Funeral Service and Procession for the Not-Yet-Dead in War.

Silence follows some 2,000 peace-marchers to Capitol

By Nolan Zavoral
Star Tribune March 17, 2003

They got their marching orders Sunday in the Cathedral of St. Paul. And then they marched. In silence.

"Our silence will speak volumes," one of the speakers told the crowd of about 1,500 war protesters, who had gathered for the 1-mile march to the Capitol. "As you walk, think about the reasons that brought you here."

About 30 robed clerics -- of all denominations from the local faith community, an organizing force -- led the way, out the doors and into the cool embrace of the springlike afternoon. The Rev. James Erlandson, of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul, led the march, swinging a censer in wide arcs.

Not far behind were men carrying two empty gray caskets, underscoring the theme of a "funeral service" in anticipation of casualties from the looming U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Then came people of all ages, colors and dress. They reassembled on the Capitol steps -- after a half-hour walk down blocked-off John Ireland Boulevard.

At the Capitol, the number of protesters had increased to about 2,000, police and organizers estimated.

At the Capitol, they prayed and heard more calls for peace, which had begun in the brief interdenominational service in the Cathedral.

They were united not only by belief but by the fear that war is on the doorstep:

• Hamdy El-Sawaf, executive director of the Islamic Center of Minnesota, in Fridley, wore a mask of worry. "Stopping this [war] is important not only to me, but to the Muslims in Minnesota, and the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world," he said. He thought a moment. "And important for us as American citizens."

• The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, had a Veterans of Foreign Wars insignia pinned to her clerical robe. "I got this on a plane from a former state commander," she said. "He didn't think we should be doing this in Iraq."

• Steve Schwarz, a longtime peace activist from St. Paul, said war was "getting too close to something that's really going to happen." He added, "I want to be at all the rallies I can right now."

St. Paul police said the crowd was orderly and that no arrests were made. Nevertheless, it was a passionate crowd.

Sally Westermeyer, 63, of Roseville, said it was the second peace rally she had ever attended.

"I feel so strongly about this, that we're on the wrong track," she said. "I think it's arrogant, the way this country is acting."

Taalibah As-Siddiq, an American-born Muslim who lives in Minnetonka, said this is a war "about money and power" more than Saddam Hussein.

"We scream about terrorism, and terrorism is terrible, no matter who does it," she said. "But [the U.S.] has never been able to eradicate it.

"This country was founded on terrorism, first toward the Indians and then toward African-Americans, and we haven't changed a whole lot."

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