Protesters Demonstrate Outside Obama Townhall Meeting listen01/28/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The line outside the Bob Martinez Sports Center wound throughout the University of Tampa campus. It reportedly had begun forming in the early morning hours. Most in line, like UT music major Alison Weinstien, were elated that the President would come to town on the heels of his State of the Union address.
Some, like Curtis, an engineer from Tampa, wanted to hear concrete ways on how the President plans to approve the economy.
Many, including USF graduate student Joshua Yanapa, wanted to hear about President Obama’s plan to fund high-speed rail.
Paul, a republican from Riverview, said that, while, seeing the President isn’t an opportunity you get every day, he thinks high speed rail isn’t a good idea for Florida.
Some at the event who disagreed with Obama’s policies weren’t so cordial about their beefs with the president. A handful of protestors gathered near the entrance of the venue, and dozens amassed at the corner of North Boulevard and Kennedy Boulevard. Barry Bench from Orlando wore a red t-shirt sporting a hammer & sickle. He called the president a communist and questioned from where the money to fund rail was going to come.
Tom Burns came to Tampa from Jupiter, Florida. His sign sported a Darth Vader mask, which he said represented the government, and said he thinks the American people will resist if the government continues in the direction it’s headed.
Protestor Irene Gilson, an activist with the Venice branch of Florida 9/12 said that FOX News inspired her to protest, and, parroting the outlet’s slogan, called them “fair and balanced.” She said that Obama is trying to take over the lives of Americans.
Not everyone who demonstrated was a teabagger. Bob Van Wike from St. Pete Beach displayed a large sign near the front of the line. He said that, in some ways, President Obama is worse than President Bush.
Others trying to catch the eyes of those waiting in line – and perhaps even the President – called on him to beef up health care, provide more help for Haiti, and use stimulus dollars to fund a green economy. Inspired by a UK activist group called the Love Police, one group’s mission was to elevate public debate through positivity, according to Vivienne, the group’s spokesperson.
While the majority of protesters demonstrated on the far reaches of the UT campus, some shouted into bullhorns and carried signs relatively close to the entrance of the venue. One member of the local press said that it was a far cry from the days of the Bush Administration, when protesters were confined to what it called “free speech zones.”