Williamstown unites to condemn war on Iraq; town residents debate and pass resolution

In a close vote last Friday, residents of Williamstown passed a resolution condemning American involvement in a potential war in Iraq. The resolution, which supports international cooperation and a peaceful resolution of the dispute, will now be sent to leaders in Washington, including Massachusetts State Representatives, Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy and President Bush.

Initially, the resolution unilaterally condemned war in Iraq. An amendment was proposed so that the resolution would state that Williamstown “opposes a U.S. invasion of Iraq not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council.” In addition, the word “diplomatic” was removed from the section about multilateral cooperation, a change that opened the resolution to broader interpretation.

Keith Ericson ’04, leader of the Williams Democrats, expressed concerns regarding the resolution’s wording before and after the change. “I was pleased that the final resolution passed by the town retreated from a doctrinaire opposition to a war in Iraq. The resolution that was passed opposed any war in Iraq that was not sanctioned by the Security Council. This, I think, confused the issue because it shifted the burden of deciding whether the war is worthwhile and necessary for U.S. security away from American citizens to the countries that do not necessarily have our best interests in mind,” Ericson said.

The amendments to the resolution passed 179 to 120. Afterwards, Elisabeth Goodman, a Williamstown resident, called for the resolution itself to be voted on. Her suggestion passed by a verbal poll. Finally, the resolution was approved by a second, conclusive verbal vote.

Ed Epping, professor of Art at the College, introduced the resolution. He was one of over two hundred petitioners who called for the meeting. Epping explained his vision for the meeting as “an opportunity [for residents] to listen to each other where we agree and hear with respect, opposing beliefs.” A debate followed, led by Stan Parese, the town moderator, in which participants voiced their opinions both for and against the war.

Those who spoke against the war elaborated upon many of the arguments in the resolution. Worries that war would lead to greater animosity towards the U.S., concerns that the U.S. lacked international support and the belief that war would have painful consequences for both Iraqi and American citizens were all discussed. Residents also emphasized a need for allocation of fiscal resources towards local causes rather than towards a war on Iraq. Participants frequently brought up the need for money for improvements in education within the U.S.

Those arguing against the resolution included some who were in favor of the war and others who, while opposed to the war, questioned the suitability of the town meeting as a setting in which to express these views. Dan Gendren, a resident of Williamstown and a former member of the Board of Selectmen, supported the ideas expressed by the resolution, but did not support the resolution itself. Rather, he advised those present at the meeting to express their concerns by writing to Congress and to other elected leaders.

Others voiced similar reservations. One woman questioned how a room of five hundred people could express the opinion of a town made up of six thousand registered voters.

Ericson also argued against war and the resolution. He articulated his belief that war with Iraq will make the U.S. a safer place in the long run, further the country’s interests and create greater peace on an international level. While he recognized the horrific aspects of war, he pointed out that “failing to act will have significant consequences as well” and that other possible courses of action by the U.S., namely economic sanctions, could have equally destructive penalties.

Resolutions such as this one have been passed in communities across the country over the past few weeks.

Yet, many people question what difference a call for peace from a small town like Williamstown can have on American foreign policy. Anne Skinner, safety officer and senior lecturer in chemistry at the College and former member of the Board Selectmen, pointed out that the Bush administration has up until this point paid very little attention to other resolutions of this type, including those passed by large cities like Los Angeles – a place which most would agree holds greater political power than Williamstown.

In his introduction of the resolution, Epping addressed these doubts. “No community is so small that its voice is rendered insignificant,” he said.

Many town residents attended the Friday meeting because they believed that the decision would have consequences on a national level, but it was clear from the beginning of the meeting that the major benefits of the gathering occurred on the local level.

While the resolution will likely have influence on U.S. actions in the coming weeks, the decision by Williamstown residents to come together and let their opinions be stated brought the town together on an issue of national importance.

The resolution also represented thousands of townspeople who were not in attendance, including many Williams students who are registered voters in the area. “In this case, any citizen can come to a town meeting and vote, so if those opposed to the resolution did not show up in numbers sufficient to defeat it, it becomes ‘their’ sentiments whether they like it or not,” Skinner said.

Ericson, on the other hand, expressed reservations regarding the meeting’s final outcome.

He stated,“I think it is some what of a tradeoff. It increased civic involvement, but claimed to speak for the entire town on an issue that isn’t a town issue: It’s an issue that should be taken up at the federal level, with the President and our representatives in Congress.”

As a result of Friday’s town meeting, the Town of Williamstown has joined the chorus of voices opposing war in Iraq.