[by Mary Jane Smetanka, Minneapolis Star Tribune]
Marking the sixth anniversary of the start of the U.S. war with Iraq, about 350 sign-waving protesters marched 2 miles through St. Paul to the State Capitol on Saturday to demand that American troops withdraw immediately.
It was a smaller group than in past years. Kristin Dooley of Minneapolis, a member of the Iraq Peace Action Coalition, said the passing of the Bush administration and the election of a Democratic president have lulled Americans into thinking things have changed.
“It’s not in the news anymore, and people are giving Obama a pass,” she said. “Obama is still for war. … There have been too many deaths in Iraq and too many deaths of American soldiers. I’m for getting the troops out now, right now. Put them on a plane and get them home.”
Under President Obama’s policy, U.S. combat troops are supposed to leave Iraq by September 2010, and all American troops are supposed to be out of the country by the end of 2011. Saturday’s rally in St. Paul coincided with protests in Washington, Los Angeles and other cities.
Three members of Women Against Military Madness who have protested since the war’s start sat on the sunny Capitol steps as they waited for other protesters to arrive. The three had skipped the march, driving from the event’s start at a St. Paul community center to the Capitol. Marilyn Schmit of Minnetonka joked that she wasn’t as young as she’d been when the war started.
Her friends Kathy Rolf of Hopkins and Lucia Wilkes Smith of Minneapolis agreed that a new administration had “changed the energy” around the war issue and they said that they support the new president. But Smith said she can’t understand why more people don’t vocally oppose the war when some of the primary reasons for starting it — including the Bush argument that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction — have fallen away.
“I don’t know why the American people don’t feel swindled and angry,” Smith said. “I still believe my role is to challenge and actively confront the powers that be.”
The protest concluded with people lining up at a microphone to read the names of the dozens of soldiers with strong Minnesota ties who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Minnesota National Guard member Raymond Camper, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, passed out slips of paper bearing the names of the dead. Camper, who lives in Mahtomedi, said he served in Iraq for about 18 months in 2006 and 2007. He objects to the war for religious and moral reasons.
“I started speaking out against the war as soon as I got back,” Camper said. “I have to do what I can to stop it.”
Camper said he campaigned for Obama but disagrees with the president’s position that phased withdrawal of troops is necessary to prevent chaos in Iraq.
“I believe destabilization will happen regardless of when we leave,” he said.
Another protest veteran, Gary North of Minneapolis, said that people are mistaken if they assume the new administration will “do the right thing.”
“I think we will be here next year,” he said.