Peace Activists Plan Protest At Defense Contract Session

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(Host)  A group of peace activists plans to protest an informational meeting in White River Junction Wednesday morning. The event is for small businesses hoping to compete for government and defense contracts.

The agency behind the meeting says the contracts are a source of jobs and much-needed revenues.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) The workshop is sponsored by the Vermont Procurement Technical Assistance Center. 

It’s under the state department of economic development, though much of its funding comes from the U.S. Defense Department.

Its purpose is to help businesses, mostly small businesses, apply for government contracts.

(Plankey) "It’s mostly to enhance the business growth in the state of Vermont."      

(Keese) June Plankey directs the program, which has counselors around the state. She says PTAC, as it’s called, helps Vermont businesses bring in almost $50 million a year in government work.

Plankey says it’s hard to tell how many of those are defense-related.

(Plankey) "But we can… confidently say… that there’s thousands of good paying jobs, high-tech jobs in Vermont that are dependent on the defense industry."

 (Keese) The speaker at this week’s workshop heads the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency’s Land and Maritime Small Business Office.

A notice for the event says the agency is "looking for machine shops, fabricators and electronics firms who can provide parts for vehicles, guns and ships."

Joseph Gainza, a longtime peace activist, says he’s not comfortable with that.

(Gainza) "It’s the militarization of our economy. More and more production is sent overseas and the things that the United States is making center around the military and the preparation for war … and to want to create jobs… that are further tied to the military economy, we believe is the wrong direction."

(Keese) Gainza and a group of like-minded Vermonters plan to stand with signs outside the White River Junction hotel where the meeting is taking place.

Plankey says the session isn’t all about defense contracts. She says PTAC also helps firms get work from municipal and state governments.

And Plankey adds that military contracts don’t always mean military hardware. She mentions Darn Tough Socks of Cabot, which makes socks for the military, one of many companies PTAC has assisted.

Joseph Gainza says he doesn’t fault the state for trying to create jobs and strengthen the economy. Soldiers, sailors and Marines NEED socks, he says. And someone has to make them.

(Gainza) "But when a company’s bottom line and profits depend on a continual supply of – in this case socks to the military… the jobs that are created by those contracts become dependent on the continued growth and use of our military."

(Keese) Gainza sees the protest as a way to get people thinking and talking about such things.

Plankey supports the protestors’ right to express their opinions – a right that she says U.S. troops are fighting at this very moment to defend.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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