Rally to Support the Troops Turns into a Pro-War Rally
by Paul Udstrand
Several thousand people gathered at the Minnesota State Capital on Saturday, March 22 , to show support for the military personnel taking part in the war with Iraq. Despite the organizers apparent intentions, the rally turned from a demonstration of support for the troops, into a demonstration of support for the war. The distinction most likely would be lost on many of the participants who booed one speaker after she suggested that there had been a failure of diplomacy. N. Ruby Zigrino, a Muslim woman who'd been invited to speak, drew cat calls and boo's from the crowd simply for suggesting that war is unfortunate and should be avoided in the future. Despite organizer Joe Repya's appeal to treat Ms. Zigrino with respect and hear her out, they continued to "boo" when she suggested that the American people might try to learn from any mistakes that have lead to diplomatic failure. Zigrino's reading of passages from the Qur'an went over rather like a lead balloon as well.
Meanwhile, in the crowd, State Patrol Troopers asked a small group of people holding signs that read: "Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home" to leave area and go across the street because they didn't have a "permit" to be there. All in all it wasn't an impressive display of free speech. It wouldn't be fair to expect that thousands of people attending a demonstration should applaud speakers who challenge their stated purpose for assembling, nor would you expect them to embrace counter demonstrators. George Bush would probably get booed at a peace rally, and shouting matches frequently break out between peace marchers and supporters of the war. This crowds unwillingness to tolerate anything other than a celebration of the war was quite apparent.
Maleeha Rizwy, Kenny Allen, and Nathen Mittelshtaedt before the troopers found out they didn't have a permit to attend.
This was the first large organized attempt to rally support for the troops. As such it may be interesting to compare it with anti-war demonstrations of the same size.
Attendance was estimated by the Star Tribune to be at around 17,000. I suspect this is a generous estimate. I've been at demonstrations at the Capital involving 10,000 people, as estimated by people who actually used counters. Attendance on Saturday appeared to be about equivalent to, but not exceeding that number.
The first significant difference was the publicity. The rally to support the troops received quite a bit of news coverage before hand. KARE 11 interviewed organizer Joe Repya hours before the event, and encouraged people to attend. The times and expected speakers were likewise reported. Some local talks radio stations also publicized the event. Prior coverage and invitations to attend peace rallies are almost completely unheard of. Consequently this rally had a much more official character to it rather than the grass roots feel that most peace rallies tend to have. Major political figures like the Governor Pawlenty, and Norm Coleman attended and gave speeches. You're lucky if a City Council member shows up for a peace rally.
The rally had a more commercial character as well. There were several people selling rally paraphernalia such as little American flags and T-Shirts.
George Rea, Jamie Friberg, and their daughter Celena selling T-Shirts.
Joe Repya proudly announced that over 15,000 of his signs reading: "Support our Troops, Liberate Iraq" have been "distributed". Unlike the "No War with Iraq" signs "distributed" by Women Against Military Madness, Repya's signs are available free of charge. I don't know how this is financed, but WAMM has to charge $10-15.00 dollars for their signs to cover production costs. The result was that when you looked across the crowd at this rally, it had a much more uniform look to it, a lot of American flags and Repya's signs.
The rally ended up feeling like a Republican Party event. No doubt some of this is due the basic demographics behind support for the war, 98% of Republican's support the war while only 50% of Democrats support it. One could safely assume that the majority of participants at this rally were Republicans. This contrasts with the large peace rallies which are of a decidedly non partisan nature. While local major media outlets reported that the last big march from the Cathedral to the Capital turned into a memorial for Paul Wellstone, that was a mischaracterization that made the event appear to be more affiliated with the Democratic party than it was.
Joe Repya addresses the crowd
Peace advocates after the troopers realized they didn't have a permit to attend the rally. Officer R.L. Schrader of the MN Highway Patrol explained to me that these folks were asked to move because they didn't have a permit to attend the rally. When I asked him how he determined that everyone but these five people had a permit, he elaborated- everyone else at the rally was there to support the people who had a permit, and besides, they didn't want any violent confrontations. He declined to answer when I asked him if he thought that the rally participants had the potential to become violent. The man with the white plastic bag declined to give me his name, but he left because he was disappointed to the rally turning into a pro-war event.
Several people displayed signs with the names of family members who are serving
Didn't appreciate the quotes from the Qur'an
Those who escaped the trooper's permit patrol discussed different perspectives with some of rally supporters
Those who got caught in the permit "dragnet" had occasional discussions and debates with passersby from across the street.
Viet Nam war veteran Jim Breslain
Patrick Dolney (red shirt) debates politics and current affairs with Emma (young woman wearing the hat)
Nathan Mettelstaedt debates the merits of peace with a group of young men who want to bomb Saddam, or at least watch the bombing of Saddam on TV.
Troopers kept peace and war demonstrators at a safe distance from each other
Governor Pawlenty signs autographs after the rally
One thing that both war and peace demonstrators have in common, they both like to bring they're dogs, and hang signs off of them.
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