So much for free speech.
Among the first casualties of Monday's demonstration march was the free-speech stage set up near the Xcel Energy Center to allow dissenting voices to be heard during the run of the convention.
The stage was supposed to operate 12 hours a day -- from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. -- but when thousands of demonstrators got within two blocks of the stage at Old 6th Street and 7th Street, city workers quickly shuttered the stage.
This came as a surprise to people waiting to speak on everything from the war and economic issues to the subject of their doctoral thesis.
"Nowhere in the guidelines does it say they were going to shut it down," said Marsha Cressy of St. Paul, who was going to speak on empowering low-income people.
Brian Dennis, a downtown St. Paul resident, brought a notebook to record a list of all the signs and slogans he saw in the march. When it was over he had filled seven pages. One sign left him and others scratching their heads: "Stop bird porn."
Among the hundreds of signs at the antiwar demonstration, here are ten of the most original: 10. "How Many Lives Per Gallon?" 9. "If McCain is the answer, the ? is ridiculous." 8. "Like A Rock (picture of President George W. Bush) Only Dumber." 7. "Minnesota Twins (pictures of Bush and Sen. Norm Coleman)." 6. "The Crazies Have Stolen My Party. Former Republican For Obama." 5. "My Family Needs Health Insurance Not Bombs." 4. "Never Forget That Everything That Hitler Did In Germany Was Legal -- MLK" 3. "20 Jan. 09: The End Of An Error." 2. "Hey, We're Winning The War On The Environment." 1. "Who Would Jesus Waterboard?"
Among the biggest hits at the protest was a group of five Blues Brothers-looking guys complete with shades, black wool suits, pork-pie hats and Trump-collection ties. Called Lobbyists for McCain, the group spent the day "supporting" the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Among their best lines: "What did the caribou ever do for you?" and "Don't change horsemen in mid-Apocalypse."
One group that stood out at the march was the Minnesota Peace Team, dressed in bright yellow vests bearing peace signs. About three dozen posted themselves along the route, serving at times as human barriers between protesters and anti-protest groups on the sidewalk. The Peace Team wore stickers that read: "I will not hurt you."
Monday was the first day of the fasting season for Muslims observing Ramadan. Marching on an empty stomach didn't bother Mohammed Abdi, who walked under a blazing sun. "When you have a cause you don't feel a thing," he said.
Juan Torres of Chicago carried a picture of his son, also named Juan, on a large sign, along with a small plastic human skeleton, and masks of Bush and McCain. Torres said his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. "I came here to demand peace," Torres said. "I want the troops home now."
Marching next to him was Carlos Arredondo and his wife, Melida, who drove to the Twin Cities from Boston. They said their son, Alexander, was killed in Iraq in 2004. "As a father, it is my duty to honor my son," said Arredondo. "As a citizen, it's my obligation to participate." He was pushing a coffin. And on top of it were a pair of boots, a uniform and a medal, that he said had belonged to his son. His wife carried a folded flag, which she said had been draped on her son's real coffin.
Kathy Kelly was part of a group of six activists who walked a 492-mile route from Chicago to the Twin Cities. They began July 12. Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non-violence, said that they had spoken at some 20 meetings as they walked, mostly in Wisconsin. "492 miles and not one blister," Kelly said with a grin.
A big concern of antiwar demonstration leaders and their lawyers was that the route given to them by St. Paul police was too narrow, the turn-around in front of the Xcel Energy Center was too abrupt, and they would not be able to be clear of the X by 4 p.m., the deadline mandated to them by police. It turned out not to be a problem. The march set off from the State Capitol at 1:10 p.m. and the front of the march reached the Xcel by 1:40 p.m. The last of the demonstrators had cleared the turn-around and left the area of the X by 2:45 p.m.
Contributing to this report: Staff writers Kevin Giles, Curt Brown, Allie Shah, H.J. Cummings, David Shaffer, Tony Kennedy, Randy Furst and Pam Louwagie. Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280