Two anti-war protests took place in Minneapolis and St. Paul at mid-day on Wednesday, July 9. Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) and a coalition of groups rallied on the Capitol steps in St. Paul and the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War demonstrated at the Federal Building in Minneapolis.
The St. Paul rally focused on a call to by civic and religious leaders to politicians of both parties to avoid going to war with Iran. The rally and press conference followed reports by Iranian state television that Iran test-fired nine missiles to show that the country can defend itself against Israeli and U.S. attack.
About 100 people gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in St. Paul. The resounding message from each of the speakers was a need for direct dialog. In a message read by his son Isaiah, Congressman Keith Ellison said that initiatives to engage in dialog with leaders of Iran were frustrated and stalled when “the Bush government continues to refuse to practice diplomacy.”
“The Iraq war has been devastating to the public education system and our children’s future,” said Minneapolis school board member Pam Costain, calling for the Bush administration and Congress to refocus their financial priorities for the country. Citing the extravagance of the government’s $3.3 billion defense budget, she said, “The Minneapolis 5th congressional district is contributing $356 million, resulting in a $150 million budget cut in programs.”
“We need to look back to Iraq,” said State Representative Alice Hausman (House District 66B), in a passionate in her plea to the US government not to go to war with Iran, urging “a need to know the truth.”
Less than half an hour later, about fifty people from the Coalition to March on the RNC met at the Federal Building in Minneapolis. The group is seeking a permit to march and demonstrate against the war in Iraq in September during the Republican Convention in St. Paul. While permits have been issued for demonstrators, this coalition argues that the march route in the permits will not be “within sight and sound of the RNC delegates.” They have sued in federal court, alleging that the permit unconstitutionally restricts freedom of speech. They advocate instead for a permit granting their proposed route, which would be along the John Ireland and Kellogg Boulevard in downtown St. Paul.
One of the group’s lawyers, Teresa Nelson who works for American Civil and Liberties Union, said that the city has disregarded the group’s freedom of speech. Instead, she says, “the city has prioritized its business and logistics needs and put freedom of speech at the bottom of its list.” In recent reports, the city has cited safety concerns as the main reason why the group has not been granted a permit. The city has issued a permit that will allow demonstrators to protest further from the Xcel Energy Center (the RNC site) toward Cedar Street and West Seventh Street.
Jess Sundin, from the coalition of protesters said, “We expect the city to pay attention to us. After all, there will be more demonstrators than there will be Republican delegates.” Sundin is worried that the city will not be able to handle “40,000 and maybe more protesters. I really have questions about what the police are going to do when there’s a wall of people where they intend to put a fence.”
As the group walked into the courthouse for the hearing, they chanted, “We want justice! We want peace! We will march to the RNC,” speaking to both an end to the war in Iraq and to their demand that the city allow them to demonstrate.
United States District Judge Joan Erickson is expected to make a ruling sometime next week.
Nekessa Opoti is the publisher of kenyaimagine.com, a Kenyan online magazine and newspaper.