ST. PETER — More than 50 people gathered in St. Peter’s Minnesota Square Park late Thursday afternoon, standing for peace as they stood between a veterans memorial and the roar of rush-hour traffic on Highway 169.
“This is what democracy looks like,” they chanted as their fellow citizens drove by, many honking horns in support, a couple offering less-supportive gestures.
Franz Kitzberger, 66, was just a teenager when he first began attending peace protests in 1970 during the Vietnam War.
“They made a big difference,” he said. “But apparently, historically, we haven’t learned much.”
A longtime New Ulm resident who now lives in St. Peter, Kitzberger is concerned about the potential of escalating conflict with Iran leading to another war being added to the nearly two-decade-long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m going to keep doing this as long as it takes,” he said.
St. Peter was one of more than 370 similar protests scheduled across the nation, including eight in Minnesota stretching from Grand Rapids to Marshall to Rochester to the Twin Cities.
As the St. Peter group chanted and raised signs toward the passing traffic, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives had just passed a nonbinding resolution demanding that President Donald Trump seek congressional approval before ordering additional military action against Iran.
Earlier in the day, Trump said his decision last week to authorize a drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleiman had been necessary in part because Iran was “looking to blow up our embassy.”
At least some members of Congress said there was no mention of that during a closed-door briefing by the Trump administration a day earlier. Previously, Trump administration officials had focused on Soleiman’s oversight of militias responsible for numerous American deaths in the region going back to 2003.
In Tehran, there were mixed messages on Thursday. The Iranian people were told by state-controlled media that missiles launched against military bases housing U.S. forces, Iran’s response to the Soleiman killing, had been a great success, killing dozens of American soldiers.
Since there was actually no evidence of any casualties from the missile attacks, that was widely seen as a sign that Iran might be content to claim victory and not take further action that might lead to a broader war. On the same day, however, a member of Iran’s joint chiefs of staff threatened additional attacks that “will impose a harsher revenge on the enemy in the near future.”
Misti Harper, who teaches history at Gustavus Adolphus College, said she doesn’t trust Trump’s ability to de-escalate a dangerous situation.
“I’m really afraid of the actions our president is taking,” Harper said, adding that she doesn’t see them as being grounded in a broader strategy. “... Especially in the last year, his behavior and attitudes really seem to have become erratic.”
Anders Taylor, a senior at St. Peter High School, was holding a sign he’d made that said “Protect Democracy,” painted with a bullet-hole through “Protect” and blood seeping from the letters. Taylor said he was at the peace vigil because the threat of global war has joined the rise of fascism worldwide and climate change as top concerns.
“I just turned 18,” Taylor said. “I want a future for myself, for a family, for this country.”
Susan Jackson of St. Peter is a few decades older than Taylor but she was similarly worried about the future.
“I think Trump is really a loose cannon and he’s making the world more dangerous,” Jackson said. “And he doesn’t have the diplomatic skills we need at this time.”
The event was organized by Indivisible St. Peter/Greater Mankato, one of the opposition groups that arose after the 2016 election. Taylor said he has joined the organization’s events before and he will again.
“Obviously, standing holding a sign isn’t stopping a war in Iran,” he said. “But mobilizing a group to stop war, to stop fascism — coming together and showing support for peace — is important.”