An anti-land mine demonstration Thursday morning outside of Alliant Techsystems ended in the voluntary arrests of 57 protesters, three of whom are University students.
The protest, part of an ongoing international crusade against the production and use of land mines, was the first of what have become bi-annual rallies outside of the Alliant production plant in Hopkins, Minn. Several University students, including a group from the Progressive Student Organization, took part in the protest at Alliant, one of the nation’s largest munitions manufacturers.
“I’m here to raise awareness and to push for Alliant Tech to broker a deal and commit to not to produce land mines,” said Drew Hempel, a graduate student who protested and planned on getting arrested from the start.
In what was a peaceful and cooperative rally throughout, demonstrators began in an adjacent parking lot with a two-hour gathering. Speakers from numerous organizations addressed the crowd of about 200 people of all ages, who sang anti-war songs and carried signs illustrating their cause.
Chants like, “We want peace, conversion, with no loss of jobs,” filled the air while signs such as “Weapons do not bring peace — Weapons bring profit” shared the sky as protesters prepared for their march on the Alliant building.
Rod Bitz, director of corporate communications for Alliant, said the company ceased the manufacturing of antipersonnel mines a year ago.
Mines come in two forms, anti-personnel and anti-tank. Anti-personnels, though designed for military purposes, pose a threat to civilians because of their unknown locations.
The Minnesota Campaign to Ban Land mines reports that once every 22 minutes somebody steps on a land mine. Annually, 26,000 people worldwide die as a result of land mines, most of whom are civilians.
“Nobody that works here ever wants to see our products get used in a war,” Bitz said. “But if America is sending its sons and daughters into harm’s way, we must make sure they have the systems and equipment to come home safely. It appears as if the protesters don’t see this.”
Along with his condemnation of land mines, PSO member J Burger, a junior in University College, used his speech to announce his group’s plans to protest Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s commencement speech during the College of Liberal Arts graduation ceremony in June.
Once the speeches and chants drew to a close, the entire crowd marched up and down the road parallel to the Alliant building. Holding hands, the protesters stared across the street at the slough of security guards, police officers and Alliant officials outside of the building’s entrance.
In groups of two or three, the protesters crossed the road, entering Alliant property. Once they approached the front door, they were first warned by Alliant officials to remove themselves from the property. That warning was followed by a police warning, both of which were ignored by the protesters — resulting in their arrest.
Sitting in the Alliant parking lot was a police-borrowed Metro Transit bus, waiting to cart away the group of trespassers to a hockey arena. Here, the protesters were identified. They are now pending charges, which could take any number of days to determine, said Capt. Jim Libby of the Hopkins Police Department.
Hempel said Hopkins prosecutors are considering not pressing charges because of the amount of media attention given to the trial of Alliant protesters in 1997.
A similar incident took place at Alliant in April 1997, when 79 protesters were handed similar trespassing charges. Citing their innocence under international law, only eight of them were found guilty and nobody received jail time.
John Landgraf, a 69-year-old University student and protest regular, voluntarily gave way to trespassing arrests in the 1997 incident and on Thursday.
“I tend to be a person that believes the world’s problems are solved with words, not with weapons,” Landgraf said. He added that he’s upset such a large portion of his tax dollars fund military companies like Alliant.
The University holds one bond worth $110,000 from the munitions company.
But Sheila Warness, associate director of asset management, said the bond isn’t a major chunk of the University’s overall investment package.