Bay State peace activists protest U.S. escalations of conflict in Ukraine

Representative Stephen Lynch’s staffer, Nick Zaferakis, accepting a letter and petition from Mass Peace Action Executive Director Cole Harrison. Other demonstrators are also pictured. Peter Blandino/Daily Collegian.
Representative Stephen Lynch’s staffer, Nick Zaferakis, accepting a letter and petition from Mass Peace Action Executive Director Cole Harrison. Other demonstrators are also pictured. Peter Blandino/Daily Collegian.

Originally published in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian

By Peter Blandino

QUINCY – Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA) held an anti-war demonstration the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 15 at Quincy Center. The demonstration was held just a block away from the local office of Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (MA-8), who has been a vocal supporter of U.S. military support for Ukraine.  MAPA Executive Director Harrison Cole led the demonstration calling for U.S. foreign policy to pursue “negotiations, not escalation.”

Around twenty demonstrators held signs and banners and asked passersby to sign a petition in support of a negotiated settlement of the conflict.

There were several Vietnam veterans present, including Paul Atwood, a senior lecturer in American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston. “I’m concerned about the war in Ukraine,” Atwood said. “It’s an atrocity —it was utterly avoidable.”

“The United States … manipulated Ukraine from behind the scenes and walked them right into this war,” Atwood continued. “It serves only the weapons manufacturers at great cost to the Ukrainian people. From my perspective it’s a crime.”

Joe Kebartas of south Boston, also a Vietnam veteran, stressed the importance of negotiations. “I’ve seen [war] firsthand, and it’s horrible. To have this go on unnecessarily and not have any negotiations is intolerable,” Kebartas said.

Kebartas was critical of Rep. Lynch’s position thus far. “Look at his vote [in favor of] the $800 billion [National Defense Authorization Act]. He’s encouraging war by not voicing support for negotiations,” Kebartas added.

Claire Gosselin of Roslindale raised concerns about the amount of U.S. military spending in the face of other urgent needs, especially the climate crisis. “We must start building more alliances to work on the big problem of climate catastrophe, and the biggest contributor (to climate change) is the war machine,” Gosselin said.

“When we say we need better schools, we need healthcare ,they don’t have money for that. We as taxpayers who care about our neighbors and communities — our voices have to carry,” Gosselin added. “They have to listen to us.”

Two of Lynch’s staffers, District Rep. Joseph Weydt and District Director Nick Zaferakis, thanked constituents for voicing their concerns but declined to comment on their grievances. They posed for pictures with demonstrators and accepted a letter and petition from MAPA Executive Director Cole Harrison.

“Mass Peace Action is critical of the United States and of Russia’s actions,” Harrison said. “The United States should not be sending arms and fueling the conflict. … Russia has its point of view too. They have reason to fear what the U.S. and NATO are doing. Our government will not talk to Russia. They have not had serious negotiations since January. Even at that time, Russia put a treaty draft on the table, and while our Secretary of State responded to it, that response was dismissive,” Harrison continued.

Rep. Lynch chairs the House Subcommittee on National Security and has been a vocal supporter of sending arms to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in late February.

He voted for $40 billion in aid this past May, $19 billion of which went towards immediate military support. That was on top of $13.6 billion approved in March, and he recently voiced support for a further billion dollars during an interview on WCVB 5’s “On the Record” program on August 2021.

Rep. Lynch has stated before that Russia’s invasion was unprovoked. Harrison, however, objects to this assertion. “The US and NATO did so much to provoke Russia into this war,” he said.

According to Harrison, the roots of the conflict date to the early 1990s and the end of the Cold War. At that time, American Secretary of State James Baker III reportedly gave assurances to Soviet negotiators that NATO would not “expand one inch to the east.” Between then and now, NATO has expanded eastward into 14 countries and Russia’s doorstep.

Harrison also suggested that 2014 marked the beginning of the war, not 2022. In that year, anti-government forces toppled Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych, replacing him with Petro Poroshenko, who was more amenable to the West and hostile towards Russia.

“The U.S. intervened on the side of the rebellion,” Harrison said. “It sent agents and money.” The 2014 regime change sparked uprisings in the Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions, where many ethnically Russian Ukrainians reside, he said.

In the Donbas region, which has strong cultural and familial ties to Russia, a war which killed thousands raged on and off between 2014 and 2022 between separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

“Secretary of State Blinken insisted that Ukraine could join (NATO),” Harrison said. “That is very provocative to Russia because Russia feels encircled.

“They’re threatened by our nuclear weapons, our [military] bases, our economic policies,” Harrison continued. “Russia did wrong by attacking Ukraine. That’s unacceptable, but to say it was unprovoked is laughable.”

Given Congressman Lynch’s full support for military aid and arms transfers to Ukraine, it remains uncertain how effective MAPA’s appeals will prove. “It’s going to take time,” Harrison said. “We were able to show today that a bunch of Lynch’s constituents disagree with his position and wanted to let him know that there’s another point of view.”

“Many wars start out popular and then become less popular over time. All we can say is we hope Representative Lynch will listen to reason.”

Rep. Lynch’s office did not respond to requests for comment.