Protest and celebration in Manchester

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MANCHESTER — Strolling through Manchester this past Saturday, a plethora of passersby were introduced to an authentic Vermont atmosphere: family fun with a dash of political engagement.

On the town green, the town of Manchester hosted its first Spring Fling concert featuring the Muddy Hollow Band. The concert attracted many families, as well as individuals walking through Manchester for a day of shopping, and saw no shortage of dancing and merriment.

"We just wanted to get people outside" said John O'Keefe, Manchester's town manager. "Driving to work one day, I was reminiscing about those spring days in college when people would finally take off their jackets and hang out in the quad. I thought it'd be nice to recreate that here in town, and decided a Spring Fling concert would accomplish that."

The concert, sponsored by the Manchester Designer Outlets, opens the door for the town's summer concert series beginning in July.

"We've always supported things in the community for 30 years," said Lana Hauben, co-founder of the Manchester Designer Outlets. "We're happy to sponsor family events like this."

While the town green presented a picturesque portrait of spring-time family fun, a different composition was collecting only feet away.

At the southern roundabout in the center of Manchester, a group of approximately 20 protesters coalesced in solidarity with the People's March for Climate, taking place on the National Mall in Washington with satellite demonstrations organized nationwide.

"We're in solidarity with the big march in Washington, and with other marchess all across the country today," said Michael Cohen, Rabbi Emeritus at the Israel Congregation of Manchester. "It's just imperative that we make a statement that we need to save our planet, because our planet is our life."

The Manchester demonstration, planned to coincide with President Donald Trump's 100th day in office, was organized by the local political action group MoveOn Manchester. The group organized following Trump's inauguration and has since organized a number of events through topical committees.

"A lot of the core people are down in D.C. so we thought it was really important to show up here and stand in solidarity with everyone marching around the world," said Kathleen James, a member of MoveOn Manchester's founding core. "I think the people in D.C. are doing something super meaningful - every once in awhile you have to come together and show big numbers. For those of us who couldn't be there, I think that what we're doing today matters."

From a strategic standpoint, the group feels that public demonstrations like this one will raise awareness for important issues such as climate change while also prompting an important dialogue.

"I think that visual signs of protest are an important act of political engagement, and as small as it might seem to stand by the roundabout waving a flag for two hours I do think it makes a difference," said James.

For some protestors, local events in solidarity with larger demonstrations provide a more feasible avenue to participating in what has been dubbed "the resistance."

"A friend of mine told me about it, and while I couldn't make it to Montpelier or Washington I wanted to do something," said demonstrator Sandra Koffman. "The hundreds of letters I've written in the last 100 days haven't done anything, so I thought that I'd come out and yell and take action."

For younger participants, local demonstrations provide a safer and more gradual introduction to political protest.

"I'm going to be an environmental science major, so I try to show support when I can," said Emet Koffman, a senior at Burr and Burton Academy. "In the past a group of friends and I have always come out to support causes like this."

For more seasoned activists, there is little question about the necessity of such demonstrations.

"I think we have no choice, we have to take action," said Cohen. "From a theological position I feel commanded to take care of the earth, and as my sign says, `In the beginning there was science, and God saw this was good.'"

"I think it's important that this administration sees the resistance to their backward looking climate policies not only on the Mall in D.C., but in small Vermont towns and everywhere," said James. "They're wrong, and I think over time we'll begin to gain traction."

According to the organizers of The People Climate March, more than150,000 people marched on Washington this past Saturday. The demonstration in Manchester was one of many nationwide, including a sizeable protest in Montpelier and another at Bennington's four corners.

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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