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Scene at St. Louis Park pledge protest is far from indivisible

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St. Louis Park residents are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Demonstrators recite the Pledge of Allegiance outside St. Louis Park City Hall Monday afternoon as the City Council revisits a recent decision to stop reciting the pledge before meetings
Nina Moini | MPR News

After a fiery meeting that lasted more than an hour Monday night, the St. Louis Park City Council is no closer to deciding whether to go back to saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of council meetings. 

Council members in St. Louis Park, which borders Minneapolis, had voted late last month to stop reciting the pledge at the start of its biweekly meetings. Demonstrators outside City Hall Monday evening didn't wait for the council meeting to begin before making their voices heard.

Dozens of people dressed in red, white and blue, carrying American flags, chanted the Pledge of Allegiance as cars drove by.

Tom Blondell had driven almost two hours from his home in Rochester, Minn. He said the council's earlier decision to stop reciting the pledge before its regular meetings was unpatriotic.

"I think you either pledge allegiance to the country you come to," he said, "or your allegiance is elsewhere. And that doesn't work."

St. Louis Park residents gather at a City Council meeting.
A crowd gathers at a St. Louis Park City Council meeting Monday evening.
Nina Moini | MPR News

When the meeting began, people in attendance stood and repeated the pledge — something council members said had never been customary at the specific type of meeting they were holding Monday night.

Every seat was full, and people continued to make their voices heard. Mayor Jake Spano told the crowd it wasn't a public hearing, and repeatedly asked it to let council members speak.

Spano said he's received a lot of negative feedback about the council's decision last month. He said he wasn't in town for the vote, and he asked the council to reinstate the practice before meetings.

"It is OK for us to say, as a council, we didn't think this would be that big of a deal, but clearly it is," he said. 

The unanimous council vote to stop reciting the pledge was part of a review of meeting procedures that members say happens every few years.

Council member Anne Mavity introduced the resolution. She said the continuing controversy is a distraction from important city business. 

"I think we have an opportunity and responsibility to use this moment to start a conversation in St. Louis Park on what it means as a whole to be patriotic and live out our community's values and principles," she said.

Some council members and the mayor felt the council had made a mistake and should have consulted with more community members before taking action because the pledge means different things to different people.

Council members said city staff have been fielding nasty phone calls for days. Council member Margaret Rog said she regretted that a measure meant in part to help people feel included may have had the opposite effect.

"I think there are people in our community who feel the City Council spoke for them, when they didn't ask to be spoken for, and as a result they've become the subject of hostility and blame, unfairly," she said. 

One of the protesters, Sheri Auclair, came to the meeting from Wayzata.

"My blood boiled," she said. "My blood absolutely boiled. People have died for this country. They have laid their life on the line. ... If you don't want to recite it, then go back to the country that you came from and live under the conditions that you left." 

Council members agreed to take more time to engage with the community this month before taking another vote.