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Demonstrators form a "human oil spill." Photo: Sarah Harris
Demonstrators form a "human oil spill." Photo: Sarah Harris

Demonstrators, police clash at governors' conference in Burlington

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A peaceful protest in Burlington turned violent late yesterday afternoon when demonstrators clashed with police. Approximately 500 protestors took the streets downtown to protest the 36th annual New England Governors conference. While New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers met at the waterfront Hilton Hotel to discuss energy policy, protestors demonstrated outside, voicing their opposition to a proposed pipeline across northern New England that would ship Tar Sands oil to Portland, Maine. Sarah Harris has our story.

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Marnie Salerno shows where she got hit by sting balls. Photo: Sarah Harris

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Sarah Harris
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Yesterday’s protests began peacefully as demonstrators sang, danced and marched through downtown Burlington. Megan Sheehan lives in Randolph, Vermont, and is an organizer with the Vermont Workers Center. She said,"So we’re here in Burlington, Vermont today to talk about taking back our democracy and not letting power holders not be accountable to people and the environment."

Protestors made their way to the Hilton Hotel at Burlington’s waterfront, where regional leaders were meeting inside. They chanted for several minutes as police looked on, then walked up the block to Battery Park where they ate lunch and listened to speeches by environmental activist Bill McKibben and Abenaki community member Charlie Delaney. Then they joined hands and wove into a big circle, singing.

"There is power in our voices, there is power in the land," they sang, "saying yes to the earth, we say no to tar sands." 

The protestors then marched in silence back to the Hilton, where they created a human oil spill, lying on the sidewalk and street in front of the hotel. After several minutes, they got up, slowly, and resumed singing—this time, with "This Land is Your Land." 

But it wasn’t all singing and dancing yesterday afternoon. Although most protestors left around 3:45 p.m., some remained in front of the Hilton. Just before 5 p.m., the protest turned violent when demonstrators tried to block the buses transporting conference attendees to dinner.

"The police and Burlington PD responded forcefully, kinda got the butt end of that," said Marnie Salerno, a recent college graduate who works in a coffee shop and sustained minor injuries during the clash. "Shot with pepper spray coated rubber bullets –then some other people were shot with just rubber bullets and other people were pepper sprayed. I was pushed into the middle of college street and I had officers pushing me back and one with a gun on me most of the time that had these bullets, yeah."

In a press release last night, The Burlington Police department said that they fired defensively after officers were “physically confronted by the crowd.” They said that they used pepper balls and stingball pellets, but that they do not carry or use rubber bullets. Salerno noted that the police were wearing riot gear and had dogs that they did not deploy. She says she was surprised by the police response. 

"It’s very interesting in a place like Burlington that’s so peaceful and liberal minded they would actually use tactics and fire arms against us. These are the people who are supposed to protect and serve us and they’re more interested in getting some fancy jackets to a dinner than to protect and serve the people who are just trying to get their voices heard," Salerno said. 

In the press release police said that no arrests have been made so far. That said, while two officers sustained minor injuries, no injuries among protestors have been reported. The governors conferences and the demonstrations are scheduled to continue today. 

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