On May 1, International Workers’ Day, ten peace activists in Burlington, Vermont, entered General Dynamics and locked themselves together in the main lobby of the building in protest against the company’s weapons manufacturing and war profiteering. University of Vermont student Benjamin Dube, one of the dozens of other activists present at the event, leaned out a window of the lobby, and pointed to the GD building, explaining, “This is the gas tank of the war machine, and we are the sugar.”
The demonstrators entered the lobby at around 3 pm and proceeded to lock their arms together with PVC piping, duct tape and other materials. According to a press release put out by the group, the activists were demanding that “General Dynamics stop giving campaign contributions to the politicians responsible for regulating it, stop making Gatling guns, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and give back the $3.6 million dollars in Vermont tax breaks General Dynamics received in 2007.”
While activists at GD chanted antiwar slogans, banners against GD and the Iraq War were set up on three major streets and highways in the area. Meanwhile, thousands of dockworkers at twenty-nine major ports across on the west coast were refusing to go to work in protest against the Iraq War. In March, Vermonters in Brattleboro and Marlboro passed a measure in town meetings to arrest George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for crimes against the Constitution if they ever arrived in either town.
Rachel Ruggles, a 19-year-old student at the University of Vermont, was one of the activists locked down in the GD lobby. “We are participating in this nonviolent direct action to get attention and make a statement against the Iraq War, to say we don’t support GD’s war profiteering,” she said. “GD is not contributing to the peace economy. The money from their tax breaks should go back to the Vermont community.”
The General Dynamics branch in Burlington produces, among other things, Hydra-70 rockets and missile launchers. In a story published in March in the Vermont-based Seven Days, reporter Mike Ives quoted General Dynamics company spokesperson Tim Haddock as saying that the Burlington plant manufactures the “GoalkeeperClose-In Weapon System…a large gun used on war ships that can fire up to 4,200 shots-per-minute of ‘missile-piercing’ ammunition.”
The St. Louis-based General Dynamics is the top defense contractor in the United States. The Bush Administration’s “war on terror” has been good for GD’s business. In 2007, GD’s revenues were $7.8 billion, with $382 million in profits, an increase of 33 percent since 1983. GD also has a particularly close relationship with the Pentagon; 94 percent of its contracts come from the US government.
During 2007-2008, Vermont Democratic House Representative Peter Welch received $3,500 in donations from General Dynamics.
Holding a bag of bread and fruit for those inside the lobby, bearded, 20-year-old Dube said, “It’s becoming clear that after five years people are against the war. And throughout New England there are weapons manufacturers making it possible for the US to subjugate the Iraqis.” He participated in the protest at GD in part because in spite of all the economic needs in the US, hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent in on the wars abroad. “Our government is not dealing with the problems in our economy and global warming, and at the same time we’re giving tax breaks to weapons manufacturers like GD.” Explaining the group’s tactics, Dube said, “We are trying to renew the focus of antiwar activism more on the complicity of our communities in war.”
Activists remained in and around the GD lobby for more six hours, chanting slogans, waving signs and sharing food. The protesters in the lobby said they would not leave the building until their demands were met. However, officials from GD refused to speak with them. Burlington Lt. Emmet Helrich said “Nobody from General Dynamics is going to talk to you, that’s a fact.” The protestors were ultimately arrested when police went in to cut them loose.
Meanwhile, GD continues to reap enormous profits on the Bush Administration’s wars. On May 2, the national company was awarded a $51 million dollar Abrams Tank contract.