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Brunswick air show this weekend attracts Thunderbirds, protesters

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Brunswick air show this weekend attracts Thunderbirds, protesters

BRUNSWICK — As the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds take to the skies this weekend at Brunswick Executive Airport, some members of the community will be showing their distaste for the message sent by the Great State of Maine Air Show.

Maine Veterans for Peace, CodePink Maine and several other groups will march from Maine Street to the gates of Brunswick Landing starting at 9 a.m. to show their displeasure with the show and what they believe it represents.

The group maintains that the show is not meant to be simply an aerial spectacle, but that it serves as a tool to recruit young people to the armed forces.

“Fundamentally, we believe that it's a military recruitment mechanism,” said protest organizer and veteran Bruce Gagnon. “It's a device to reach lots and lots of young people who increasingly have very few job opportunities available. As we see now, the U.S. and its 130 months of war in Afghanistan ... (needs) a constant flow of people with no other options economically. So these expensive, polluting airshows are used to reach those young people to entice them and invite them to the joys of war.”

Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which hosts the show, said recruitment is only a part of the reason the air show has existed since the 1940s.

“(Recruitment is) part of this,” he said. “(But) part of what we're doing with the air show (is) our shows are dedicated to those people who serve and have served. We obviously support the military presence in our country and we're honoring that.”

The Great State of Maine Air Show historically attracts around 50,000 people. In past years, when the event was hosted by the U.S. Navy, more than 200,000 people enjoyed the aerial stunts at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

“The tradition is a major event for Maine,” Levesque said. “It's good for the local and Maine economy to have all these people coming in and spending money in the community. It also allows us to showcase the facility.”

Gagnon disagreed. He said many people have told him that they leave town every year because of the air show.

“(I've heard people say that) whenever they have these they always go out of town or can't stand the noise,” he said. “The community should think about how much business they lose because people leave the area. When we go out there and protest, we feel like we're giving them a voice because we know there are a whole lot of them out there. Some of us don't think resignation is the best strategy.”

The show opponents will stand outside the Brunswick Landing gates, passing out information and talking to people waiting to get in.

“Our people, who have been involved in war, think it's important to reveal to people that there's another side,” Gagnon said. “We know that being outside as there are thousands of (people) driving in, that we're going to create discussion and reflection.”

Levesque said the protesters have been coming to the show for years and as long as they don't disrupt the event or cause harm they are welcome to continue to do so.

“People have every right to protest,” he said. “The fact that people are willing to serve and willing to sacrifice their time and potentially their lives for their country so that these people have the right to protest, that's what America's for.”

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.