Still standing: Margolis continues war protest despite gun arrest
In the late-1960s, Westport resident Estelle Margolis was willing to face arrest to make a point. She led a group of women to the downtown bridge carrying Route 1 over the Saugatuck River, where they deliberately blocked traffic to protest the war in Vietnam, prompting local police to arrest them. The charges, however, were dropped.
Last week, the attempt by Margolis, now 86, to dramatize a point during the Representative Town Meeting's debate over a resolution calling for an assault-weapons ban was thwarted by her arrest on a misdemeanor breach of peace charge after she brought a BB rifle and a box of .45-caliber bullets and box of pellets to the Town Hall auditorium. Margolis, who was escorted by police from Town Hall before she could speak, planned to bring the gun and ammunition to the podium to call attention to the easy access of firearms during the public comment portion of the meeting, which took up -- and later approved -- the assault-ban resolution in the wake of the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown last month.
Margolis has vowed to fight the breach-of-peace charge when she is arraigned Friday at Norwalk Superior Court.
Supporters, meanwhile, say the longtime civil-liberties and peace activist's heart was in the right place in trying to highlight the dangers she believes are posed by easily acquired firearms, and they hope this charge against her will also be dropped.
"Everyone knows Estelle. She is the leader of the peace movement in this town. She wouldn't harm a fly. She was simply trying to make a point and she did it in her way," said Rozanne Gates, a friend of Margolis, who sat behind Margolis at the Jan. 8 RTM session. Gates said she never noticed the gun, which was lying next to Margolis, concealed in a laundry bag.
"She is my mentor, she is my role model, she is my conscience," Gates said.
"They do not come any finer than Estelle Margolis. She's an extraordinary person. She is a law-abiding, peace-loving person. She is devoted to peace more so than anyone else I have ever met," added Gates, mentioning Margolis' weekly pilgrimages for the last seven years to the Post Road bridge -- the same one where she was arrested protesting the Vietnam War -- to promote peace and protest against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Margolis and her late husband, well-known civil-rights activist and lawyer Emanuel "Manny" Margolis, started the weekly ritual on June 11, 2005.
And her recent arrest did not deter Estelle Margolis from her weekly vigil at the bridge again last Saturday. She and a handful of people stood along the span, carrying signs to protest what Margolis calls the "insane war in Afghanistan."
However, she declined to comment Saturday as she wrapped up the vigil, citing her lawyer's advice. She said she will make no statement about her arrest until after her court appearance.
But in a letter posted last week on the Progressive Democrats of America website, she wrote: "The gun was mine legally and they (police) had no right to take it away from me! As a lifelong civil libertarian Manny would have protected my right. There is no law that makes it illegal to own, not only a BB gun, but many others. And that is exactly why I wanted to make the RTM aware of this and how easy it was to get it ... I intend to fight the Summons on the basis of my First Amendment Rights."
Police Chief Dale Call said Monday that Margolis was arrested on an appropriate charge that is currently in the hands of the court, and where it goes from here is up to the prosecutor.
"The potential was there (for injury). We're glad that nobody got hurt," Call said.
Margolis acknowledged in her letter how dangerous her RTM demonstration could have been if someone had mistaken her intent when they spotted the gun. "I do understand that I may have put myself in danger," her letter read in part.
"It was unfortunate that she did not talk to the police or anyone in the auditorium to tell them in advance what she wanted to do. She's a wonderful woman and the last thing she wanted to happen was to divert attention away from the gun control issue before the RTM to herself," said RTM member Don Bergmann.
"Twenty/Twenty hindsight, maybe she should have notified someone on the RTM or the Police Department that she was doing this. In her Westport innocence it never occurred to her that anybody in this town would think for one second that she was trying to do harm," Gates said.
Several people suggested Margolis plan would not have gone forward were her husband still alive to serve as a sounding board; something that Margolis hinted at herself. She closed her letter by saying, "I miss Manny more than ever!"