Bush's Welcome Wagon
Eastside Bushies Confront Protesters
At Bellevue Square, a few miles from the tony Hunts Point fundraiser where President Bush nabbed $2,000 from each attendee during his August 22 visit, a couple of hundred demonstrators clogged the corner of Northeast Eighth Street and Bellevue Way, shouting at passing drivers, who honked in return.
These folks weren't upset that Bush was visiting Washington State, though. Instead, they were thrilled, and out in force to support the president, protesting the anti-Bush activists who assembled in four locations in Seattle and on the Eastside. The standoff centered around Bellevue Square, where a pro-Bush rally was just a few blocks from an anti-Bush demonstration at Northeast Fourth Street and Bellevue Way.
Gary Jensen, a pastor from Burien, came to the rally without costume or sign, explaining he was simply there to add support: "I think Bush is doing great. He's a president who means what he says."
When asked to specify what Bush policies he supported, Jensen was particularly vocal about the war. "The war in Iraq was the right thing to do," says Jensen. "Weapons of mass destruction will be found."
In its early hours, the Republican rally seemed like your typical patriotic flagfest. At 10:00 a.m. organizers passed out stickers to like-minded rallygoers amid a ragged chorus of "FOUR MORE YEARS!" Some drivers responded to signs beckoning "Honk if you love Bush" by blaring their horns. (A few, who probably think WMDs won't be found, responded with a raised middle finger.)
One run-of-the-mill Bush supporter, a man with a foam-rubber cowboy hat, set up his camp of flags and army action figures right next to a prim elderly woman and a family of four.
Though Republicans tend to have a rep for homogeneity, the rally at Bellevue brought out their diversity. A yarmulke-wearing young man and his girlfriend waved the Star of David. The Tacoma-area Vietnamese community was represented by more than a dozen people, carrying a banner and occupying prime curb space.
"We came to support Bush's war on terrorism," says Dang Lamp, a Tacoma resident. "Terrorism is just like Communism. It has to be taken care of before it spreads."
Lamp doesn't see the current economic slump as anything to chide Bush about. "The economy goes in cycles," Lamp says. "It's on its way back up."
The pro-Bush camp had plenty of competition at Bellevue Square. At Northeast Fourth Street, 200-plus anti-Bush protesters were on hand to counteract the Bush support. Though they were centered four blocks away--victims of the Bushies' forethought in getting a permit for the more prominent corner of Northeast Eighth Street--the anti-Bush protesters couldn't resist having a bit of fun with the opposition. A half-dozen anti-Bush protesters aped their wealthy conservative counterparts, emerging from a limousine, decked in furs, at a prominent spot on the pro-Bush curb. "Thank you, Bush! You've made us richer than we ever imagined.... Thank you for the tax cuts!" the middle-aged protesters declared. Republicans didn't know what to think at first.
But quick-thinking Lori Sotello, Republican rally organizer, swept in to create a diversion. Sotello immediately motioned for members of the pro-Bush crowd to stand in front of the limo, blocking the faux millionaires.
The back-and-forth continued all afternoon. By 12:30 p.m., the GOP crowd was peppered with liberal interlopers as anti-Bush demonstrators abandoned their designated post to infiltrate the pro-Bush rally down the street. ("We followed the guidelines," Sotello said, explaining the pro-Bush folks' decision to stay put. "Others chose not to.") The result was a heated exchange (a "public dialogue," as one anti-Bush organizer called it)--at times a shouting match--between the two sides, covering everything from the legitimacy of the war in Iraq to the effectiveness of Bush's tax cuts.
"It was an opportunity for discussion," says Sotello tactfully, adding that many of the GOP attendees enjoyed the debate. One protester, a middle-aged lady with frosted lipstick and an American-flag shirt, seemed to be having an especially good time shouting, "Communists go home! If you don't love this country, then get out of here!"