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Peace activists are on the move
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On the Mississippi River docks in St. Paul, a peace flag flutters in the breeze. Opponents of a war with Iraq see it as a counterbalance to all the stars and stripes on the Wabasha Street bridge. (MPR Photo/Mary Losure)
As many as 10 busloads of Twin Cities peace activists are leaving for a march in Washington, DC. They're part of what they say is a growing movement in Minnesota and the nation.

St. Paul, Minn. — Near the skyscrapers of downtown St. Paul, American flags fly from every lamppost of the Wabasha Street bridge. But down below on the Mississippi River docks, a tiny cluster of blue-green peace flags flutters in the breeze. Anne Hunt flies one from her houseboat. She sees it as a counterbalance to all the stars and stripes on the bridge.

"I've been concerned about the displays of overzealous nationalism with all the flags," says Hunt. "And I wonder, are we doing all we can to build democracy or help other nations? And I wonder; people who have all these little flags off their cars and things like that - did they vote? Are they helping people learn to read or giving blood or volunteering in any form at all?"

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Image A weekly protest

Hunt says flying a peace flag, wearing a button, or putting up a lawn sign are small acts that add up to something larger. A few miles upstream, on the Lake Street Bridge, opponents to a war with Iraq hold up signs every Wednesday night. On a recent night they counted 170 people; many more than the handful of demonstrators who have long protested the sanctions against Iraq. One newcomer is Paige Jacobs, 23, who moved into an apartment overlooking the bridge a month ago.

"I hear the horns from up there every week," Jacobs says. "I'm reading a book right now by Chiam Potok about World War II. It's gotten me thinking about what I can do. So I came down here."

Jacobs puts her name on the mailing list for the group Women Against Military Madness. The 20-year-old organization is a mainstay of the Twin Cities peace movement. WAMM organizers say their membership has increased 30 percent since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and now stands at nearly 3,500.

The group has sold more than 4,000 Say No to War with Iraq lawn signs, and new peace vigils are springing up in other Minnesota cities like Stillwater and White Bear Lake.

Long time WAMM member Sarah Standefer says for the most part, public reaction to the demonstrations has been favorable. Recently, the only visible sign of pro-administration sentiment is a lone man holding a cardboard sign reading, Bush: Saving Civilization. Motorists beep their horns and give thumbs up signs.

"Those are good honks, don't you think?" says Standefer. "And lot of 'em are going like this (thumbs up) too. There are not too many ugly ones on this bridge. You come to White Bear on Monday night if you want to see ugly honks and yelling. But this is good for the soul, to come here."

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Image Sarah Standefer

On a recent bitterly cold Saturday afternoon, more than 2,000 anti-war activists rallied in uptown Minneapolis, to the honks and thumbs-up of many passing motorists. When the crowd began to march, turned a corner, and blocked oncoming traffic, many stalled drivers leaned on their horns.

It was hard to tell if these honks were in support or against the march. An impromptu survey of waiting motorists found these opinions among those who were willing to roll down their car windows.

"I'm a little grumpy about being inconvenienced but I think its wonderful," said Sean Christensen from his van. "Honestly I think more people need to get out and say what they feel and what they think, because it's very easy to get people riled up for war, but nobody's asking the right questions."

"I think it's good that people are coming out, and expressing their views. I mean it's an important thing to do. I mean, it slows down the traffic, but it's a small price to pay, I guess," said Priscilla Angenor. Opinion polls show the majority of Minnesotans support President Bush and would back a ground invasion of Iraq. But peace activists say such support could fade if the nation actually goes to war, and casualties begin to mount. In the meantime, they hope for ever-growing numbers of demonstrators.

The last national peace march on Washington D.C. in October attracted 100,000 people by police estimates. Organizers estimated 200,000. In Minnesota the same day, around 10,000 marched at the state Capitol.

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