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One protest group wants to takes its anti-GOP messages to TV screens, not the streets

A new, electronic form of protesting may replace — or at least supplement — the traditional political street rallies and demonstrations expected this September in St.

A new, electronic form of protesting may replace — or at least supplement — the traditional political street rallies and demonstrations expected this September in St. Paul, when the Republican National Convention comes to town.

Giant television screens — Jumbotrons, 22 feet high and 30 feet wide — will broadcast anti-Republican-themed messages to convention-goers, the media and the international audience following the proceedings.

Organizers figure they will have much more impact than bullhorns.

The goal is to have pithy, witty and compelling messages laying out the problems in the Republican agenda, and outlining better alternatives, organizers say.

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Floating sign already lined up for river
Already, the group has lined up the Covington Inn — the floating bed-and-breakfast that’s docked just off Harriet Island — as a location for one of the giant screens. They’re also hoping to put screens even closer to the convention headquarters at the Xcel Energy Center. Two possible sites that haven’t been secured yet are the nearby Dorothy Day Center parking lot and the 411 Main building, home of trades and labor groups.

Martha Ballou, a local attorney and ardent liberal activist, spoke about the plans Friday at a meeting of the Pat Roedler/Ruby Hunt issues forum, which meets weekly in West St. Paul.

Martha Ballou
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
Martha Ballou

Ballou, an unabashed Democrat who doesn’t waffle with words, told the group of about 30: “Every bad guy in the world will be here — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, gay-haters, immigration stoppers. They’ll all be sitting in a bowl in St. Paul, and we do intend to engage them.”

She and others had been wondering how best to do that.

“I remember Chicago [where rioters disrupted the 1968 Democratic National Convention] and we know what does and doesn’t work. And if we let the crazies take over the streets, the Democrats lose elections,” she said.

So one day, while passing through downtown, she looked up and saw the giant screens on the Xcel Energy Center, advertising coming events and the Wild hockey team.

Bingo, the idea formed.

“We realize that the people in the Xcel center are never going to agree with us, so our audience is the media and those who watch what’s going on,” Ballou said.

“This could change protest forever,” she said.

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Jumbotron messages likely to target war and social issues
Messages on the giant screen could include opposition to the Iraq war as well as thoughts on social issues and labor concerns.

A steelworkers group has contributed $30,000 to the Jumbotron effort, which is enough to rent one screen for a week. Ballou hopes to raise at least $70,000 more, to get two more screens to better blanket the convention area, in the West Seventh Street/Kellogg Boulevard area.

Ballou’s group is called True Blue Minnesota, and organizers expert to have their website active soon.

St. Paul officials have long been considering how to handle protesters at the convention. There will be a security zone around the convention, and officials may confine protesters to certain areas around the convention. There’s even been talk about where to house those who get arrested.

Ballou said that most opponents to the Republicans haven’t yet figured out good ways to get their messages across. “Ironically, the only ones really organized so far are the anarchists,” she said.

“But we’re working hard on this, and our intent is to come up with messages that are witty and technologically sophisticated, so people will want to watch,” she said.

Asked for examples, Ballou said she doesn’t have any yet.

“But the guidelines are: Hold the Republicans to their record. Hang them with their own words. Show people a better way,” she said.

She hopes the high-tech protests will help keep other protesters from causing problems that will reflect poorly on Democrats.

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“We don’t want people on the street to run amok,” she said. “We want protesters to come here with positive intentions. Maybe they can feed the hungry while they’re here, help build a Habitat for Humanity house, or plant a tree for everyone who has died in Iraq.

“We really need to show a positive view of what we want the future to look like.”

Many logistical problems remain, she said. How will the enhanced security affect placement of the screens? Will the Republicans pay more to rent all the available screens (there aren’t too many available in the country)? How will they project the sound clearly enough to be audible amidst the downtown hubbub?

“Those are all solvable problems,” Ballou said. “We want to change the nature of protests. It’s about the message, and we want our message to reach those who are watching these events.”