Three South Burlington residents and one Burlington resident were cited with unlawful trespass after refusing to leave U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Burlington office, during a sit-in protest against the F-35 basing at the Burlington International Airport, this evening.
The individuals: Roddy O’Neil-Cleary, Carmine Sargent and Kara Paige of South Burlington, plus Joshua Chasan of Burlington, arrived at the senator’s office at 4:30 p.m. bearing a packet of documents demanding the senator direct the Air Force to delay basing at Burlington International Airport until six criteria are met, as well as several informational packets.
The documents were identical to those retired Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco and Lt. Col. Roger Bourassa brought to the office on Monday, when they refused to leave and were cited with trespass.
Shortly before 8 p.m., Burlington Police Department Deputy Chief of Operations Jon Murad and several officers arrived at Leahy’s office to instruct the four individuals to leave – following requests from Leahy’s office. The group declined, then followed officers to the building’s lobby where they were cited for unlawful trespass. They are due in court on Oct. 3 at 8:15 a.m.
Sargent and Paige, a mother and daughter, respectively, had appeared in the office the previous evening, Sept. 10, bearing the same informational packets and demands. That night, they left shortly after the office closed at 5:30 p.m.
The two have lived together on Elizabeth Street next to the airport for 47 years.
They moved there when Paige was a year old due to Paige’s spinal dysplasia. Paige uses a wheelchair and her mother believed the South Burlington School District, with its accessibility, was the best place for her daughter to be educated. Sargent has invested in making the home completely accessible for Paige. She fears, among other things, that the noise of the F-35s will impact the quality of their lives there. With both her investment in, and attachment to the home, she does not wish to move.
“We have invested 47 years in our home. It's not just a house, it’s a home,” Sargent told The Other Paper. “We feel like nobody's been listening to what’s going to happen to our peaceful neighborhood, what has already happened to our neighborhood.”
Paige added she has concerns about the health effects of the jets on those living near them. The duo both agreed that they believe it’s noise will impact their time outside, especially on their porch where they spend much time in the summer.
“They say they can insulate the houses for noise, but we prefer to spend some of our time outside,” Sargent said. “We don't want to be a prisoner in our own home.”
South Burlington resident Roddy O’Neil-Cleary of the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Burlington, and a former Catholic nun, said she hoped to give a strong message to Leahy.
“He’s done well for our state for such a long time,” she said. In recent times it seemed he was not listening to his constituents, she said, and thus not being representative of them. She added that records show he pressured the Air Force to go against experts who had said that the Vermont Air National Guard base was not the best place to base the aircraft.
“He’s a graduate of St. Michael’s College and St. Michael’s is a faith-based institution,” O’Neil-Cleary said. “I think that in a way he’s not only lost faith with his people, but I’m worried he’s also lost faith in his own conscience.”
Burlington resident and Rabbi emeritus at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, Joshua Chasan also hoped to send a message to the senator. He is concerned for those who may be displaced, unable to live in their homes with the noise of the F-35s.
“This is a terrible event, the coming of the F-35s to our airport,” Chasan said. “There’s no need for all the suffering it’s going to cause.”
Like O’Neil-Cleary, he cited records that he said show the Air Force identified another airport as best for the F-35s, giving less preference to Burlington International Airport due to the high population density near it.
“Democracy is a sacred trust,” Chasan said. “The sacred trust of democracy right now is being broken on a massive scale… I have to say, with regret … that I see the breakdown of democracy in Washington right now as of the same piece of the breakdown of democracy of this very flawed process.”
Leahy was in Washington D.C. this evening, but his state director, John Tracy, sat with the group listening and replying to their comments. He said the senator had a different opinion from that of the sit-in group. He also said the Air Force made the final decision around F-35 basing.
“The senator has a different opinion, and in politics that does happen,” Tracy said, adding, “The Air Force made the determination based on the criteria they use, Pat Leahy doesn’t tell the Air Force what to do.
He said that Leahy can, however, advocate.
“His [Leahy] job as a U.S. Senator is to advocate for things he thinks are best for the state of Vermont.”