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They remember Vietnam protests. Now, they're facing charges after protesting the Gaza war at Dartmouth.

Douglas Smith, left, and Jill Wilcox, both of Sharon, Vt., set up tents on Dartmouth College Green in solidarity with students protesting the Israel-Hamas War and demanding Dartmouth College divest from companies connected to Israel, on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.
James M. Patterson
Valley News
Douglas Smith, 83, and Jill Wilcox, 71, both of Sharon, Vt., set up tents on Dartmouth College Green in solidarity with students protesting the Israel-Hamas War and demanding Dartmouth College divest from companies connected to Israel, on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Both Smith and Wilcox were arrested, alongside dozens of Dartmouth students.

Douglas Smith lives in Sharon, Vt., just across the border from New Hampshire. He’s legally blind, asthmatic, epileptic and undergoing treatment for cancer.

And since October, the 83-year-old has also carved out time for weekly vigils around the Upper Valley for the civilians killed in the war between Israel and Hamas.

“When I see pictures of women and children in Gaza being dug out of the rubble, then I weep,” Smith said.

On May 1, Smith was among more than 100 people arrested during protests at Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire in Durham — and the oldest person facing charges in either location. On both campuses, people attempted to set up encampments to protest Israel's war in Gaza and pressure each university to divest from weapons manufacturers profiting from the conflict. Smith supports these goals and hopes for an immediate ceasefire.

Elected officials and university leaders claim the demonstrations attracted so-called “outside agitators” who incited chaos among students and faculty.

Arrest logs show that 19 of the 89 arrested at Dartmouth were not affiliated with the university, including Smith and three other people over age 70.

A few hours before his arrest, Smith said he set up a tent on the Dartmouth Green along with a group of friends, other local long-time peace and climate activists.

“I asked the students, I said, ‘Well, does my presence as an old guy — do you want that?’ ” Smith recalled. “And they said, ‘Yes, of course.’ ”

His friend 71-year-old Jill Wilcox, who grew up in Hanover and now also lives in Sharon, was arrested alongside him. She bristled at being labeled an “outside agitator.”

“I used to play in the President’s Mansion before Sian Beilock [Dartmouth’s current president] was even born,” she said.

Wilcox worked at Dartmouth for decades, starting as a cashier at the Tuck School of Business in the 1970s and eventually becoming collections supervisor at the university’s biomedical library, a role she retired from in 2006.

“No college is totally insular and runs on its own steam,” she said. “Everyone who lives in this community or surrounding area in some way supports Dartmouth, either by working there, or by forming the community in which the Dartmouth students and faculty and staff live and thrive and shop.”

Growing up in Hanover, Wilcox has witnessed decades of student activism on the Dartmouth green. She remembered peaceful demonstrations against the war in Vietnam and shantytowns built in opposition to South African apartheid, but she said she cannot recall as intense a police reaction as she experienced on May 1.

For Smith, the Dartmouth campus is the logical place for him to express his opinions: It’s a hub of community life and somewhere local that is connected to international politics. He said it’s also “the biggest institution in our area that is invested in the Israeli arms business.”

Smith said he protested against the Vietnam War as a student in Boston, but the police response was much less militarized and technologically advanced back then.

“It’s scary when I think about young people and the militarized society that they seem to have to accept,” he said. “I hope they don't accept it. I don't encourage them to.”

Smith and Wilcox both plan to continue protesting the war in Gaza, but not on Dartmouth property. The conditions of their bail bar them from setting foot on campus.

“I'm sure there will be other protests on the Dartmouth Green,” Smith said. “I will have to stand on the sidewalk. I will be holding a sign that is in support of the people of Israel and the people of Palestine.”

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