The "March on the RNC'' was supposed to be the major protest during the Republican National Convention. As the event kicked off around 11 a.m. Monday at the State Capitol, there was plenty of room for picnicking on the grounds. Organizers had floated the number 50,000, but far fewer were in attendance. It looked more like a Gophers football crowd. A few dozen bored-looking police officers on mountain bikes looked on from a shady spot, probably wishing they had chosen another line of work. It was, for the most part, a very dull affair before a splinter group of of about 100 protesters took off toward downtown, carrying a "Students for a Democratic Society'' banner and broadcasting a strange mix of rap and broadcast messages. <more>
Dressed in black and with their faces covered with bandanas, the SDS crew looked a little scary. Onlookers who had come downtown to observe the larger peace march seemed a little disturbed by the group of mostly young protestors, who stopped often to dance and chant slogans that were difficult to understand. The police, some in riot gear and others on horseback, were extremely interested in the group, and more than once the protesters were targeted with pepper spray. It was unclear what prompted the spraying, although police later reported some vandalism. The cat-and-mouse game continued for about an hour, with the SDSers being met every block or so by a new line of cops. You had the strong sense the kids in black were looking for trouble, and the police weren't going to put up with much more than the dancing and chanting.
The larger group of protesters was peaceful, although they were challenged -- as so many have been over the years -- by the downtown St. Paul street grid. As the head of the march reached Cedar and 10th, marchers were supposed to turn right. Apparently confused rather than intent on civil disobedience, they slowly started through the intersection. That's when a Star Tribune reporter, Randy Furst, approached organizers and asked if they knew they were headed in the wrong direction. Randy saved the day, the march turned right onto 10th and the police relaxed. Once again, public service journalism worked its magic.