October 27, 2010

Skowhegan permit at issue for peace walk

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN -- One of the organizers of the Sunday vigils for peace in Skowhegan and a supporter of a planned peace march next month left Skowhegan selectmen with more questions than answers Tuesday night.

University students and Buddhist monks, along with local activists and members of Veterans for Peace, are scheduled to march across the state in November to draw attention to the effects of war and war spending on the economy, Mark Roman of Solon said Tuesday.

Veterans for Peace, in conjunction with Waterville Area Bridges for Peace and Justice, are set to walk through central Maine beginning Nov. 2 -- Election Day. The Maine Walk for Peace, Human Needs and Veterans Care is slated to start in Farmington, Roman said.

The questions raised Tuesday were if the vigils and the march will need permits in Skowhegan.

Selectmen Tuesday night were about to approve an application for Bridges for Peace to hold silent vigils on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges each Sunday, when Roman stood to withdraw the group's application.

Roman said he objected to needing a permit for the Sunday vigils on the bridge, which he said have been happening every Sunday for the past eight years. He said it was a matter of free speech, not municipal ordinance.

He said his Sunday group does not block the sidewalk, does not solicit donations or initiate response from passersby.

"To me it's an issue of Skowhegan supporting free speech," he said.

Selectmen accepted Roman's application withdrawal, but wondered aloud what to do about the peace march, which under town ordinance might be considered a "parade or procession," but was not included in Roman's original application. Chairwoman Joy Mase added that she did not know what will happen this Sunday when the Bridges for Peace group assembles for its silent vigil at noon.

Town Manager John Doucette Jr. said town officials will discuss both matters this week.

"The peace walk is to put a spotlight on what the war economy is doing to our country and is a walk for human needs and veterans' care," Roman said of the peace march earlier in the day Tuesday.

He said there is a core group of 15-20 people who will march, along with a contingent of Buddhist monks, led by Rev. Gyoway Kato, and nuns from the Nipponzan Myohoji order, with headquarters in western Massachusetts.

"The peace walk will average 16 miles of actual walking each day," he said. "Because of the great distances between stops, occasional shuttling will be necessary. Some people will walk the entire distance and others will join the walk for an hour, or a day, or several days."

The nation currently is spending billions on the Afghanistan war, Roman said, reducing funds for education, health care, infrastructure and social spending. Citing published reports, Roman said there is suicide in the military, as well as soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and sexual trauma.

Roman said the peace walk also will concentrate on the environmental costs of war with oil fires, unexploded weapons, polluted rivers, contaminated soil, and damaged landscapes.

He said anyone who cares to join the march and the public gathers each day of the walk is encouraged to do so.

Waterville Area Bridges for Peace and Justice and its sister organization Code Pink have held vigils on bridges in Skowhegan, Waterville and other Maine locations since 2002.

Doucette said the group never applied for an assembly permit, but when he saw an announcement on the Veterans For Peace walk, he contacted Roman.

"I saw that and I said I want to make sure they're covered so they don't have a problem when they get to town," Doucette said. "We do have a parades and processions ordinance."

The walk each day:

* Farmington program on Nov. 2 to kick-off the peace walk

* Farmington to Skowhegan on Nov. 3

* Skowhegan to Waterville on Nov. 4

* Waterville to Bangor on Nov. 5

* Bangor to Belfast on Nov. 6

* Belfast to Rockland on Nov. 7

* Rockland to Bath on Nov. 8

* Bath to Freeport on Nov. 9

* Freeport to Portland on Nov. 10

* Veterans for Peace will participate in the Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11 in Portland.

Community potluck dinners are scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Skowhegan Community Center and at 6 p.m. the following day in Waterville at the United Methodist Church on Pleasant Street.

Doug Harlow -- 474-9534

dharlow@centralmaine.com

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