- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | A 73-year-old retired surgeon marching in silence with a tombstone picturing a soldier killed in Iraq. A philosophy professor calling for a new investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A long-haul trucker from Texas protesting the price of oil.

Those are just a few of the images that demonstrators hope will capture the attention of delegates, journalists and others attending the Republican National Convention. Tens of thousands - from anarchists and immigrants to advocates for the poor - plan to use the streets outside the Xcel Energy Center as a national podium, transforming downtown St. Paul into a marketplace of ideas.

“There are some groups that are going to be here just because this is a big stage,” said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. “But I think the majority of groups are here because they really want to demonstrate to the delegates that they want to see some sort of changes in the party platform.”

Protesters and police expect the opening day of the four-day convention, Sept. 1-4, to be the biggest - with a huge antiwar march from the state Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center and back. Groups representing labor, immigrants, gays, the Palestinians and many other causes have signed on.

“The Bush agenda has really angered all different groups,” said Meredith Aby, a member of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. “These groups have said, ‘We can’t survive four more years of this.’”

President Bush, whose approval rating was at 28 percent in a recent Associated Press/Ipsos poll, is scheduled to speak that night.

The war probably will generate a bigger turnout of demonstrators for the Republicans than the Democrats, who open their convention Aug. 25 in Denver, said Paula O’Loughlin, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota-Morris.

“It is something that really gets people out in the streets,” she said.

Democratic conventions historically have attracted more protesters than Republican conventions. That tide shifted in 2004, Miss O’Loughlin said, when more than 100,000 protesters - likely a record turnout - descended on the streets of Manhattan for the Republican convention.

At the Democrats’ meeting that year in Boston, the largest protest was the day before the convention opened when about 2,000 antiwar activists and 1,000 pro-life demonstrators marched separately.

The women and men of the antiwar group Code Pink plan to join the march in St. Paul, complete with pink “police” on in-line skates and the pink-slip girls, who have been known to deliver their “pink slips” to politicians who they think aren’t doing enough to end the war in Iraq.

The Red Wing chapter of Veterans for Peace is planning a smaller event Aug. 31, the day before the convention begins. The group will walk in silence, to a beating drum, and each member will carry a tombstone picturing a civilian or soldier killed in Iraq.

“It’s not directed specifically against the Republicans, that’s for certain,” said Red Wing’s David Harris. “It’s against the war makers. But even people marching don’t necessarily have to see things as broadly as I do.”

Between 3,000 and 3,500 police officers, sheriffs’ deputies and state patrol officers are scheduled to work during the convention. Federal security officials will also be present.

Still, some groups are aiming for chaos. The anarchist RNC Welcoming Committee, on its Web site and e-mails to members, lays out strategies to block roads and use other methods to “crash the convention.”

Members of that group declined to be interviewed.

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