Sub-zero temperatures, rain or shine. Christmas Day or just an average Wednesday, peace protesters will be on the Lake Street Bridge.
“[The weeks I didn’t come out] were when my husband was dying, when I was getting chemo and the one or two times that I was out of town. This is a commitment I’m making,” said Heidi Uppgaard, who started protesting in 2007. “We know that it doesn’t a hundred percent make a difference but there is still the visibility and it reminds people that we’re still here.”
Uppgaard is not alone in her spirit for protesting for peace. Every week there is a minimum of about 10 to 15 protesters on the bridge, even on some of the coldest days of the year.
“A guy came by and said, ‘I wish you people would leave this bridge, because all this honking really disturbs me because I live right over there. So will you please just go home?’ I said, ‘No, not until war is ended we can’t go home,’” said Penny Gardner, a three year bridge protest veteran.
Others aren’t as willing to suffer through the cold weather. Among the protesters a wide variety of ages are represented; the youngest are high schoolers, and the oldest nearly 100 years old. Additionally, there are three different organizations that sponsor the protests The Twin Cities Peace Campaign, Veterans for Peace and the Woman Against Military Madness (WAMM).
“It was so cold last week. When it snows, it’s actually warmer,” said Kristi Ann Ranck, who has been protesting for one year and was out on Nov 13, in 27 degree weather, that is all the more freezing on a bridge with nothing to block the wind. “I could only stand 15 minutes last week. This week I hesitated to come, but I’m here. We need peace! It’s about time that the governments get in line with what we want. Freezing rain is the worst. I refuse to be a martyr in those conditions. I come for a few minutes and then leave.”
Why a bridge?
The protesters selected the Lake Street-Marshall Ave. Bridge because it was dedicated as a peace bridge and because of its proximity to both Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
“It is between the two cities, and initially we chose it because a bridge was bombed in Bosnia [in 1993], and we had a theme of building bridges rather than bombing bridges,” said Steve Clemens, who’s been protesting for the full 20 years. “This has also been dedicated as a peace bridge [in 1991]. We don’t want the river to divide us from our friends on the other side.”
The protesters said the ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback is about 10 to one. But they almost unequivocally stated that any feedback is better than no feedback. Positive feedback generally consists of waves, honks and the “v” peace sign. Negative feedback often includes yelling or giving the middle finger, which they call “half a peace sign.”
“I think the best response is acknowledgment even when they only give us half a peace sign it’s at least acknowledging that we’re here instead of just looking ahead and pretending that they don’t see anything,” said Clemens. “Of course, for me, the most gratifying one is the young kids in the back seat giving us the peace sign after their mom or dad explains to them who these people are on the bridge. We’ve been here on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and Christmas Eve depending on what falls on a Wednesday.”
Some of the responses are more violent than merely giving “half a peace sign,” though. Some have been violently threatened during their vigil. None of the protesters have been arrested during the Lake Street Bridge vigil, some have been arrested for participating in other peace protests.
“One guy stopped his pickup truck and threatened to throw me over the bridge but then the light changed and he got back into his car because people were honking their horns,” said Clemens. “People are really angry,”
Though they have been holding their vigil every Wednesday for 20 years, It seems that the peace protesters are here to stay, at least until war is over.