Thousands Expected Today For Protest

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Minneapolis/St. Paul Star-Tribune

Thousands Expected Today For Protest

About 50,000 are expected today, despite no-shows by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The protest begins at 11 a.m. at the Capitol building and will march to the Xcel Energy Center and back.

by
Curt Brown

 

MINNEAPOLIS - Despite the big-name cancellations and the preconvention police
raids, organizers expect thousands of anti-war demonstrators to march
this afternoon from the State Capitol to the site of the Republican
National Convention.

They say their passion will not be dampened now that President
George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are skipping their
convention speeches because of Hurricane Gustav. If anything, they say,
the storm enhances their message that investing in human needs must
outweigh waging an expensive war.

But the protesters are also concerned that aggressive police tactics
could cull their numbers, which they estimate could reach 50,000 today.

"Even if the two main actors in the U.S. war in Iraq won't be there,
that will not deter people from sending a loud message to the
Republican Party and the country that we need to use our resources on
human needs and saving people at home, not killing them abroad," said
Meredith Aby, a Minneapolis organizer working with a coalition of 130
anti-war groups, labor unions and community organizations to plan
today's march.

Protestors planned to rally at the Minnesota Capitol building
starting at 11 a.m. today, then march to the Xcel Energy Center, where
the convention is being held, and back. The route is about a mile and a
half.

They insist the legal march will be peaceful and they urge families
to take part. It's expected to be the largest of the protests scheduled
this week.

"This protest is aimed at the war, the police state and the
bread-and-butter issues," said Polly Kellogg, a professor at St. Cloud
State University. "The protesters hold a much bigger and long-term
perspective."

At Macalester College in St. Paul, an estimated 300 visitors, most
sleeping on floors and sofas, have arrived at the school of 1,800
students to take part in protests.

"It's not just about Bush and Cheney," said Steve Sedlak, a junior
from Pittsburgh. "We just don't like the way things are going."

On Sunday, more than 400 Veterans for Peace protesters solemnly
followed a flag-draped casket through St. Paul's narrow streets. David
Harris, 73, of Red Wing, a retired surgeon, was among seven booked into
jail.

His group was met by dozens of Ramsey County sheriff's deputies in
full riot garb, who detained nine people. Two, including a nun, were
ticketed and released.

Sunday's showdown was peaceful, with media members easily
outnumbering everyone else. But activists remain outraged; Katrina
Plotz of Bloomington called it "a blatant pattern of intimidation and
repression."

Authorities have conducted a series of raids in Minneapolis and St.
Paul since Friday, targeting a group called the RNC Welcoming
Committee. Five people are in custody pending possible conspiracy
charges.

Independent journalists have also been stopped, searched and had
gear confiscated. A woman driving a bus with an "Earth Activists" sign
was surrounded by squad cars on Interstate 94 near the Cretin Avenue
exit Saturday night.

"I'm just appalled that they're trying to put a damper on the whole
thing," said Medea Benjamin, from San Francisco and a co-founder of the
peace group Code Pink. She attended the DNC in Denver. She said her
group's van was searched Saturday. Police found banners.

"The Denver police walked a fine line, but these police are doing a
terrible job," Benjamin said. "We never thought this was how police
would greet us in such a historically liberal state as 'Minnesota
Nice.' "

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said items seized in the raids,
including Molotov cocktails and tools to disable buses, convinced him
the RNC Welcoming Committee was planning to "engage in criminal
behaviors, not just voice their disdain for the Bush administration."

Coleman said Sunday his mother-in-law is among those who plan to
march today. Protecting lawful protesters is a key factor behind the
raids.

"We are making sure that people here to legitimately protest have
the right to do that, but people engaging in criminal activity are not
going to be able to do that," he said.

"When people come down to protest in the peace march, we don't need
their public and personal safety threatened. It's just absolutely
imperative that all the peaceful protesters have a chance to do that."

Jay Kvale, 66, of Hopkins said he'll be among those in the streets today.

"This is about opposition to the war and the casualties among Iraqi
civilians and American troops," he said. "Of course, Bush and Cheney
started the whole thing, but I don't think it's personal. It's just
about changing injustices from happening."

 

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