Despite RNC changes, protesters say march will go onby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
Organizers of this week's largest protest march said the change in plans for the RNC due to Hurricane Gustav will not derail their plans to march. The Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War claims tens of thousands of people will turn out for its demonstration Monday, despite a weekend of police actions they say are intended to scare people away.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Republican National Committee announced that the first day of the convention will be seriously scaled back. The party is planning to take care of essential business but there will be no political speeches.
But lead organizer of Monday's anti-war demonstration, Jess Sundin, said she's not worried. She said the change of plans have not affected planning for the anti-war march. In fact, Sundin said, people are more energized than ever.
"People don't want to know if they should protest or even how safe it will be to protest," Sundin said. "They just want to know how to get there and what time. It was surprising to me, I thought people would have more worries but I think people in the Twin Cities, for sure, are going to hold the city of St. Paul accountable to honor the permits they've issued for tomorrow and I expect them to do so."
Sundin said she thought some people might be too scared to participate after a weekend of police actions against protesters. But she said it's clearly having the opposite effect.
Nine anti-war protesters were arrested for trespassing Sunday near the Xcel Energy Center, after police said they crossed a security fence. And in a series of raids led by the Ramsey County Sheriff over the weekend, police seized materials and arrested six people they say were planning to incite riots.
The six people remain behind bars in "probable cause holds" in the Ramsey County Jail. No formal charges have been filed and because of the holiday, they can be held until Wednesday.
Attorney Bruce Nestor represents the six detainees. He said he believes the arrests by the Ramsey County Sheriff's office were politically motivated.
"The worst thing that people were saying they were going to engage in were street blockades," Nestor said. "People have engaged in blockades of streets from the Boston Tea Party to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It may not be a fully legal form but is certainly recognized as civil disobedience."
Police officials said the detainees are connected to an anarchist group that was planning to disrupt the RNC and prevent delegates from reaching the Xcel. They said the materials they confiscated included knives, axes and anti-war literature.
Nestor said the raids went too far.
"The type of force used to carry out these raids is designed to scare people but the opposite has happened," Nestor said. "There has been a tremendous outpouring of support. Many people have looked at what he displayed at the press conference and said, 'you know what, all that stuff is in my garage,' the only difference is that you have put the label of Anarchist on them. The evidence, if he has it, certainly hasn't been shown to the public."
A judge is expected to review the cases and charges could be brought on Tuesday.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he stands by the police actions and the arrests. He said he believes there is enough evidence to prove the group was planning criminal activity for the convention.
The mayor said he supports protesters' free speech rights, but that those rights go both ways.
"The people that are going into the convention to talk about their political perspective is as legitimate as the people that are outside saying they disagree with what is happening inside," Coleman said. "And that is okay. That is American discourse, that is the First Amendment, that is the history of this country. But the people who, through violent and criminal activity and criminal means, are trying to shut down that discussion are absolutely not welcome in this community and they will not be tolerated."
The anti-war rally starts at the Capitol at 11 a.m. and will march to the Xcel Energy Center.
- Morning Edition, 09/01/2008, 7:25 a.m.