Protesters un-welcome Bush to Florida

July 16, 2004 ---TAMPA

Approximately 250 people lined the sidewalk across from the Tampa Convention Center today to protest the inexplicable appearance of George W. Bush who was speaking at the National Conference on Human Trafficking. I say “inexplicable” because as near as I can tell, Bush has never shown much interest in anything that deals with the human rights of oppressed people, but I digress.

It was a spirited crowd, representing diverse interests. The largest delegation by far was sent by Planned Parenthood, however the group ran the gamut from anarchists to Insulators for Kerry, from the Sierra Club to local peace groups.  It would appear that the only campaign promise the Bush administration has ever kept is the one where he promised to be a “uniter”, (a word, by the way, not recognized by Bill Gates’ spell-check), because it is a safe bet to say that the folks in our crowd did not have a whole lot in common back in January of 2001. And now, in 2004, Kerry supporters and anarchists are actually standing on a street corner and breaking bread together – literally, thanks to the huge bag of bagels provided by Tampa’s chapter of Food Not Bombs and complementary bottles of water provided by the Hillsborough County Democratic party and others.

While the Idiot Usurper did not arrive until almost 10:30, protesters began arriving at 8AM. The day started with a light rain which reminded me of countless other Bush protests – there is just something about that man that sucks the light right out of the sky, even in globally-warmed Florida where the heat index is routinely reaching 105 degrees this year. A smattering of Bush supporters stood across the street – some 20-30 strong. Oddly enough, half were teenaged girls.  Briefly, they attempted a rousing chorus of  “Four more years! Four more years!” but they were handily drowned out by the protesters who countered with “Four more months! Four more months!” Eventually, the anarchist contingent decided that the Bush folks looked a bit lonely, so they rolled up their tie-dyed banner (which proclaimed “Bush el exterminador de humanos” went across the street and unfurled it again directly behind the Bushies. They were followed by two men (OK – well one of them was my husband) with a large “Fire the Liar” banner, and shortly afterwards by a cluster of ladies from Planned Parenthood. Later I overheard a woman from the Planned Parenthood contingent relate the reaction of the Bush supporters, which ran something along the lines of, “What are you doing over here? This is our side of the street.”

Well, not really. By the time the circling helicopter buzzing the crowd (something else we have all gotten used to) heralded Bush’s arrival, protesters were crowding both sides of the motorcade route. In the background, Tampa businessman, Joe Redner, had dropped a banner off the side of a nearby parking garage that read, “Is Bush the Anti-Christ?” (Well, I assume it was his banner since he previously had one just like it hanging off one of the buildings he owned, and while it bears a message that should be replicated hundreds of thousands of times, right now it is kind of unique.) In the lot behind us, the Pig-Mobile was oinking boisterously, and what appeared to be a large inflatable rat with a “W” emblazoned on his chest was rolled up to the road. As the motorcade swung by, the crowd took up a chant of “This is what democracy looks like!” And indeed it is.

It was interesting to compare this protest to a Tampa protest I attended back in the summer of 2001. Back then, a hundred (after optimistically rounding up) people was a good turn out. Back then, there was little chanting and only an uncomfortable camaraderie. Back then, Florida grandmothers Suni Haught, Jan Lentz and gay activist, Mauricio Rosas were some of the first in a long line of activists to be arrested for daring to inform the pResident that he was not universally adored. Since then, he has been mooned and mocked from Europe to the Middle East to the US Heartland, and despite the continued gutting of our Constitution, despite the fact that dissenters have been routinely arrested or detained for innocuously wearing anti-Bush gear, despite the fact that our groups are infiltrated and spied upon, our reading habits scrutinized and our garbage patriotically pillaged by a myriad of bureaucratic storm troopers who think nothing of wasting an entire year probing Peace Fresno instead of protecting us from real criminals – despite all of this, protest participants are now more energized than ever before.

I cannot help but wonder where that 50 percent – give or take - of the country is that keeps telling pollsters they will vote for Bush in November. As many journalists have written just this past week, it is hard to find them, even amongst life-long Republicans. And who knows? There may even have been a few of those folks on our side of the street.

As the protest drew to a close, a man with a bullhorn crossed the field toward where the Bush motorcade was parked. “Come on out here, George,” he called across to the silent stretch limo. “Come out and talk the real people!”

Needless to say, George didn’t show. But that’s OK – if we want to know what he would say should he venture out behind his smoked glass, bulletproof, shrink-wrapped and sanitized-for-your-protection little world, we need go no further than the incessant oinking emanating from the Pig-mobile. We think it might sound just like that.

Carol Schiffler
July 16, 2004



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