16 arrested in anti-war protest

More than 200 protesters joined in the march around the University campus Thursday.

More than 200 people joined anti-war groups Thursday for a rally and march around campus, meant to mark the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Police arrested 16 protesters who entered the Washington Avenue Army National Guard recruitment office on trespassing charges, a misdemeanor, Minneapolis Police Sgt. Jesse Garcia said. Two of the arrested were juveniles.

An Anti-War Committee news release said the protesters at the office were “disrupting its recruitment functions and refusing to leave.”

“They had taken over the second floor and hallway of the building, and had been warned a few times,” Garcia said, adding that there didn’t appear to be any property damage.

Tracy Molm, an officer for the University chapter of Students for a Democratic Society and organizer of the protest, was one of the students arrested.

She said after their release from the police station Thursday afternoon, a group of the arrested went to Sally’s Saloon and Eatery to celebrate.

“It’s ridiculous that this war continues to go on,” she said, “At five years, it’s important to step it up, and the recruiting office was a direct target.”

Molm added that she was proud to be arrested as a part of social change, citing past examples of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War.

“Students were a part of that,” she said.

Nicholas Peterson, a Marine veteran, came with a few of his fellow veterans who were in “silent disapproval of vandalism.”

“I’m pro-America, but anti-vandalism,” Peterson said.

Bryan Axelrod, a Marine veteran and friend of Peterson’s, said he didn’t agree that shutting down the recruiting office was a good idea.

“They have a freedom to protest, but they are stopping the freedom to join the military,” Axelrod said.

“Joining the military was one of the best things I ever did,” Peterson added.

The two-hour protest started at Coffman Union and wrapped around campus, down University Avenue and Church Street and ended at Washington Avenue and Ontario Street.

At Army and Navy recruiting offices across the street from where the arrests were made, Macalester College students gathered to shut down the center.

About 10 protesters from the school used bike locks and PVC pipes to chain themselves to the office’s doors and wouldn’t speak to media or police.

Joe Schweigert said he came to show support for his fellow Macalester students.

“Especially after five years, it’s important for dissident opinions to come forward,” he said.

Schweigert said closing the center for one day probably wouldn’t result in big changes, but added that it was “a very important figurative gesture.”

Molm said the Macalester chapter’s demonstration was a separate action, but the two groups had been in contact about the events.

“We support each other, but we planned to keep a sense of time and space separation,” Molm said.

Prior to the march, seven leaders of local activist organizations spoke in front of Coffman. There was a spoken-word performance at the end of the march.

Many speakers said the amount of money spent on military defense by the Bush administration could be better used to help solve problems at home.

The money going to the war should be used to keep tuition at the University down, said University student Erika Zurawski, who moderated between speakers.

“Every dollar spent could provide free education so that students can be students and not workers while they are trying to be students,” she said.

Students are being “robbed,” said Kelly Bellin of Socialist Alternative.

“With corporations having record profits, this is for the gain of capitalism,” she said. “We can end this war. It happens right here.”

Some student bystanders, however, didn’t appreciate the display.

University sophomore Brooke Ellis was near Coffman during the demonstration. Although she doesn’t disagree with the cause, she said the noise was distracting.

“It’s kind of annoying,” she said.

Just before the group left Coffman to march, organizers encouraged participants to be loud.

“We want lots of noise to interrupt every class for people who didn’t care enough to get out of class for this,” Zurawski said.

March organizers applied for a protest permit, and stuck to their route around campus, University police Chief Greg Hestness said.

Previous anniversary protests attracted many more students, he said.

University and Minneapolis police were on hand to assist in crowd control, on bicycles and on horseback.

Two St. Paul officers assisted, but St. Paul Police spokesman Tom Walsh quashed rumors they were practicing for when the Republican National Convention comes to the city later this year.

“The ‘U’ has asked for help in the past,” he said. “If there’s an event and they need assistance, we’ll help. That’s what we do; we help each other.”

Police officers on bicycles followed the protest as it blocked off portions of University and Washington Avenues, but didn’t attempt to stop marchers.

“You pick your battles,” Hestness said.

Two years ago, police arrested six students after they threw red paint on the Army recruiting office during an anti-war protest. At a protest last year, police made no arrests.