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Peace activists say protests to continue
Randy Furst, Star Tribune
Metro Section, November 12, 2004

Kris Hamilton, 27, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Minnesota, said she was bummed out "for about a minute" about last week's presidential election.

"Then I realized we've got to get back out in the streets and stop letting the Republicans set an agenda that makes war seem inevitable," she said.

Monday afternoon she was carrying a sign that read, "End the occupation," along with a group of about 75 other demonstrators, in a hastily called rally in the West Bank area of Minneapolis to protest the attack on Fallujah.

After one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in history, social activists are viewing the candidates' postelection call for national unity with some amusement.

"Unity with the president of the United States? Are you kidding?" asked Gary Prevost, a political science professor at St. John's University in Collegeville and the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, in the St. Cloud area. "I think that all the social movements that have been impacted by [President] Bush's policies will gear up their fight."

Anti-war protest in MinneapolisRenee JonesStar Tribune SouthHow far they'll get is anyone's guess.

But a dogged core of protest organizers hopes to tap into the public unease with the war in Iraq and intensify the debate.

However, the idea of people taking to the streets to protest the Iraq war is "preposterous," because the war is a necessary part of the war on terror, said Annette Meeks, acting CEO of the Center of the American Experiment, a local think tank that has supported Bush.

"I don't know what it will take other than full retreat to appease this segment of the population," she said. "Clearly that is not going to happen under this president."

Activists think otherwise. "I do believe the peace community will be organizing more along political lines, helping more in local elections, lobbying more as political activists," said Leslie Reindl, president of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers, an umbrella organization of peace groups in Minnesota. "I don't know if protest will ramp up, but organizing will."

Some point to 1968, when the election of Richard Nixon not only failed to defuse the protest crowd, but also seemed to energize it. In any event, many of the activists who went door-to-door for Sen. John Kerry see the postelection period as an opportunity.

"We are building one of the strongest grass-roots movements that we have seen in a long time," said state Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis. "People are putting them all together. There is a unity of purpose across race, class, sexual orientation, age, gender, new immigrants. It's not just anger; there is resolve to do some something positive with all connections that were made."

The Twin Cities-based Iraq Peace Coalition has scheduled a demonstration for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis.

"I think our ranks are going to grow," says Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, a New York-based national coalition of 800 groups. "I think the situation in Iraq is going to get worse" Cagan's organization helped lead some of the biggest demonstrations against the Iraq war over the last two years, and she anticipates more.

Possible event dates, she said, include Jan. 20 , inauguration day, in Washington, D.C., and March 20, the anniversary of the launch of the Iraq war.

A few hours after Kerry conceded in Boston, some 200 antiwar demonstrators gathered on the Lake St.-Marshall Av. Bridge connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul. That night, the Anti-War Committee had its weekly meeting to map more actions. "People were angry," said Jessica Sundin, one of the group's founders. "That was the primary sentiment."

The following day, about 50 demonstrators upset with the election results rallied at the State Capitol. "We need unity against the war," said Mary Beaudoin, director of Women Against Military Madness. "We're in there for a long run. ... People don't see the victims of war, the bloody bodies. They don't see the children and women who have died."

Media-generated?

Meeks said she believes that regardless of the 59 million who voted for Bush, a segment of the population will always disagree with the president. She said people should focus instead on the recent democratic elections in Afghanistan and the coming elections in Iraq as positive signs of U.S. foreign policy.

"America has never had a war without protesters," said Bill Cooper, former chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party and the chairman and CEO of TCF Bank. "And there has never been a war that operated as advertised ... Every war, including the Civil War, had rioting in the streets."

But Cooper said he believes that Iraq war protests will diminish.

"I think the media generates a lot of this," he said. "Everything that happened [during the presidential campaign] was made a political issue. It motivates people. I believe that when they are successful in Fallujah, and we have elections, even if they are flawed, the situation in Iraq will stabilize and we will be able to pull a lot of American troops out of there."

Large-scale protests could erupt over the abortion issue as well as over the war, said Prevost, the St. John's professor. In winning reelection, Bush appealed to abortion opponents, he said. "If the Bush administration actually seeks to recriminalize abortion in the United States it will likely reactivate the women's movement in favor of the right to choice."

Hy Berman, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Minnesota, said that he does not believe that the draft will be reinstated, and that without one he does not expect Bush to face huge demonstrations.

But he added that the president is not going to have a honeymoon period, either. "The nation has been sharply divided ... for four years," Berman said, and a few words about reconciliation by Bush or Kerry won't heal the differences.

Randy Furst is at rfurst@startribune.com.

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