Politicians and partygoers won’t be the only ones in attendance at the Republican National Convention.
Thousands of protesters are expected to converge on the downtown doorstep of next week’s Republican assembly at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for a series of sign-waving showdowns aimed largely at the Republican agenda and the war in Iraq.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of protests,” said Joann Miller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. “The sizes are going to be big, the numbers are going to be big, and this is a reflection that there is more dissatisfaction in the country today than there was four years ago or eight years ago.”
The largest gathering of protesters during the four-day convention is scheduled for Monday, when the Coalition to March on the Republican National Convention and Stop the War plans to parade from the Minnesota‘s state Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center.
Coalition spokeswoman Meredith Aby said organizers expect roughly 50,000 people to participate in the march, including members of antiwar groups, students and trade unions.
“The purpose of the demonstration is to show the broad, sweeping antiwar sentiment in the country and in the Midwest,” Ms. Aby said, “and to show that the American people don’t support four more years of the Bush doctrine of more war, specifically toward the Iraqi people.”
Coalition organizers were embroiled in a legal battle with the city of St. Paul over the march’s route and duration but have received a permit. Ms. Aby said the march “should be a safe and legal demonstration.”
However, members of the Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee - a self-described “anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing body” - could create mayhem during the four-day event.
The group’s Web site (www.nornc.org) discusses plans during the convention that include traffic blockades. Spokesperson Paulie State called the convention “a dog-and-pony show” but said the committee serves simply as a “clearinghouse for groups that have action plans” so “the question of violence from us is moot.”
“What we create here will send the convention crashing off course into insignificance,” the site promises.
The Secret Service will be in charge of overall security at the event, but Tom Walsh, a spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department, said 3,500 police officers from all over Minnesota and nearby states will be helping with public order and crowd control as well.
Mr. Walsh also said closed-circuit television cameras in a central corridor that links the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul will be activated during the convention.
“I can tell you that I think we have a solid security plan in place and I think we’re prepared to deal with any kind of behavior outside of the norm,” Mr. Walsh said.
Other groups that have planned protest events during the convention include the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, which will hold a March for Our Lives on Tuesday to attract attention to issues such as housing and health care; the Minnesota Genocide Intervention Network, which will host a “Camp Darfur” interactive exhibit at the Capitol on Wednesday; and members of the antiwar group CodePink, who will bring their color-coded attire and participate in activities such as protesting at a corporate reception attended by oil company executives and erecting a peace memorial.
“Our purpose is to make the war in Iraq and the desire for peace with Iran front and center at the convention,” CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin said. “We want to visually represent the public disgust with the war policies of this administration and how John McCain represents a continuation of those horrific policies.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota will have about 250 volunteers working during the convention, including roughly 50 who will work as “spotters” to report arrests.
Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU’s Minnesota branch, said the legal group also will be working to provide representation for protesters who need it.
He said the protest crowds could be large but likely won’t reach the levels seen during the Republican Party’s 2004 meeting in New York City, when more than 1,800 people were arrested during the course of the convention.
“If you drove eight hours from here, you’d make it to Chicago, and Fargo and Des Moines - not exactly Washington,” Mr. Samuelson said. “This is a very sophisticated area, but it is an island.”