On Christmases and New Years. In 50-below windchill, in snowstorms and pouring rain. And nice days, too.
Every Wednesday in late afternoon for the past 20 years, demonstrators have gathered on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge in a vigil against war.
The wars have changed, from Yugoslavia, to Iraq, to Afghanistan and other U.S. military interventions, but the weekly protests have continued.
Protesters say they get lots of positive reaction, “V” peace signs and honking horns, and some hostile responses and vulgarities, too.
People have become friends there; a man and woman met at a bridge vigil and wound up getting married; some veteran protesters have died and their families tossed some of their ashes off the bridge into the Mississippi River.
As many as 1,200 have gathered, and on some holidays, or in bad weather, a handful.
But the vigil goes on, and many stalwarts will gather on the bridge from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday to mark the 20th anniversary. They’ll then go to St. Albert the Great Church, at 2836 33rd Av. S. in Minneapolis at 6:15 p.m. for entertainment and reminiscing about 20 years of protesting war.
In her apartment in St. Louis Park, Marie Braun, 84, one of the bridge vigil’s mainstays from the beginning, was making protest signs Tuesday for the anniversary event. “War breeds terrorism,” read one sign. “No new wars,” said another. Signs were stacked neatly next to her living room window, others by the doorway.
“The Lake Street-Marshall Avenue peace vigil has always been about telling the truth about war, that war is never about democracy or human rights or freedom,” she said. “It is about money and greed and the control of resources. It is about pain and death and destruction.”
The vigil grew out of the U.S. and NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 when members of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM), Friends for a Nonviolent World, the Twin Cities Campaign to End Sanctions (on Iraq) and a number of local faith communities decided to start protesting. In Yugoslavia, people were standing on the bridges in the belief the military would not intentionally kill large numbers of civilians standing on bridges.
The idea of doing a local bridge vigil was hatched by Michael Bischoff, who was executive director of Friends for a Nonviolent World, and Lisa Pierce, director WAMM, Braun said.
“We wanted to be a peaceful witness to the suffering that was happening,” Bischoff said. “There was about 40 of us.”
The first vigil was on the Stone Arch Bridge, Braun said, but it moved the next week to the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge, where it’s stayed.
After the Yugoslav war stopped, the vigils continued, focused on U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, took place on a Tuesday, and the next day protesters were on the bridge again.
“That was the only time we were afraid of getting hurt,” Braun said. “People were mad about the twin towers. Revenge was in the air.”
Rather than spread out across the bridge, protesters stayed in groups so no one was alone. She recalled angry reactions from some people but others were positive.
Steve McKeown, a member of Veterans for Peace, met Joan Johnson at a vigil and they married four years later. Johnson said she considered having the ceremony on the bridge, “but we both thought it was too loud to conduct a service.” So they were married on a bridge over Minnehaha Creek.
Jane McDonald, one of the four local antiwar McDonald sisters, all nuns who belong to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, recalls an angry trucker who got out to confront the protesters. McDonald asked his name. He said it was Radke, McDonald recalled, and she asked if he was related to Brad Radke, a Minnesota Twins pitcher. He said he was and she said she was a big fan. The man ended up inviting McDonald and her three sisters to lunch with his grandmother. “It was a very pleasant conversation,” McDonald said.
Some vigilers are regulars, like Mickey Patterson, Bill Smith and Heidi Uppgaard. “I’ve been there on Christmas and New Year’s,” says Smith, 69, a former supervisor on a truck loading dock.
“Since May 1, 2007, I’ve been there almost every week except when my husband was dying and I was getting chemo,” said Uppgaard, 62, a retired registered nurse.
“I was fed up with the wars. They were coming up with excuses to have wars with everybody,” recalls Patterson, 76, a retired hospital central supply worker. “I belong there.”