CAN’T ASK, CAN’T TELL: Denied a spot in the American Legion’s Veteran’s Day Parade, members of the local Veterans for Peace showed up anyway, and were arrested for their silent protest against censorship.
Their hearts were warmed by passion, despite the cold temperatures. Armed with signs, upside-down flags of distress, and anti-war fliers, the Smedley D. Butler Brigade, Chapter 9 of Veterans For Peace (VFP), refused to be censored — their request to participate in this past Sunday’s annual Veterans Day parade was denied by the American Legion, which coordinates the event each year. But official exclusion did little to deter the group from marching at the end of the parade, behind the street sweepers, and carrying out its objectives: promoting peace, speaking out against the war in Iraq, and supporting the troops by calling for their immediate return home.
“We want to put our message out to the crowd along the route, and make it clear that we will not be silenced by the American Legion,” said Nate Goldshlag, an Army veteran and one of the Brigade organizers who led the rally of about 40 disgruntled vets down Tremont Street to City Hall Plaza. (Goldshlag is no stranger to activism: in 1969, he and fellow Vietnam War opponents participated in the infamous student takeover of Harvard’s University Hall, an incident that garnered national attention and got him expelled.)
Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, a strong supporter of VFP, also weighed in on the Legion’s decision, calling it “an insult to vets everywhere.” The Legion, however, asserts the parade is a non-political event, a claim hotly contested by Goldshlag and Turner, who argue that in previous years the parade’s speakers have been “pro-war.”
For the most part, the crowd along the parade route was supportive of VFP. But Jeff Monico of Saugus, a Marine and Iraq War veteran, was angered by the anti-war group’s display of upside-down flags. “It’s disrespectful at this event to be holding the flags like that,” he said. A young boy next to him agreed. “You’re not holding the flag the right way,” shouted the youth. “If I were a cop, I'd put you in jail.” His words were all too prophetic.
As people trickled into the plaza, a single line of VFP members began to form in front of the podium. Faces stoic and mouths stuffed with handkerchiefs, the demonstrators now silently protested with signs draped across their bodies that read: AMERICAN LEGION SILENCES MESSAGES OF PEACE FROM VETERANS. The American Legion band played on as people anxiously waited to see what would happen next. Slowly, one by one, the veterans were handcuffed and arrested by the Boston Police, the rat-a-tat-tat of the drums ringing in their ears as they were led off into the distance.
Eighteen of the VFP vets were subsequently charged with disturbing a lawful assembly of people, and, at press time, were scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday and Wednesday in Boston Municipal Court.