Groups opposing the war in Afghanistan said they will be out in force if Minneapolis lands the Democratic convention. But the numbers are likely to be off from 2008 in St. Paul.
Leaders of groups that staged protests during the Republican convention in St. Paul two years ago held a news conference Thursday at the Metrodome. From left: Angel Buechner of the Welfare Rights Committee, Meredith Aby of the Anti-War Committee and Sarah Martin of Women Against Military Madness.
The same antiwar organizers who mustered the protest crowds that descended on the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008 are vowing to march again if the Democrats choose Minneapolis for their 2012 convention.
As before, that would present challenges for law enforcement, but some observers predict there would be fewer demonstrators. They say that's largely because President Obama, whom many protesters voted for, is likely to be running for reelection, even as he pursues war policies that some of his supporters oppose.
"My guess is the number of demonstrators will be substantially smaller because George Bush is not president," said Charles Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. The ACLU's executive board is discussing how it might help protesters ensure they have adequate opportunities to protest if the convention is held here.
The protest leaders themselves appeared to recognize the complexity of their cause as they spoke Thursday at a news conference outside the Metrodome, where they announced their intent to mobilize against the war in Afghanistan if a convention comes to town.
"Although Obama may be popular in Minnesota, the war is not," said Meredith Aby, a spokeswoman for the Anti-War Committee, a local group that played a big role in the protests of two years ago.
Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said he also thinks the protest numbers would be down from 2008. He noted that fewer demonstrators showed up at the Democratic convention in Denver, where Obama was nominated, than in St. Paul. He added that having a sitting president in Minneapolis would change the dynamics and present other security issues.
While the St. Paul convention attracted a peaceful antiwar march of 10,000, it also brought a few hundred anarchists who broke windows and had confrontations with police. There were more than 800 arrests over four days and criticisms that police overreacted. The city is still defending itself in lawsuits, and the Ramsey County attorney's office is prosecuting eight anarchists.
Aby, looking toward 2012, predicted "thousands" would demonstrate, noting that U.S. casualties in Afghanistan have recently increased. She also predicted that Obama will have been unable to reduce the number of U.S. troops there, as he's promised.
Joe Peschek, a political science professor at Hamline University, said it is hard to say what the shape of the war will be in two years. He said that while many progressives do not want to give ammunition to the Republicans, they're increasingly disillusioned with Obama's policies. That could fuel protests, he said, although he predicts a smaller turnout than in St. Paul.
Dolan thinks a problem in 2008 was that protesters had limited access to the vicinity of the convention at the Xcel Energy Center and that frustrations grew. He said he believes that would not be a problem with a convention at the Metrodome because it would be possible to let protesters use parking lots near the stadium and still provide adequate security.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said he was approached by city officials about helping with a policing effort if the convention came here. He said he agreed and believes the GOP convention experience will be useful. "There were some lessons learned," he said.
Minneapolis is vying with Cleveland, St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C., for the convention.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382