Less than 24 hours after President Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the backlash had already begun.
A group of over 100 anti-war demonstrators marched through the streets of downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday evening, disrupting traffic and chanting in protest of Obama’s announcement.
Protesters began marching at the southwest corner of Loring Park at around 5:30 p.m. and meandered through downtown for nearly two hours, ultimately returning to the park.
A contingent of squad cars and vans followed behind the protesters; they were flanked on the left by roughly 10 mounted police officers and on the right by a fluctuating number of police on bicycles. Although there were no apparent leaders, demonstrators at the front of the march said the haphazard route was intended to confuse police and disrupt traffic.
“[I’m here] pretty much to interrupt the daily activities of Minneapolis – to stop the war machine as much as possible from our end,” said University of Minnesota senior and protester Iain Miller. “Really, there’s not much that the individual citizen can do anymore, but this is something, at least.”
There were roughly 12 voluntary arrests at the intersection of 10th Street South and Third Avenue South.
At around 6:40 p.m., protesters sat in the intersection, blocking traffic and holding a banner. Police declared the action an “unlawful assembly,” and a Minneapolis police officer used a squad car’s amplification system to order the demonstrators to disperse.
“If you do not do so, you may be arrested or subject to other police action,” he said. “Other police action may include the use of chemical agents and lethal munitions, which may cause injury to those who remain.”
Police declined to comment on the arrests.
Bryan Berry and Chris Cox, St. Paul residents, were two of the arrestees.
“People are dying for this,” Berry said. “We need to open our eyes and say that that’s not right.”
Police estimated that roughly 60 protesters continued marching after the incident. At one point, demonstrators blocked off traffic on Lyndale Avenue South near the Walker Art Center, backing up cars for about three blocks. The march ended at about 7:30 p.m. at Loring Park, where it started.
The march caused a mixed reaction among onlookers; some danced to the music the protesters played, while others screamed profanities.
“It’s an absolute hindrance,” Minneapolis resident Greg Merriman said. “It’s a sham to what the troops are doing over there.”
The group Direct Action to Stop War and Occupation was created solely to promote the march and worked for roughly a month and a half in preparation, said group member Sophie Smith.
“It seems like there’s a general discontent within the left about this surge and a sense of urgency about protesting it,” Smith said. “So there’s been a lot of great response from a lot of different kinds of groups.”
Obama announced Tuesday that he will increase the number of American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan by 30,000, bringing the total to nearly 100,000. The move will cost roughly $30 billion, and the additional troops will begin to be deployed by Christmas. In the same speech, Obama stressed a July 2011 withdrawal deadline and called for increased international support in the form of more troops, as well as a larger effort from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to stabilize his government.