Stop the F-35 in Burlington, Vermont


Even small liberal states like Vermont do not escape the influence of war dollars. So when the Air Force proposed stationing their boondoggle F-35 warplanes at Burlington International Airport (BIA), the community became deeply divided with politicians and the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce lined up in favor, and many residents under the flight path opposed.

The Burlington Airport in Vermont currently hosts the State’s National Guard and F-16 airplanes. The noise they generate is a documented health risk, especially to the hearing and cognitive function of children. An estimated 200 homes have been abandoned since 2008 in the surrounding communities of South Burlington, Winooski, and Williston. The new F-35s will be four times louder. This noise would make 3,400 homes “not suitable for residential use” according to the Air Force’s own analysis. The newly designed plane also raises concerns over the risk for accidents1.

A lively resistance has sprung up in the communities surrounding BIA. A variety of tactics are being used to educate the public of the impact these warplanes would have, to lobby the air force and politicians to reconsider, and take legal action. This past July, several hundred people rallied and marched to voice popular opposition to the basing. While many local community members worried about the health affects of noise exposure, and the impact on property values, there was also a vocal contingent to oppose the F-35 from an antiwar position. The march visited the offices of the entire Vermont congressional delegation to shame them and challenge their support. So far Vermont’s congressional delegation, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Representative Peter Welch have avoided meeting with F-35 opponents. Demonstrators also called on Burlington’s City Council, which owns the land, to exercise their power to ban the new planes.

The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive project. The New York Times reports that they intend to spend as much as $396 billion to purchase 2,456 F-35 war planes by the late 2030s2. Proponents of the F-35 rely heavily on the unscrutinized claim of job creation. The facts however paint a different picture. Far from jeopardizing current jobs, the Air Force has conceded that the Vermont National Guard will continue to have a mission at the BIA base. Within the national context of fiscal austerity, raising taxes on the middle class and cutting social welfare programs to fund the construction of F-35 war planes would destroy more jobs than it creates3. Military spending measures up the worst among possible options according to a recent report from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, which found that $1 billion spent by the military creates 11,200 jobs, versus 16,800 by clean energy development, 17,200 by health care, or 26,700 by public education. Even increasing consumer demand through tax cuts could lead to 35% more job creation than military spending4.

The movement to stop the F-35 reached a high point in the weeks leading up to a Burlington City Council meeting on October 28 to consider resolutions that would ban the warplanes. Some 500 residents showed up to voice an opinion. Many Guard members arrived in uniform. Stop the F-35 Coalition experts were effectively silenced by City Council President Joan Shannon who decided anyone who had spoken at previous council meetings would be put last on the speakers list. Yet F-35 proponents like the City Council’s attorney and airport director were given preference to answer questions. Despite their success in the community, the Stop the F-35 Coalition could not prevail in this environment. It was clear from the start that the Democratic Party majority on the city council was going to tow the party line. Even local Progressive Party councilor Jane Knodell caved when the votes came in.

Great research is not enough to help small communities stop vested interests from pursuing military projects like the F-35. With broad grassroots support however, these communities may be the leading edge of a revived peace movement that can tap into popular dissatisfaction over government waste, a lagging economy, and senseless warfare.

These warplanes fail to make us safer from terrorism or avert us from endless warfare. The antiwar movement sprang into high gear when it looked like Obama was going to bomb Syria. But we also need to engage the slow movement building struggles that connect our antiwar ideals to real policy decisions being made at home. For those of us outside the impact zone, this is our best opportunity to take a bite out war hysteria, interventionism, and the tax-funded war economy.

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