ENOSBURG FALLS --Home to the Vermont Dairy Festival, Enosburg Falls holds its annual parade in June, but last week a different kind of procession meandered through the Franklin County town. On Wednesday, August 17, 30 area residents held a candlelight vigil in solidarity with Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost her soldier son last year in Iraq.
From August 6 to 18, Sheehan was camped outside President Bush's Texas ranch, where he was vacationing. She demanded he meet with her to talk about the war. He refused. Liberal activist groups such as Moveon.org, TrueMajority and Democracy for America rallied around Sheehan, organizing upwards of 1600 vigils across the country on August 17 to support her, and to oppose the war that killed her son. Northern and central Vermont hosted more than two dozen vigils. An event at Burlington's City Hall Park drew 600 people; in Montpelier, 200 showed up.
The vigil in Enosburg Falls was smaller, but perhaps more poignant; more than 60 soldiers from "Bravo Company," the National Guard unit based there, are serving in Iraq. Nearly everyone in the town of fewer than 1500 is connected in some way to a soldier.
Consequently, the gathering was less confrontational than the peace vigils in Burlington, where activists often hold provocative signs. Only one in the Enosburg Falls crowd brought a sign --a small rectangle of white paper on a wooden stick that read, "Wage Peace." Its creator, Carolyn Bronz, was quick to point out that the vigil wasn't about bashing the military. "We sure don't want to be divisive," she said. "We definitely support the troops."
Bronz and the other activists met at the park in the center of town, near a statue of an American soldier from World War I. An adjacent granite slab honored local veterans. A banner hung from a fence around the monuments read, "Support Our Troops, Remember Our Fallen Heroes."
At about 7:20 p.m. the crowd formed a circle. Many of them seemed to know each other, presumably from the regular weekly peace vigil that meets here on Saturdays at 5 p.m. A man spoke about Cindy Sheehan, explaining who she is, and why people around the country were gathering to support her. Then everyone lit candles and marched in silence toward the church. It was still light out. Passing motorists slowed to watch, but no one honked or shouted.
A small group of bystanders watched the procession from a creemee stand across the street. Steve Wadsworth, a local veterinarian, had heard about Sheehan, and about the vigils. He said he was "glad to see it," but wasn't inclined to join. He said he was conscious of offending people whose family members are serving overseas. "I think there's a huge amount of mixed feelings in this community," he suggested.
Terry Wright, the Enosburg Falls Fire Warden and owner of Wrightholm Farm Equipment, was also in the creemee line. He said the troop deployment has had a big impact on the town's volunteer fire department, as well as on his business. And though he didn't express an opinion about the war, he clearly wants the troops to come home. "We support 'em," he said, "but we want 'em back here, too."
When the candlelight march arrived at the church, the sky was beginning to darken. Inside, the marchers sat quietly in the pews, still clutching their candles. The Reverend Linda Maloney, who planned the gathering, had distributed nine short readings to various participants. The readers delivered their statements praying for peace, then sat back down as a musician played a harp. As the assembled contemplated the readings, the small church echoed with the sounds of the harp, an electric ceiling fan and birds chirping outside.
On his way out of the church, 19-year-old Owen Voss stopped to explain what had brought him to the vigil --his brother, Army National Guard Sergeant Michael Voss, was killed last October in Iraq. Owen Voss had heard about Cindy Sheehan and wanted to express his support for her and for other grieving families. He said he knows there are still "a lot of terrorists out there," but he has misgivings about the invasion of Iraq. "I wish this war had never happened," Voss said.