- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Organizers of a massive march at the Republican National Convention on Monday say the stage is set for their protest despite the convention’s scaled-back activities and a series of law enforcement raids seen by the groups as attempts to quell their right to free speech.

“Plans for tomorrow’s massive antiwar march are well in hand,” said Jess Sundin, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. “People will not let the RNC gather in St. Paul without a loud and clear response from us.”

The coalition’s protest will begin at 11 a.m. with a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol building and continue with a march past the Republican convention headquarters at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Organizers have said they expect as many as 50,000 people to participate.

The event comes a day after convention organizers announced that they will scale back Monday’s activities because of the expected landfall of Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast. Officials said convention activities largely will be determined on a day-to-day basis as the effect of the storm and the necessary emergency response become clear.

But Ms. Sundin said the coalition march has been planned for two years. She emphasized that the protest will take place on Labor Day, when protesters from across the country will not have to take the day off from work to participate, and that the scaled-back convention will thrust the march into an even bigger spotlight.

“I think our message will be heard loud and clear,” she said.

The protest also comes on the heels of five raids led by local law enforcement agencies this weekend that targeted members of the self-described anarchist group, the RNC Welcoming Committee.

Six people were arrested as a result of the raids. Authorities said the Welcoming Committee’s plans to disrupt the convention with tactics included blockading delegate buses and injuring police officers. Officials on Sunday arrested nine protesters for trespassing during a demonstration in St. Paul.

The raids have served as a rallying point for coalition members and their allies, who say they plan a peaceful protest but have condemned the actions as political stunts and police oppression targeted at disrupting any activities opposed to the convention.

“The outrageous police attacks that are under way will not succeed in stampeding this well-organized effort,” said Sara Flounders of the Troops Out Now Coalition.

The march is expected to be the largest protest held during the convention, which runs Monday through Thursday, but some activities already have begun. The antiwar group Code Pink participated with their color-coded attire in a march from St. Paul to the Xcel Center early Sunday afternoon.

Group spokeswoman Jean Stevens said members joined with the groups Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War in a march that featured imagery like a coffin draped in an American flag and protesters dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods.

“We’re trying to really stand up and continue to prove that we are against this war and we are against all wars,” said Ms. Stevens, who estimated roughly 250 people joined in the event. “The visuals here and the messages here are very somber today.”

Code Pink also planned to hold a “Reclaiming the Constitution” event on Sunday, in which participants were expected to carry a large copy of the Constitution and sing slogans like “Dissent is Patriotic,” “We Want A Peace Candidate,” and “Close Guantanamo.” The group said they plan to hold their previously scheduled protests Monday as well.

The veterans groups that joined Code Pink in the march also held their own convention last week. Francesca Lo Basso, a spokeswoman for Iraq Veterans Against the War, said members would hold a march Monday morning to deliver a briefing on neglected veterans’ issues to a staffer for Sen. John McCain at the convention site.

“The Republican Party says that they support the troops, but they’re not taking care of them,” Ms. Lo Basso said.

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