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2008 Fall Issue 1 (September 26, 2008)

Carleton professor arrested at Republican National Convention

September 26, 2008
By Allyson Herbst

Among the hundreds arrested during protests at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis nearly a month ago, Carleton counts at least one of its own. Joel Weisberg, Professor of Physics, Astronomy and the Natural Sciences, was placed under arrest on August 31 after committing an act of civil disobedience outside the RNC. He and eight others, including David Harris of the Red Wing Veterans for Peace and a student from North Carolina, crossed a security barricade outside the Xcel Energy Center in a statement against the Iraq War. After attempting to remove part of a fence, they were apprehended by riot police and detained for over an hour at the site. They were later arrested under charges of trespassing and held by police for several hours. Upon being released, officials told them they would be notified of a later court date.

This act of civil disobedience was a part of a larger anti-war/anti-torture march that took place on August 31. The anti-war aspect of the demonstration was a mock funeral of sorts organized by the Red Wing Veterans for Peace, while the Twin Cities chapters of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) and the War Resisters League organized and contributed the anti-torture element. Over 400 people took part. Some participants wore orange jumpsuits and black hoods in a statement against U.S. torture policies, while others, like Weisberg, carried tombstones listing the names of both U.S. and Iraqi casualties of the Iraq War. Weisberg said that he asked that the names of Iraqi dead be added to the demonstration, and said he probably would not have participated had not both sets of names been included. Weisberg said that the tone of the march was “solemn.” and echoing in the air was the grave sound of drumming and of names of the fallen being read over a loudspeaker, he said.

Northfielders Phillip Stoltzfus and Candace Lautt, long time activists and friends of Weisberg, were also present during many of the demonstrations at the RNC. They were present at the convention as part of the Minnesota Peace Team (MPT), “a group trained in nonviolent techniques and in preventing physical injury in potentially volatile situations,” Stoltzfus describes it. He says the MPT was invited to the mock funeral march by the Red Wing Veterans for Peace in order to promote a tone of peace and “to ensure the human rights and civil liberties of all people present.” Lautt, former director of Acting in the Community Together (ACT) at Carleton, was present during the act of civil disobedience and praised the efforts of the 9. “I was proud to know people who would be willing to speak out and put themselves out visibly to raise questions of justice at this time,” she states. Stoltzfus too remarks that he was “very impressed” with the march and says it was “very successful in communicating a strong and respectful anti-war message.” He also applauds those who crossed the fence and even goes so far as to call Weisberg “our present day Henry David Thoreau.”

This was Weisberg’s first act of civil disobedience, though he admits to having desired to do it for some time. He says that he declined to participate in civil disobedience on previous occasions, despite having opportunities to do so, because he was uncomfortable with the groups partaking in it, as some of their demonstrations included property damage and other activities of this nature. Weisberg finds this sort of violent and/or destructive behavior to be “counterproductive.” He says he was very comfortable with the context of the march held on August 31, felt it was the “right avenue” for what he wanted to accomplish.

However, Weisberg admits he still felt somewhat apprehensive about the planned disobedience, especially in the days leading up to it. “There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he states. “You don’t know if you’ll be beaten…you don’t know how long you’ll be in jail.” He says such feelings of nervousness dissipated, though, when the day of the protest actually came. Looking back, he calls the actions of the demonstration “wonderful” and remarks, “I was really glad I did it, both the march and the arrest. I wanted to make a statement about the war.”

Weisberg stresses, though, that he sees protesting not as a first resort, but as a necessary escalation in light of a continuing conflict based on false pretenses. “One escalates,” he says, “when one feels the regular channels are not working.” He cites voting and contacting elected representatives as examples of “regular channels” that he has utilized but says have brought him no avail. “I worry about us losing our civil rights. I really do. That’s why I feel I have to stand up all the more…If you don’t [protest], you’re acquiescing and I don’t want to acquiesce.”

Weisberg says that, as far as he knows, no other Carleton faculty, students, or staff (except for a former library employee named Nancy Casper) were present at the RNC demonstrations though he says he “easily could have missed them” if there were. He believes that if Carleton had been in session while the convention was taking place many students would have partaken in demonstrations and remarks that he saw quite a few Macalester students participating, the Macalester semester already having started when the convention began. Weisberg states the reaction to his arrest from students and faculty at Carleton has been varied, experiencing everything from teasing to thanks and congratulations.

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