Here's a protest you probably didn't expect to see in St. Paul

Today, we'll see every grievance imaginable on display in the long-planned protest march on the Republican National Convention, even though the convention is largely on hold in response to the hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast.

The usual suspects will bear down on the Xcel Energy Center: the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, Code Pink, AFSCME Local 3800, Welfare Rights Committee and Students for a Democratic Society.

The marchers will tote giant puppets, wave banners and shout slogans. They'll be united in one common goal: to keep the world's TV cameras trained on them.

Anarchists have been threatening to "shut down" both the convention and the Twin Cities. On Friday and Saturday, raids netted "edged weapons," Molotov cocktails, buckets of urine and tools for disabling buses, according to Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher.

But some folks demonstrating today are cut from a different mold. Their goal: to send a message to the marchers.

Joe Repya of Eagan is the leader of this counter-protest. He's a veteran of three wars -- Vietnam, Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.

Unlike the protest backed by an army of lawyers, Repya's is a true grass-roots effort. He has printed 3,000 signs -- "Victory Over Terrorism, Let Our Soldiers Win" -- with help from the Minnesota chapters of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Families United.

On Aug. 16, after a talk-radio pitch for his counter-protest, he hauled his signs to the parking lot of Stephano's Restaurant in Burnsville. In two hours, 2,000 were gone.

The counter-protesters aim to get across two basic ideas, says Repya.

First: "Our message is, many of us have fought wars to give you the right of freedom of speech," Repya explained. "We just ask that you have the courtesy and respect to acknowledge our service, and the sacrifice of our families, on your behalf."

Second, the counter-protesters want marchers to reflect on the message they are sending to the troops. "Our soldiers, our sailors, Marines and airmen will be watching CNN and FOX at their forward operating bases on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and on ships in the ocean," said Repya. "What they see on the streets of St. Paul will discourage them."

Repya knows firsthand how important home-front attitudes can be to the troops. In 2004, at age 58, he volunteered to return to duty and the next year he was back on the front lines in Iraq. It wasn't easy. "But people came up to us in airports and on the street and thanked us for our service. It makes a soldier swell with pride when that happens," he said.

Things were different when he returned from Vietnam in 1971. "Our commanders warned us not to wear our uniforms on the plane or outside the house," he said. Repya doesn't want Americans in uniform ever to experience that again.

"That's why we also want them to see a lot of patriotic Minnesotans lining the sidewalks, and sending them a message of support and gratitude," he said.

Katherine Kersten • kkersten@startribune.com Join the conversation at my blog, www.startribune.com/thinkagain.

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