Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Protest

Good description of the protest in New London here:
More than 300 protesters from as far away as Maine and New Jersey packed the steps of City Hall and spilled onto State Street Tuesday to voice their opinion of eminent domain.

It wasn't good.

Ted Whittenkraus of Wells, Maine, said he came not because “this decision affected everyone in the country who owns property.”

“It devalued everyone's property,” Whittenkraus said. “It tore the Constitution apart; it's in as bad a condition as that flag at the top of the building there.”

He pointed to the dirty, tattered American flag flying on top of City Hall.

“That's in shreds. It's a disgrace,” he said.

Whittenkraus, 56, also pointed out that the median age of the crowd probably hovered somewhere around 40. There was a lot of white hair and balding heads in that angry sea of shouting people.

“If you look around, these aren't your typical protest people,” he said. “These are adults. We're not here because mom and dad are supporting us while we write our thesis on what's wrong with the country. We're middle class Americans who have jobs to go to and families to support and we care very deeply about this.”

Among them were brothers John and George Mytrowitz of the Mulberry Street Coalition of Newark, N.J., who said they are facing the loss of their family business, an auto body shop that's been in the city for 92 years, to eminent domain.

“They want to take it away and give it to a developer who's connected with city hall officials,” George Mytrowitz said.

“A convicted drug felon, also,” John added.

“They want to take it away and give it to him, and I guess they're all going to get rich off of everybody else's property,” George said.

“We're here in support of Susette Kelo,” John said, “and of anybody that's being abused by this plague of eminent domain across the country.”

Debbie Montgomery of East Haddam said she came not because she faced any such action in her town, but to support the cause.

“I'm here because I'm a new homeowner,” she said. “It took us two years to build our home. And I think I would just be devastated if they came through and said we're going to take your house just because we can.”

“I am here for the same reason,” said Karen Goyette of Danielson. “This whole situation makes me very angry, and we have to stand up for what is ours. Simple. This is America, things like this are not supposed to happen.”

Bill Downie of Oakdale was one of several people who carried bright yellow flags depicting a serpent with the words “Don't tread on me,” modeled after the flag carried by Colonists in the Revolutionary War.

“I think we were fighting against a country back then that's not even as tyrannical as our own country is right now,” Downie said. “I'm sure our founding fathers are rolling over in the grave, because that wasn't their intent to have something like this happen.”

Ted Loebenberg of Providence, a friend of one of the families in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, said he came to support the family, but not for that alone.

“This doesn't stop any city government from taking whatever they want,” Loebenberg said. “They just did it in Rhode Island. They took a gentleman's farm that had been in his family for 40 years because Fidelity wanted to expand their commercial property.”

Steve Pudlow of Norwich said, “This is an issue of what this country was founded on, and if your property can be taken away just because some large corporation or some developer manages to buy a city councilman, no property owner is safe. If a Hooters can pay more taxes, then you can be tossed out to make room for Hooters.”

Ken Smiley of Plainfield was there, he said, because of developer Gene Arganese's plans to build an auto racetrack there has had an impact on his home.

“The result of this is already being felt in Plainfield,” he said. “People have sold their property, thinking, ‘Hey, my property may be taken from me.' That kind of threat scares people all over this country.”

The protesters joined in singing “This Land Is Your Land” and shouting “Let them stay! Let them stay!” for the residents of Fort Trumbull.

John Fitzpatrick of Westmoreland, N.H., said he came down for the rally because he did not believe a 5-4 Supreme Court decision was “a mandate to throw people out of their houses.”

“It's almost surreal to me that something like this could happen in this country,” Fitzpatrick said.

Kathleen Maroney of New York City put it another way.

“It's not a New London thing, it's a national thing,” she said. “My great grandparents came to this country as immigrants, worked hard to buy their little houses. The dream is gone. They could take it from you now. The American dream is now shattered.”