Student walk-out, protest takes place at State Capitol

Students from the Twin Cities area gathered at the State Capitol Thursday to protest racism, war and the Republican National ConventionâÄôs presence in St. Paul. Students, citizens and members of numerous protest organizations gathered at the steps of the Capitol building where a stage was set up to accommodate both musical acts and speakers. Entertainment began at noon with roughly 100 people in attendance, and that number grew throughout the afternoon. Youth Against War and Racism, a student group unaffiliated with the University but active across the nation, posted flyers and sent e-mails throughout the summer to raise awareness of the event. Religious studies and history senior Nate Ramsayer skipped class to go to the event as part of an advertised walk-out on campus. He said he was there because he didnâÄôt support conservatism and denounces war in all forms. âÄúItâÄôs too easy for people in privileged positions to turn a blind eye to social issues,âÄù Ramsayer said. He said he enjoyed the protest, adding that this was the first RNC-related event he had attended. University spokesman Dan Wolter said the University has not taken an official stance on the walk-out. In an e-mail, he said the University encourages students to exercise their free speech rights, but they are responsible for any absences and subject to professorsâÄô own policies and expectations. Political science professor Teri Caraway said she was not aware of this specific protest and didnâÄôt have an attendance policy to accommodate it. However, she said if an issue came up with a student participating in a similar protest, she wouldnâÄôt rule out allowing walk-outs, though it would depend on the situation. While many University students were present at the protest, the crowd was diverse in age, background and message. Macalester College students, veterans of the Iraq War and several metro-area high school students populated the crowd. Attendees waved flags that said âÄúSTOP WAR,âÄù raised homemade signs with protest messages and chanted along with musicians and speakers alike. One chant, led by the band 2 Tone Runts repeated âÄúWe demand peace.âÄù Although other RNC protest activities have become violent and produced numerous arrests, the event at the Capitol was relatively calm. Most sat on the Capitol lawn, talked politics with other protesters and took in the music. Police presence was visible, but no hostility or intervention took place. Many handed out literature about other socialist and protest organizations and events. Quynh Nguyen , a history junior, is an organizer at YAWR. Nguyen said she hopes people are more aware of how war takes away funding from education as a result of the walk-out and protest. The group left the Capitol around 2 p.m. for a march down Cedar Street to Harriet Island . Event leaders made clear it was the groupâÄôs intention to arrive quickly and peacefully. After the march, a picnic and mock trial of âÄúwar criminalsâÄù took place. Members of the group dressed in costumes to portray Army Gen. David Patraeus , Vice President Dick Cheney and a generic oil tycoon referred to as âÄúbig-oil Bob.âÄù The characters were charged in mock war trials. Throughout the day, YAWR repeated its main message, which it referred to as âÄúpoints of unity.âÄù The protest called for government money for schools, bringing troops home and removing military recruiters from high schools.