Protest bares all in anti-fur campaign
Meggan Anderson and Ali Cayer braved unseasonably warm temperatures as they spread their message to an enthusiastic crowd of onlookers on the corner of High Street and Main Street. Wearing nothing but a banner reading, "Bare skin, don't wear skin," the dynamic duo appeared successful - at least in drawing a crowd.
"I heard there was something furry going on in Brattleboro, so I thought I'd go check," said Brenda Howard of Putney - one of at least 75 spectators.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest attracted more middle-aged men on lunch breaks than your average animal rights demonstration, but all present assured reporters they were there for the cause.
"I just stopped for lunch," claimed Ty Zinn, as he peered over the crowd for a look. "What show?"
Zinn said he was an avid supporter of animal rights.
"I try to kill my deer with one shot," he said. "Sometimes I kill 'em off with my truck."
The event slowed traffic to a standstill as onlookers and passing motorists whistled and honked. After members of the inevitable media scrum kept spilling onto the street, Officers Michael Gorman and John Frechette of the Brattleboro Police Department asked Anderson and Cayer to relocate a few yards away in Pliny Park.
Briefly covering up with black trench coats for the move, Anderson and Cayer happily complied.
"I wonder if we could get them to do some speed enforcement," Gorman said.
The scene was the latest in Brattleboro's quixotic turn in the national spotlight as a refuge for those seeking to let it all hang out or to simply grab attention and headlines.
Anderson's and Cayer's male escort, PETA senior campaign coordinator Matt Rice, said the group chose Brattleboro for its first all-nude protest specifically because of the town's curious history of banning and then permitting nudity.
"I think we're getting a lot of traffic and a lot of support from the town," he said. "The most important reason we're out here is to get our message out."
Anderson, who was described in a PETA press release as "a tall, sultry redhead," and Cayer, "a hot, leggy blonde," told eager reporters and spectators that theirs was a small sacrifice for the greater cause.
"We're here to let people know that the best thing to do is bare skin, not wear skin," Cayer said.
"There are so many alternatives that are readily available," Anderson opined, her sun block glistening under the hot, afternoon sun.
Selectboard member Dora Bouboulis, who opposed banning nudity in town, stopped by the protest and said it appeared relatively tame. "They're being very tasteful about this," she said.
Pointing out that the protesters were mostly covered by the banner in front and the Pliny Park mural behind, Bouboulis said, "If we had the nudity ordinance right now, they'd be following it."
The board briefly banned nudity this summer with a series of emergency ordinances prohibiting it in certain well-traveled parts of town. But when time came to enact a permanent law in late August, it was defeated after being amended to exclude the words "buttocks" and "breasts."
Board member Dick DeGray, who supports a nudity ban, showed up briefly before the protesters disrobed and said, "They're exploiting our town for personal gain."
Interim town manager Barbara Sondag attempted to defuse the situation before it began by encouraging Anderson, Cayer and Rice to take their protest elsewhere.
"They're trying to open up a scab. It's not about their cause. They're taking advantage of this situation," she said.
Anderson said she appreciated Sondag's input, but politely disagreed.
"She's doing her job like we're doing ours," Anderson said.
"I don't think she's giving people enough credit," Rice said. "Nudity doesn't hurt anybody. Fur does."
When asked why only female volunteers disrobed for the event, Anderson said, "Who wants to come see a naked male?"
Peter Johnson, who rode by the crowd on a Segway, agreed with Anderson.
"It's better than the old, ugly people," he said.
As the hour wore on, the crowds of spectators snapping pictures with cameras and cell phones dispersed. But Gorman and Frechette stuck to their detail and fiddled briefly with Frechette's personal digital camera.
Gorman hastened to point out they had not yet taken any pictures and were carrying the camera just in case they needed it to gather evidence.
When asked why they were using a personal device, not a department-issued camera, Gorman said, "If we've got a big camera, people are going to think we're a bunch of police perverts."
The camera came in handy, however, as just then a maroon sedan lightly tapped a black motorcycle as the two vehicles came to a halt at a traffic light.
It was unclear whether the driver was distracted.
Paul Heintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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