Thousands expected today for protest

  • Article by: CURT BROWN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2008 - 8:09 AM

About 50,000 are expected today, despite no-shows by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The protest begins at 11 a.m. at the Capitol building and will march to the Xcel Energy Center and back.

Despite the big-name cancellations and the preconvention police raids, organizers expect thousands of anti-war demonstrators to march this afternoon from the State Capitol to the site of the Republican National Convention.

They say their passion will not be dampened now that President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are skipping their convention speeches because of Hurricane Gustav. If anything, they say, the storm enhances their message that investing in human needs must outweigh waging an expensive war.

But the protesters are also concerned that aggressive police tactics could cull their numbers, which they estimate could reach 50,000 today.

"Even if the two main actors in the U.S. war in Iraq won't be there, that will not deter people from sending a loud message to the Republican Party and the country that we need to use our resources on human needs and saving people at home, not killing them abroad," said Meredith Aby, a Minneapolis organizer working with a coalition of 130 anti-war groups, labor unions and community organizations to plan today's march.

Protestors planned to rally at the Minnesota Capitol building starting at 11 a.m. today, then march to the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is being held, and back. The route is about a mile and a half.

They insist the legal march will be peaceful and they urge families to take part. It's expected to be the largest of the protests scheduled this week.

"This protest is aimed at the war, the police state and the bread-and-butter issues," said Polly Kellogg, a professor at St. Cloud State University. "The protesters hold a much bigger and long-term perspective."

At Macalester College in St. Paul, an estimated 300 visitors, most sleeping on floors and sofas, have arrived at the school of 1,800 students to take part in protests.

"It's not just about Bush and Cheney," said Steve Sedlak, a junior from Pittsburgh. "We just don't like the way things are going."

On Sunday, more than 400 Veterans for Peace protesters solemnly followed a flag-draped casket through St. Paul's narrow streets. David Harris, 73, of Red Wing, a retired surgeon, was among seven booked into jail.

His group was met by dozens of Ramsey County sheriff's deputies in full riot garb, who detained nine people. Two, including a nun, were ticketed and released.

Sunday's showdown was peaceful, with media members easily outnumbering everyone else. But activists remain outraged; Katrina Plotz of Bloomington called it "a blatant pattern of intimidation and repression."

Authorities have conducted a series of raids in Minneapolis and St. Paul since Friday, targeting a group called the RNC Welcoming Committee. Five people are in custody pending possible conspiracy charges.

Independent journalists have also been stopped, searched and had gear confiscated. A woman driving a bus with an "Earth Activists" sign was surrounded by squad cars on Interstate 94 near the Cretin Avenue exit Saturday night.

"I'm just appalled that they're trying to put a damper on the whole thing," said Medea Benjamin, from San Francisco and a co-founder of the peace group Code Pink. She attended the DNC in Denver. She said her group's van was searched Saturday. Police found banners.

"The Denver police walked a fine line, but these police are doing a terrible job," Benjamin said. "We never thought this was how police would greet us in such a historically liberal state as 'Minnesota Nice.' "

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said items seized in the raids, including Molotov cocktails and tools to disable buses, convinced him the RNC Welcoming Committee was planning to "engage in criminal behaviors, not just voice their disdain for the Bush administration."

Coleman said Sunday his mother-in-law is among those who plan to march today. Protecting lawful protesters is a key factor behind the raids.

"We are making sure that people here to legitimately protest have the right to do that, but people engaging in criminal activity are not going to be able to do that," he said.

"When people come down to protest in the peace march, we don't need their public and personal safety threatened. It's just absolutely imperative that all the peaceful protesters have a chance to do that."

Jay Kvale, 66, of Hopkins said he'll be among those in the streets today.

"This is about opposition to the war and the casualties among Iraqi civilians and American troops," he said. "Of course, Bush and Cheney started the whole thing, but I don't think it's personal. It's just about changing injustices from happening."

Curt Brown • 612-673-4767

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