Thousands of Minnesotans gathered Saturday to demonstrate two vastly different views that carried one common theme: concern for U.S. troops.
At the State Capitol, approximately 9,000-12,000 people – some estimates are as high as 20,000 – gathered at noon to show their support for U.S. troops involved in the Iraqi strike.
Later in the day, 6,000-9,000 antiwar protesters marched in a loop from Macalester College in St. Paul along Summit Avenue for 12 blocks, returning back on Grand Avenue. The procession ran six city blocks deep.
“I think the war is very wrong,” said Dona Schwartz, who attended the antiwar rally and is an associate professor of journalism at the University. “It will create hatred. It’s going to grow generations of terrorists.”
Retired Army Lt. Colonel Joe Repya, who organized the pro-liberation rally at the Capitol, said Americans are morally obliged to support their troops when politicians decide on a course of action.
“We are not here today as pro-war Americans,” he said. “We are gathered as Americans.”
Rachel Goligoski, an antiwar rally organizer, said she supported U.S. troops.
“I hope they don’t think that we don’t approve of them,” she said. “We don’t support the mission they’ve been ordered to do.”
Goligoski said the point of the peaceful rally was to show the George W. Bush administration and other pro-war politicians that some Americans are still against the war and have no intentions of staying silent.
To those who say Goligoski isn’t acting patriotically, she said, “This is the most American I’ve ever felt.”
Repya said he has distributed 17,000 signs throughout the community that read “Liberate Iraq. Support Our Troops.”
While many pro-liberation demonstrators at the rally held colorful signs with slogans such as “France Sucks,” “You shut the hell up. We’ll protect America,” and “Anti-war Means Anti-American,” Repya’s signs were the most abundant.
The antiwar rally was also dotted with slogans such as “Drop Bush. Not Bombs,” “No Blood for Oil,” and “Hi, I’m French.” And, similar to the rally at the Capitol, the most popular sign at Macalester College highlighted concern for U.S. troops, reading “Support The Troops. Bring Them Home.”
Jeff Locks, who said he was in the 3rd Ranger Battalion in Desert Storm, attended the rally at the Capitol. During his stint in the Persian Gulf, he said he was hurt by antiwar protests in the United States. But a pro-troop rally held in Minnesota in 1991 that aired on CNN lifted his spirits.
“I thought that was the greatest thing in the world,” he said. “That was huge for me.”
Dawn Schall, mother of 101st Airborne Division soldier Scott Corbin, said attending the rally at the Capitol gave her a sense of community and support.
“It’s a family,” she said. “I’ve had so many people come up to me and say he’s in their prayers.”
Speakers at the Capitol included Republicans U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Both politicians waved their hands and shook their fists, to the crowd’s jubilation. Pawlenty spoke first, thanking the crowd for attending.
“By being here today, the silent majority of Minnesota is breaking its silence,” he said. “No matter what your beliefs are, it’s time to pull together and support America and our troops.
“We didn’t start this war. It was started by a bunch of sucker-punching cowards,” Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty emphasized that the purpose of the war against Iraq was peace, and he quoted former President John F. Kennedy: “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”
Coleman too said action was necessary. He compared Saddam Hussein to a poisonous snake that would bite the U.S. if not dealt with.
“We will defeat terrorism,” Coleman said. “We stand here as Christians, Jews and Muslims. We are defending ourselves.”
The crowd didn’t take as kindly to N. Ruby Zigrino, a Muslim speaker from Minneapolis. Zigrino initially received cheers and clapping, but when she questioned the United States’ motives in past wars, she received some boos. And when she quoted the Quran, shouts erupted from the crowd such as “Read the Bible” and “We’ve had enough.” Eventually she was jeered from the microphone by cat calls and an unrelenting chant of “U-S-A.”
Repya retook the podium and implored the crowd to hear Zigrino speak. Eventually, she was again drowned out by the crowd chanting “U-S-A.”
Joseph Turgeon, a University philosophy major, attended the pro-war rally with an antiwar sign. Turgeon, along with 10 other antiwar demonstrators, were separated from the main crowd by Minnesota state troopers.
“I want to provide an alternative message,” Turgeon said. “Why do they think that supporting our troops means they have to support the war they’re involved in?”
Nathan Halverson welcomes comments at [email protected]