy personnel who had supported us and he replied, “Must have been the gay ones.” I guess I’m just glad he said “gay” instead of something else.
LDE: Do you get any positive feedback?
AC: All the time. Whereas we used to get about 90 percent positive response from the people who respond at all — I’d say now it is more like 99 percent. Eastporters, people from away, tourists, students, veterans, all sorts.
One fellow who lives here admitted that he’d voted for Bush twice and felt so ashamed and thanked us for being there. My feeling is that we need everyone at the table, not just those of us who opposed the invasion from the get-go.
On one of the first Saturday mornings, when we started standing at the Post Office corner, I saw a former next-door-neighbor approaching the building. At the time her son was either preparing to go to Iraq or was already there. (When we first came to Eastport, I think he was in 7th grade and his little sister must have been in the 2nd.) It was especially important to me to find out her attitude about what we were doing — if she had any negative feelings, I wanted to be able to talk to her and explain.
Well, I didn’t have to. In spite of the fact that her only son was in the service (and in harm’s way), she said in no uncertain terms, how much she opposed (and still does) this “war” and she thanked us for standing vigil. Every time I see her now, I check in to see if she’s changed her mind but no, she still supports us.
LDE: How long do you plan to continue your vigils?
AC: Good question. I’d say “until the US pulls all troops out of Iraq.” I don’t know what the others [protesters] would say.
LDE: What do you hope to accomplish?
AC: We are realistic. We know that our action is not going go cause the president to change his wrong-headed thinking and to bring the troops home. As some of us say, “We cannot NOT do this.” If we are able to publicly demonstrate what so very many people in Eastport think, but maybe do not feel free to express, we are happy to do that.
We are happy to show that freedom of speech does not belong solely to those who agree with those in power. We are proud to be part of a strong thread of people who are doing this same thing [protesting] across the country and across the globe. We hope to remind people that, in spite of what their evening news shows do not show them, that the war continues and that people are still dying.
LDE: What is your reaction to “Support the troops”?
AC: I think the phrase is over used, especially by those who think it is the opposite in meaning to Bring The Troops Home. My sign says: “Support the Troops – Bring Them Home NOW.” Others might think that “the troops” have the right and the duty to refuse to serve, but I think that’s a topic for a private conversation and not a public peace vigil. My aim is to be a reminder to people but not to overheat them.
LDE: Is it safe to assume you are a Democrat and voting for Obama?
AC: Yeah, I’m a Democrat. Always have been. Don’t know about the others [protesters]. I was undecided between Obama and Clinton (and gave them both some money) until after the Texas debate when she went so negative. She lost me completely then. I know he isn’t perfect. No one who gets this far in politics is pure. But he speaks to young people and seems to be recognizing their previously untapped value as citizens that I think may help save this country. I hope so.
LDE: How do you think Obama would change the course this country is on?
AC: Oh, I think he will disappoint people, because there are so many hopes riding on his presidency. His image has been blown up so much, he can’t help it. I don’t think he will get us out as fast as some folks (wishfully) think he will. I think this next presidential term is a lose-lose for anyone. The Bush administration has ruined the presidency as well as everything else it has touched, and it will take more than 8 years to fix that. But I think he can help turn us around. Whether it can make a difference, well, I don’t know. I’m a pessimist.
LDE: If you could say just one thing to President Bush, what would it be?
AC: There is no shame in admitting you are wrong and doing something to
right that wrong. Remember the tenets of AA, George? The shame and the crime is continuing
that wrong, in continuing to be responsible for all these lives being lost. That shame rests on your head, and it brings shame to every citizen in this country. You have decimated the
reputation, the economy, and the future of the United States and I do not know how you can live
your life so blithely, without any doubts. Shame on you.
Many thanks to Ann Cornelison of Eastport, Maine for sharing her views with Living DownEast. Protesters interested in joining Ann and the others in their peace vigils can meet in front the Eastport Post Office (corner of Washington and Water Streets) Saturday mornings 11:00 until 12:00. To read Ann’s rememberance of fellow Eastport protester, Ed Earley, click here.