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Protester sail canoe, escorted by State Police boat into the Burlington waterfront, and their sail (detail).
Protester sail canoe, escorted by State Police boat into the Burlington waterfront, and their sail (detail).

Monday protests in Burlington quiet after clash Sunday

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Burlington streets remained mostly quiet yesterday after Sunday's large protests ended with a clash between demonstrators and police. Events remained peaceful. Members of the Innu First nation in Quebec held a press conference this morning in front of the Hilton to voice their opposition to development by HydroQuebec on their ancestral lands.

Approximately 50 protestors gathered in Battery Park for a peaceful Occupy New England event that featured political theater by Vermont troupe Bread and Puppet. Later, protesters gathered as conference attendees returned from a dinner cruise on a boat on Lake Champlain.

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Protestors chanting outside Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center. Photos: Sarah Harris

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Sarah Harris
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Demonstrators returned to the streets in Burlington yesterday to continue their protests at the annual gathering of New England’s governors and premiers from Eastern Canada. There was no recurrence of the violence that marred Sunday’s protests. It’s the 36th annual cross-border conference to discuss issues of common concern, and this year the focus has been on energy and transportation. It’s been the energy sector that has drawn the bulk of the protests.

Sarah Harris said that police issued another statement about the clash on Sunday when police fired pepper pellets at some demonstrators who were trying to block a bus from taking the premiers and the governors to dinner. The police have not made any arrests so far and feel that they were in the right with regards to their actions.

Police have also been praised by Burlington’s mayor, Miro Weinberger, and by Governor Peter Shumlin for acting well under pressure. Harris said, “So initially, a lot of the public and journalists were asking whether the police had over-reacted and it seems that the police say they haven’t, and major government officials say they haven’t also.”

There were a lot of people at the protests on Sunday, and they came from a wide variety of locations. However, Harris says that the protests on Monday were different. She said, “The protests were a lot more toned down, the numbers were a lot smaller and the people who turned out were primarily part of a core group of dedicated activists, most of whom live here in Burlington. Although, they were joined by people from across New England.”

These protesters included students from Quebec, occupy movement participants from Maine, and the Innu First nation delegation from Quebec. Harris said, “I think the other distinction is that yesterday’s protests remained peaceful. There weren’t any confrontations with the police; the press conference was peaceful. There was an occupy event in Battery Park and political theater by Bread and Puppet.”

Harris said that the most dramatic of yesterday’s protests was when protesters arrived to demonstrate as the governors and premiers returned from a dinner cruise on Lake Champlain. The protesters did not know where the boat was going to dock along Burlington’s waterfront and spent much of the evening walking to different piers. They finally learned that it was going to dock at 6 p.m. and that conference participants were going to attend a reception at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center.

“They were all kind of looking around at the water, trying to figure out what was going on, where the boat was, where it was going to dock,” said Harris. “And all of a sudden, a few protestors started running across the park toward the coastguard station. And looking out on the waterfront, you could see a couple of different boats; you could see a big boat coming in, that was the governors’ boat, you could see a state trooper boat, and you could also see two canoes with protesters in them. They’d made big, homemade sails that said, ‘With the Innu, Descend Mother Earth’ in these really wide letters.”

After the protesters paddled out and raised their sails, they were able to catch a breeze and sail close to the governors’ boat. The trooper’s boat followed them closely. Keith Brunner is a Burlington environmental activist who was one of the three people in the canoe. “We threw up our sail and sailed on a run with this giant sign, and we sailed right by the boat with all the governors, six governors and give premiers,” he said. “They definitely saw us, yeah. We could see the side profile of Shumlin’s nose.”

Brunner said that the state trooper boat came and cut them off. The trooper told the protesters that they could give their message, but made sure that the canoe didn’t get too close. After, the conference attendees docked at the coastguard station. Protesters lined up on both sides of the street leading out of the station and chanted as the cars went by.

After that, the protesters went to the reception at the ECHO center. Harris said, “I went in. It was a stark contrast, I think, to the sort of tired, sweaty protesters outside. There was this very nice reception being held inside the center. Most of the people I met worked across New England in different energy fields.”

Harris caught up with Daniel Malloy, the governor of Connecticut. He said that the governors discussed switching to less pollutant energy sources and that a lot of the subjects that protesters were addressing weren’t being discussed at the conference. Malloy said, “You know, listen, this is America; people have the right to protest. They actually have the right to be wrong about things too. Protests are best and most effective when they align with the issues that are being debated, and that didn’t happen particularly well today.”

Harris is a resident of Burlington, which is a small city. All of the protests happened within a few blocks. “I was right downtown, close to the waterfront, and it was really interesting to be so close to everything. I was on foot, and I really felt like I was pounding the pavement, walking back and forth all around the western edge of the city along the lake,” said Harris. “I think that when this sort of action or unrest or big protests really unfold right in your backyard, it takes on this additional significance because suddenly it’s your home and your community that’s in the spotlight.”

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