Protesters sought to influence delegates, media

By David Hertz

Tens of thousands marched and over 800 were arrested in the demonstrations against the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last week. Protesters demanded change on issues ranging from war to economic justice to immigrant rights. But once the voices died down, their impact may have faded as well.Protests at the RNC had the feeling of a historic moment. The RNC was one of the largest political gatherings in the Twin Cities since the 1892 Republican Convention was held in Minneapolis.

The size, diversity of issues and intensity of the protests brought out other historical comparisons as well.

“It was more like the anti-Vietnam War marches than anything I’ve been in since the Iraq War started,” Professor of History Peter Rachleff said.

The protests included some of the most intense anti-Iraq war demonstrations since the war began.

“I think the protests were very successful in highlighting the continued opposition to the war in Iraq-that people are still committed enough to that idea to go to the streets,” said Jess Sundin, an Anti-War Committee member and former Macalester student.

Rachleff disagreed with Sundin’s conclusion.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “I think it is an anomaly-it has everything to do with the RNC being here.”

As a one-time event, the influence of the protests may be limited, Political Science Associate Professor Adrienne Christiansen said.

“They’re directing their message,” she said, “to a very particular audience-the delegates and the speakers and the luminaries in the Republican or Democratic firmament. It’s unlikely that they’re going to change the opinion of their target audience.”

Outside of the delegates, protesters also aimed at gaining media attention for the various causes they championed throughout the week. While opinion polls reflected the general discontent expressed by protesters that America is on the wrong track, most media stories tended to emphasize the violence of the protests, rather than their message.

“The media will see these protests as part of the spectacle of these conventions,” said Jane Rhodes, dean for the study of race and ethnicity. “These groups will get attention, but it will be short-lived.

“The protests can easily fall into the hands of Republican strategists, who will use the protests to say the protesters are not what they view as American.”

The fractured nature of the protesting groups played into the effectiveness of the demonstrations as well. While larger, more peaceful protests brought attention to mainstream issues like opposition to the Iraq war, smaller radical groups willing to use violent tactics often overshadowed them in the press. Many Americans may have had a hard time seeing the protests as representative of their concerns. “I’m dissatisfied with a number of policies of the U.S. government but I don’t think anarchists speak for me,” Christiansen said.

Although not much has changed in the wake of the protests, discontent with the country’s direction and the exiting Bush administration suggest that the desire for change is widespread, and many people may now look to the next opportunity for major political change.

“To some degree,” Rachleff said, “this immediate march was prompted by the presidential election, and many people who participated are now going to wait until November and wait and see what the outcome is.