Associated Press/ 9/8/2008
MINNEAPOLIS — For two years, demonstrators had been looking toward the first four days in September — when they’d take to the streets of St. Paul to speak out against the war in Iraq, the Bush administration and the Republican agenda.
Now, tens of thousands of marchers later, organizers say they plan to use the momentum they gained from the Republican National Convention to fuel the anti-war movement and other causes. And, they say they got their messages across, despite a heavy police presence, destructive acts by anarchists and more than 800 arrests.
“We had a clear message that got out every day, especially on the first and last day of the convention, that people in this country are still against the war,” said Jess Sundin, a member of the Anti-War Committee.
She pointed to Thursday night, when hundreds of people stayed on the streets of St. Paul, even after police told them to leave. Nearly 400 people were arrested, including Sundin. “I think it made a very strong statement,” she said.
The Republican National Convention was held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Sept. 1-4. Thursday’s march, on the convention’s last night, was designed to take some of the spotlight off Sen. John McCain’s speech as he accepted the party’s nomination for president.
“Our delegates and our guests were very focused on the speakers and Senator McCain and Governor (Sarah) Palin, and I think that our cheers definitely overshadowed anything else that was going on,” said Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention.
But Anh Pham, an organizer for the Anti-War Committee, said she was pleased to see news coverage flip between what was happening inside and outside the convention hall.
“We think we were able to get our name out to a lot of people that might not have heard about us before,” Pham said. “Our hope is to do what we can to try to catch the momentum from the last few days.”
Members of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War say they had 30,000 protesters at their peaceful march last Monday. Police gave a crowd estimate of 10,000. About 2,000 people attended Thursday’s rally, and about 1,000 people marched, Sundin said.
Pham said the four-day convention gave different groups a chance to organize on a national stage, rather than simply ride a bus to Washington, D.C., for a protest. It also gave different organizations in the Twin Cities a chance to network and build relationships.
“I was in jail with people who were at their first protest that day, and they were so proud of what they had done,” Sundin said. “We talked with all of them about finding a way to get involved and stay involved.”
Still, Hamline University professor David Schultz, who teaches classes dealing with politics, said the message of the peaceful protesters was eclipsed by the chaos caused by anarchists — who he said were successful in their mission.
“For them, the whole purpose of their demonstrations or their actions was in fact to get the police to respond,” Schultz said. For one, a response by police proves their point of how oppressive the government is, and, he said, “the belief is that the violence becomes the spark that then leads to revolution.”
“For the anarchists, they were incredibly successful. They made their point. They got arrested. They forced the police to respond, to use force,” he said.
He said in order for the peaceful protesters to be successful, they now need to translate their democracy on the street to democracy at the polls.
For now, the Anti-War Committee is now looking ahead to a potluck to talk about the convention, as well as new-member meetings and more demonstrations. They say there is a new energy, fueled by the events of this week.
“For me, this is one step forward, and we will continue,”Pham said.
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