Thousands of Minnesotans who oppose war take their dismay to the streets
By Randy Furst
Star Tribune March 21, 2003
Rallies, marches and student walkouts intensified across the Twin Cities on Thursday in protest of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"The bombs will fall tonight, but we have to keep believing that we can do something," said Leslie Morris, 44, an associate professor at the University of marching through downtown Minneapolis.
The march, four city blocks long, might have swelled to 5,000 people at one point, said police Inspector Rob Allen.
Earlier Thursday, several thousand students in the metro area walked out of classes. Most walkouts were at high schools, but there were some at junior highs, reflecting a level of student activism not seen since Vietnam.
About 1,500 people rallied outside Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota, ignoring rain and a spurt of hail, chanting antiwar slogans and cheering antiwar speakers.
"I think it's awesome that all these students can come together and make such a statement," said Jessi Colbert, 17, a junior at Richfield's Academy of the Holy Angels, who was at the university rally.
About 600 students marched from the "U" to the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, where more than 3,000 people of every age attended a 4:30 p.m. rally.
"Remember, most people and governments are against this war," said Marie Braun of Women Against Military Madness, who was greeted by loud applause and cheers.
Carrying a variety of signs, including "War kills children, not leaders" and "Who would Jesus bomb?" protesters marched through downtown, snaked their way through Loring Park and back to the courthouse, picking up more protesters. Only a few police officers were visible, and there were no arrests.
"I'm demonstrating to show there is opposition to this war and give other people courage to oppose the war," said Sascha Plouffe, a 27-year-old carpenter. He had printed on his umbrella, "War is terror."
"It's a tremendous outpouring against the war," said Alan Dale of the Iraq Peace Action Coalition, a coordinating body for the demonstrations.
"The more we get into these wars, the more people come out," said protester Jeff Schmidt. He participated in a student walkout from Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
Students Against War, a newer group, promoted the walkouts. The Anti-War Committee, another local group, estimated that at least 37 metro-area schools had walkouts.
If the protest movement of the 1960s was centered among youth, with students frequently at odds with their parents over war and other issues, Thursday's demonstrations appeared more intergenerational. Students stood side-by-side with adults, and the focus was President Bush's war policies.
High school protests
About 1,800 Minneapolis high school students walked out of classes, the district estimated. That's nearly 17 percent of the district's 10,600 high school students.
At South High School, hundreds of students walked out of classes at 10:30 a.m. and carpooled or took public buses to the university for a noon rally.
"This is great -- it's tons of people," said Elianne Farhat, 18, a senior, a South High organizer, as she watched students leave school.
"We're not blaming this school for the war, but how can you go on when the whole world is falling apart?" asked senior Savannah Rhomberg.
About 600 of the approximately 1,300 students at Washburn High School in Minneapolis walked out, officials said, the district's highest walkout percentage.
Minneapolis students who left were given unexcused absences even if parents sent a note, said Melissa Winter, a district spokeswoman.
St. Paul school officials estimated that about 375 of the district's 12,000 high school students left. Central High School saw just over 200 of its students walk out.
Suburban school districts reported far fewer absences, with many saying a dozen or more students left certain high schools. However, many schools reported no walk-outs.
At Eden Prairie High School, 18 to 20 students left but had parental permission slips that won them excused absences, said Judy Schell, the district's communications coordinator.
At Anoka High School, there were 43 unverified absences, officials said. As some students left the building between classes, about 100 students gathered near the flagpole and chanted, "U.S.A." and "Support our troops," Principal Linda Anderson said.
At Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Theresa Ayers, Erin Hageman and Katie Genereux said they were expecting to serve a Saturday of detention for their unexcused absences, but they thought it was more important to voice their opposition to the war.
"Just because the war started doesn't mean we're going to stop speaking out," Ayers said.
At the "U"
Thursday afternoon, at a teach-in at the university, Madeline Gardner, 20, one of the organizers, surveyed a packed auditorium, where about 1,000 students were gathered. "I think it's awesome," she said. "This shows this is one of the most unpopular wars in American history."
Even some middle-school students attended the protest. Maya Batres and Rose Mary Leslie walked out of their seventh-grade class at Lake Harriet Community School in Minneapolis. Rose Mary said that one of their moms gave them a ride to the "U" and that their school administrator was supportive, but she added, "We weren't going to take 'no' for an answer."
The other side
Counterprotesters were scarce. At Northrop, St. Paul Open School senior Brady Taipale joined a former classmate, Matt Cloutier, near the rear of the rally, where they waved a large American flag.
During the student march, Ted Wilebski, 52, a motorist, rolled down his window and shouted at the demonstrators, "I say bomb them."
"These people are idiots," he said. "They couldn't do this over there [Iraq]. They'd kill them."
Student protesters appeared undeterred. "No blood for oil," they chanted. "U.S. troops off Iraqi soil."
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