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Protests and Counter-Protests Heat up Bush Visit

By Susan Reines
Staff Writer

August 13 -- Santa Monica became a microcosm of the political divide separating the country, as critics and defenders of President George W. Bush lined Ocean Park Boulevard Thursday afternoon near the airport, where the president held a private fundraiser.

Toting signs and waving banners, the groups faced each other -- one on the left, the other on the right, with only a few nervous-looking stragglers wandering the gap of barren middle ground.

While Bush bashers gathered on the southwest corner of Ocean Park and 31st Street waving placards criticizing his policies, the president’s fans chanted and stomped across the street, holding welcome banners and "Luvya Dubya" posters.

As their shouts bounced across the empty stretch of 31st Street that separated them, a few police officers paced the protest lines to make sure no one stepped into the road.

Photos by Susan Reines

The protesters and counter-protesters came from around the county to show their love or loathing for the president, even though Bush was not scheduled to drive past the street corner.

The location was chosen because it was at a visible intersection near the president's campaign event, a spokeswoman for the anti-Bush rally said.

Raul Almada said he drove from Whittier, on the east side of Los Angeles, to march with the anti-Bush camp. "I wanted to make sure we greeted our dear president properly," he said.

Almada, like the others on his side of the street, expressed more than a little distrust of the president.

"To me, he is a criminal," Almada said.

The Bush protesters held signs berating nearly every aspect of the president's policies.

Some -- like the demonstrator holding a sign that read “Outsource Bush” -- decried the president’s passive reaction to American businesses sending jobs overseas.

Others, inflamed that the California Supreme Court had earlier in the day nullified the gay marriages performed in San Francisco in February, protested the president's stance against gay marriage.

But protest of the war in Iraq, the issue that has dominated the campaign thus far, took center stage on the anti-Bush side of the street.

Dan, a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War who declined to give his last name, held an enormous anti-G.W. Bush poster over his head. He said Bush had been "frivolous with the military force."

"And a lot of my friends are getting shot and killed over there for a war that I think is frivolous," Dan said.

On the other side of the street, sentiments couldn't have been more different.

"I think the country's a lot safer," said Ed Reif of Pacific Palisades.

Reif said reading excerpts from Unfit for Command, a book written by Vietnam veterans that questions whether Democratic Candidate Senator John F. Kerry deserved the Purple Hearts he received in Vietnam, had entirely changed his views of Kerry's ability to be Commander-in-Chief and convinced him that Bush "is the best man for the job."

Asked about the military credentials of Bush, who stayed in the United States and did minimal duty with the Air National Guard instead of serving in Vietnam, Reif said Bush has not tried, as Kerry has, to make military service a cornerstone of his campaign.

"That's something that Kerry wanted to bring out. So be careful what you wish for," Reif said.

Not everyone on the anti-Bush corner was enamored with Kerry, either.

Los Angeles resident Karl Swinehart, carrying a sign endorsing independent candidate Ralph Nader, said Kerry's positions were "fundamentally the same as Bush's" in that both have supported military action in Iraq and deploying more spies in the Middle East.

Nader has sought to differentiate himself from both Bush and Kerry by adamantly opposing the war.

"I think if the public were presented with the platforms of Bush, Kerry, and Nader, Nader would win this election," Swinehart said.

Voters in California will most likely not be presented with all three platforms, because Nader failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot as an independent candidate and would have to convince a party to put him on its ticket in order to run.

The deep emotions running through this year's campaign were evident in the breakdown of a "gentlemen's agreement" that Bush and anti-Bush camps would stay on their own corners.

A Bush protestor stole across the street and wiggled his way into the heart of the Republican crowd, holding his anti-Bush poster high above his head; shouts broke out as Bush supporters threatened to have him arrested and tried to cover his sign with their own.

Across the street, people holding "Viva Bush" signs summoned disgusted looks as they snaked through the anti-Bush crowd with their placards raised.

Passengers of a car waiting in traffic dangled Bush posters out their windows as they passed the anti-Bush protestors.

Shouts of "Go back to Orange County! We don't want you here!" rang out.

Bush's visit to Santa Monica came just a day after Kerry stopped in town. Bush also went to Nevada earlier Thursday, where Kerry had been Wednesday. Both candidates planned to be in Portland Friday.

The frequency with which Bush has arrived in cities just after Kerry leaves them has prompted speculation that the Bush camp is following Kerry, trying to get in the last word after Kerry leaves.

Both Bush and Kerry have spent considerable time in California during the campaign, even though the state is considered to be a sure-win for Kerry, because Californians have kept the donations flowing.

Press reports announced this week that Kerry had raised over $47 million in California, more than any other candidate has ever collected in a single state. Bush has received over $31 million in California donations, the second-highest amount ever raised in a single state.

Santa Monica ranked fifth in a list of zip codes that gave the most money to Kerry.

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