News: Bush Still Draws Protests

Coalition of the unwilling' greets President in northern Ohio

 


CANTON — The apparent end of combat in Iraq doesn't mean the end of street demonstrations against the Bush Administration.

The April 24 protest that greeted President Bush during his visit to the Timken Co. wasn't especially large. But the 150 protesters easily outnumbered the few dozen Bush supporters outside the steel company's research facility.

More important, though, was the range of issues represented in the protest. Anti-war messages were prominent, but so were signs criticizing Bush's economic policies. Members of the United Steelworkers stood alongside environmentalists and gay rights advocates.

"This is the coalition of the unwilling," said Harold Pyle, a member of the Steelworkers. "I don't like anything this man's done. I don't like his war. I don't like what he's doing to the working class."

Secret Service agents required demonstrators of all persuasions to stay behind a fence about a half-mile from Akron Regional Airport, where Bush landed. Forcing Bush supporters and foes to stay together helped make an important point, according to Larry Lanham II, a member of the Stark County Peace Coalition.

"A lot of anti-war people have been dealing with a lot of antagonism, which we take with pride," he said. "At the same time, we're also Americans and we have the right to express our views."

Some of the pro-Bush contingent were less amused about the company they were forced to keep, sharing a field with people carrying signs saying, "Queers for Peace." A woman adorned in a huge yellow bow waved a large American flag while carrying a sign saying "Proud to be an American" and yelling, "Praise God for President Bush!"

When the woman started criticizing union workers' signs, a group of Steelworkers surrounded her and started singing "Solidarity Forever." Jeff Seemann, president of the Stark County Peace Coalition, intervened when a sheriff's deputy warned both sides to avoid jostling one another with signs.

"Thank you for the alert," Seemann said. "We're under control here."

The protest was a high point for the peace movement in Canton, whose previous claim to fame was a photograph that appeared in The New York Times.

"We did a late night surgical strike, making a chalk outline of a body in the street to represent dead Iraqi civilians," Seemann said.

The war's apparent end is no reason to end protests, according to Seemann. Bush's opposition has to work harder as the 2004 election approaches, he said.

"He promised us the first tax cut would stimulate the economy," Seemann said. "He promised us he wouldn't rest until he captured Osama. He promised Iraq had tons of weapons of mass destruction. Why should we believe anything he says at this point?"

Don Dechiara, a Steelworker employed at the Timken Co., said he's not usually active in politics. But the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the economic recession brought him to the demonstration.

"I think the main purpose of this war was to take the focus off the economy," he said. "I think it's a tactic. I feel bad for the people who were killed over there."

Sharon Taucer of Cincinnati, whose job was lost to corporate downsizing in January, said she joined the protest to support U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. Bush's visit was widely interpreted as a way to pressure Voinovich into supporting Bush's proposed tax cuts.

"I'm here because Bush was going to bitch-slap Voinovich," Taucer said. "We want to show it's OK to dissent, even for politicians."

When Bush's motorcade left the Timken plant for the airport, the protesters — mindful that Bush didn't win the popular vote in 2000 — began chanting, "Go home, Gov. Bush!" The slogan seemed to confuse at least one Bush supporters.

"He hasn't been a governor for a long time," the man said. ©

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