Protesters take small steps to obtain long-term change

Josh Linehan

A wise man once said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
So it went early Monday morning for 65 protesters arrested on the grounds of the Hopkins-based munition manufacturer, Alliant Techsystems.
The demonstrators said they hoped their actions were another step on a journey begun 30 years ago, when Marv Davidov founded the Honeywell Project to protest the local manufacture of cluster bombs.
“People are still living out what they believe,” Davidov said. “This finished up a great week of building the peace movement forward.”
The large-scale civil disobedience has become a biannual event at Alliant. Protest organizers and Alliant officials met beforehand to establish ground rules and ensure the safety of all involved.
One by one, demonstrators walked across Second Street Northeast and onto Alliant property, where a company official met them and warned them they were trespassing.
And one by one, the protesters stood silent as Hopkins police arrested them and led them toward a borrowed city bus. The demonstrators were bused to the local ice arena, where they were ticketed and released.
Rod Bitz, an Alliant spokesman, said Monday’s protest had become routine.
“They come out twice a year to do this, and the novelty has worn off,” Bitz said.
But because the protests have become routine signals a victory by the demonstrators, said Thomas Fiutak, a Hubert H. Humphrey fellow at the University and expert on conflict mediation.
“Though the protest may seem routine, the fact that the protests have set boundaries designates acceptance on Alliant’s part, and that is meaningful,” Fiutak said.
No Alliant protester has served jail time for trespassing, making the arrests mostly symbolic. But Fiutak said the demonstrations made an impact nonetheless.
“They are certainly getting results,” Fiutak said. “They have raised consciousness. The symbolism is intentional, and the success is an increasingly loaded impact.”
The protesters said they are banking on just such an impact. As they stood across from Alliant on Monday they chanted for “a peaceful transition with no loss of jobs,” just as Honeywell protesters did 30 years ago during the height of the Vietnam war.
Kathryn Sikkink, a University political science professor and author of the recently published “Activism Beyond Borders,” said time would be the protesters’ ultimate test.
Sikkink cited the century-long abolitionism movement as one of history’s quickest.
“This kind of social activism definitely can produce change, but it will do so very slowly,” she said. “The progress really must be measured in decades.”
But Sikkink said not all long-term movements succeed, citing the prohibition movement during the early part of this century as an example.
“I do think they have the possibility to change things,” Sikkink said. “Information travels so fast today that movements can be mobilized in a shorter time frame.”
But Bitz said while he didn’t believe the protesters and Alliant employees were worlds apart philosophically, the two groups have divergent views on this issue.
“The harsh reality is we live in a world where nations must have a strong defense, and we help provide that,” Bitz said.
As for the protesters’ demands for an immediate transfer of weapons production to production of other goods, Bitz said it was not feasible.
“It’s a wonderfully euphorian idea, that everyone would set aside their weapons for good, ” Bitz said. “In a perfect world, I’d agree with them. But that is not the world we live in.”
The protesters said they realize the world isn’t perfect. But they don’t see the harm in aiming high.
“We’ve been at this 31 years, and bombs are still going off in Vietnam,” Davidov said. “But it’s absolutely possible to shut Alliant down. We will continue to take away social obedience. To get it back, they’ll have to give up something.”

Josh Linehan covers science and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.