Protests mark year of U.S. action in Iraq

Amy Horst

Approximately 2,000 people with flags, signs and costumes gathered Saturday at the State Capitol to show both opposition and support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The rallies marked the one-year anniversary of the first day of the war in Iraq. A coalition of more than 40 peace groups organized the rally opposing the military action, including Students for Justice in Palestine and Students United for a Democratic and Sustainable Society.

Participants marched from the Hallie Q. Brown-Martin Luther King Center to the Capitol, where a group of approximately 200 people rallied in support of the military action.

During the march, University students led the crowd in chants such as “less Bush, more trees” and “money for jobs and transportation, not for war and occupation.”

As war opponents neared the Capitol, retired Army Lt. Col. Joe Repya finished handing out more than 500 yard signs emblazoned with “Support the USA and Our Troops, Peace through Strength” to supporters of U.S. military action in Iraq during their own rally on the Capitol mall.

Last spring Repya made and distributed signs with “Liberate Iraq, Support Our Troops” on it. They became popular among Iraq war supporters.

More than 100 supporters of the Iraq war stayed near the mall as the marchers gathered on the Capitol steps. Some heated discussion between individuals of the respective rallies occurred.

But despite the groups’ proximity to each other, there were no problems or arrests at the rally, said Dan Malmgren, a St. Paul Police Department watch commander.

“It was a peaceful rally about a nonpeaceful event,” Malmgren said.

The crowd assembled on the Capitol steps to listen to local community leaders talk about the war, gay marriage, health care and workers’ rights.

Phyllis Walker, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 union leader, told the crowd the anti-war and the workers’ rights movements are connected.

“In order to finance this war, billions of dollars have been stolen from working people in this country by our right-wing government headed by (President George W.) Bush,” Walker said to the cheering crowd.

She said a war on U.S. workers accompanies the war in Iraq, using last fall’s University clerical workers’ strike as an example.

“We were not only fighting for affordable health care and a livable wage, we were fighting to defeat (University President) Bob Bruininks and his far right wing agenda that runs the University of Minnesota,” she said.

University students who attended the anti-war rally said the war is relevant to students.

“A lot of people in our peer group are over there being killed and killing other people, and this is going to affect our peer group and younger a lot,” said Jennie Eisert, a member of the University student group Students Against War.

Canyon Lalama, a College of Liberal Arts senior and a member of the University student group Socialist Alternative, said the U.S. government should use its money elsewhere.

“They’re spending all this money to occupy Iraq, while no money goes for grants or to lower tuition,” Lalama said.

Pete Peterson, a 2001 University alumnus, said he was at the Capitol to support the troops.

“I want the troops who see war protests in the media to remember that many people support them and their actions,” he said.