2,000 rally to 'stop war on the poor'

  • Updated: September 2, 2008 - 11:54 PM

A third day of demonstrations outside the Republican National Convention drew smaller crowds. Police and marchers clashed again, but arrests were way down.

A vocal group of demonstrators took to the streets of St. Paul again Tuesday evening, voicing their anger about economic justice issues on Day 2 of the Republican National Convention.

The number of protesters and arrests were down from the 10,000 who marched and the nearly 300 arrested Monday, but police and demonstrators did clash briefly.

Chanting "Stop the war on the poor," about 1,000 people in the "Poor People's March" left Mears Park about 6 p.m. and marched through downtown. Their numbers swelled to 2,000 after the march passed an all-day activist event that had coincidentally just wound up on the State Capitol lawn at 7 p.m. The march ended near the Xcel Energy Center about 8 p.m.

A plan for civil disobedience fizzled with no arrests after protesters decided not to scale 8-foot fences near the arena. They poked a "citizens arrest warrant for crimes against humanity" for the Republicans through the fence and left.

The march disbanded, but a half-hour later hundreds of protesters and others, mainly young people, clogged an intersection at 7th and St. Peter streets, causing police, over a loudspeaker, to order them to disperse. They didn't and police fired several smoke bombs and tear-gas canisters into the crowd.

At least 10 people were arrested during the day, including four at a tense showdown with police officers on horseback just before the march started at the edge of the poor people's rally. The officers pepper-sprayed some demonstrators blocking the intersection after one man pulled on a police horse's reins.

Cheri Honkala, a leader of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, which sponsored the demonstration, appealed to the rally participants to be nonviolent, pointing out that there were children in the crowd. She told anarchists intermingled in the crowd that she would hold them responsible if they interfered in the peaceful march.

When the marchers snaked their way from Lowertown to the Capitol, with hundreds of cops in riot gear lining the route, the crowd mushroomed to more than 2,000. That's because concertgoers at an all-day music, art and activism festival called "Ripple Effect" joined the final leg of the march.

A prominent rap-metal group, Rage Against the Machine, was going to play on the Capitol lawn. But the permit for the event expired at 7 p.m. and power on the stage was turned off. They did rap two songs over a bullhorn.

It marked the third straight day of protest rallies and marches through downtown St. Paul since GOP delegates began arriving Sunday. Although the size of Tuesday's gathering was smaller, marchers were vocal and passionate.

"There is a war on the poor and we need to better equip ourselves and prepare the masses for what's going to take place," said Willie Fleming, who came up from Chicago's Cabrini-Green public housing complex to join the protest.

Among those taking part in the march was a group of 30 students who rode buses up from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Senior Megan Carney said they were trying to spread awareness of poverty issues among college students.

Rodney Krank, 40, of St. Paul, said he turned out because "homelessness has been a problem for a long time and it's time we stand up against it."

Of the nearly 300 protesters arrested Monday, just one had been charged as of late Tuesday with a felony offense. Authorities have until noon today to file charges against the others, unless a judge authorizes continuances. Police Chief John Harrington said that investigators were conducting interviews, and reviewing video footage, to build cases.

Staff writers David Chanen, Terry Collins, Anthony Lonetree and H.J. Cummins contributed to this report. curt.brown@startribune.com • 612-673-4767 hme@startribune.com • 612-673-4280 rfurst@startribune.com • 612-673-7382

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