From Korean War veterans to 12-year-olds, several hundred people crowded together on the State Capitol steps Saturday, holding or wearing signs and chanting in protest against U.S. military action in Afghanistan.
The “Say No to War, Say Yes to Global Justice” rally called for peace and featured a series of speakers and performers. Included were children from local public schools, college professors and students, a veteran and several Twin Cities activists.
Deena Khatan, a member of the University’s Arab Student Association, said the United States must be aware of the suffering and death now affecting Afghans.
“We shall not let anger and frustration lead us to commit a crime we condemn others of,” she said.
Women Against Military Madness member Polly Mann said the United States doesn’t have enough money to be humanitarian and at the same time support a “military turned Genghis Khan.”
“Supplying food packages of peanut butter and crackers to Afghan people won’t make up for it,” she said.
Katya Jensen, a member of the University’s Students Against War, said the bombings must stop to allow international aid groups to do their jobs and save the Afghan people.
“It simply isn’t logical to return violence for violence,” said rally attendee Thomas Chisolm, a member of the Minneapolis chapter of Veterans for Peace. A military surgeon who has served in American campaigns since the Korean War, Chisolm said he’s sick of soldiers dying.
In addition to criticizing U.S. bombings, many ralliers denounced American policies and practices overseas and at home.
University of St. Thomas professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer said many U.S. policies in the Middle East – such as support of Israel and sanctions against Iraq – generate enormous hatred of America and will continue to do so unless changes occur.
Peter Orlinder, former president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild, said a war is being waged against the American people. He said the anti-terrorism bill signed yesterday makes “political dissent in this country illegal.”
Mel Reeves, editor of the Spokesman newspaper, said rhetoric about the country changing as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks is false.
“The government didn’t pass any bills saying ‘pay the workers their fair share,'” he said. Societal problems such as homelessness and police brutality, he said, still exist.
A group of approximately 25 counter-protesters stood across the Capitol steps, holding American flags and their own signs, with messages such as “Stop Blaming America” and “Welcome to Osama bin Laden’s Fan Club.”
At times throughout the rally, the crowd shouted responses to points the speakers made and blew whistles.
“We fundamentally disagree with what they’re saying,” said Steve Greenman, one of the counter-protesters. “Peace is not plausible right now.”
Greenman compared bin Laden to Hitler, and said that both men called for the killing of Americans and Jews, and that the United States should do “whatever it takes to knock out terrorism.”
When Barry Reisch, a national board member of Veterans for Peace, stepped up to the microphone, the counter-protesters yelled loudly while chanting “traitor.”
Reisch responded by saying he served in Vietnam and that his grandfather and father fought in World Wars I and II, respectively, which he said qualifies him as a patriot. He said people at the rally are keeping voices from being silenced. He told the protesters, “You need us.”
“We are doing the most important thing today that we can as Americans: standing here and speaking our minds,” he said.
The event concluded with its participants chanting the rally’s slogan while the counter-rally protesters responded with an “Osama needs a hug” chant of their own.
Tom Ford covers St. Paul and welcomes comments at [email protected]