200 Protestors Greet the President in Greeley

A raucous but peaceful crowd of 200 area residents protested a Republican rally with President Bush at the entrance of Island Grove Event Center in Greeley on a gloomy Saturday morning.

Dodging stray rain drops and a steady stream of cars on the busy street, the protestors ranged in age from an infant snuggled into a car seat to an 80-year-old woman hoisting a homemade cardboard sign to frequent car horn approval.

While the head count on the street was easy to document, local newsreports varied wildly on the number of Republican party members who actually attended the rally.

The Weld County Republican Party told Colorado Confidential that 6,000 tickets had been distributed by late Friday evening with additional 550 available the morning of the event. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave’s campaign parroted the party’s figure to the Greeley Tribune. In an article by the Coloradoan 5,000 people were reportedly on hand. The Island Grove facilities manager and Greeley police both reported a crowd of 2,800.

In any case, the small turnout is an embarrassment to the White House and the Colorado Republican Party. More than 8,000 party faithful crowded into the same venue when the president’s first visited Greeley in 2004 to stump for Marilyn Musgrave. “Tell me what democracy looks like! We know what democracy looks like!”
Sara Zarate was emphatic when referring to the 2000 election. “We got cheated. Gore was winning and Bush fixed it to get elected.”

Standing with her three small children in the front yard of her modest home across the street from Island Grove, she had a bird’s-eye view of the protest. Zarate also had clear opinions about the president’s stance on immigration. “He said something to help the immigrants and then turned around and did something else. People are here to work and they work hard. What’s wrong with helping people here now?,” she complained.

Standing just a few feet away from Zarate and her family was Renate, who declined to give her last name. “I’m not happy with the direction of the country,” she said. At 80 years old, Renate has a long history of exercising her right to dissent. She said that her concerns about the erosion of civil liberties drove her to come to the protest with her homemade sign and a bagful of cookies that she cheerfully shared with the other protestors.

Gene also had his own series of handcrafted signs and printed bumperstickers “Vote G.O.P. Get a War for Free!” He described himself as passionate about the war. It’s been botched. It had possibilities to be noble but it turned to nothing,” he said.

Near Gene were two Eric Eidsness supporters lofting distinctive orange “Eric 4 Congress” signs.

Eric and Scott, both unaffiliated voters from Fort Collins, ironically decided to join the protestors to give voice to a candidate gunning for the protest vote. Both agreed that they were disappointed across the board with the major parties because of corporate influences and the Republicans disregard for science. “We want people to know there is an alternative for people who are unhappy with Musgrave,” said Scott.

“Marilyn Musgrave go away! Sexist! Racist! Anti-Gay!”
As the traffic picked up on the street, car horns honked in affirmation of the crowd. Shouts and chants punctuated the air as neighbors wandered out of their homes and more protestors parked their liberal bumpersticker-festooned cars on the side streets near 11th Avenue.

Practicing what he preaches is very important to Rev. Steve Brown, the pastor of Family of Christ Presbyterian Church in Greeley for the last 21 years. Sporting a crown, cape and glittery styrofoam sceptre, Brown was circumspect. “There are many Christian denominations that are not in agreement with the evangelicals. I’m here to support Referendum I.” Brown complained about the “complicity, deceit, and duplicity” of the Republican party with respect to the $8.7 trillion of national debt.

As typical of most teenagers, Brown’s 15-year-old daughter and her friends stood across the street with other young people leading protest cheers. Hanging with your dad even when he’s dressed up as a monarch and holding a “Democracy not Theocracy” sign is just not cool.

Other kids, thought, stayed close to their families. Interestingly, some youngsters were actively engaged in the protest instead of being dragged there by the activist parents.

Raoul is an outspoken 12-year-old student at Billie Martinez Elementary School. He brought his parents and shy younger brother who held a Ritter for Governor sign on the street. “I’m angry that Congress doesn’t want to fix the immigration problem,” he said. “We want a Congress for everybody.” He said he thinks it’s good for kids to protest and was eager to talk to his friends at school about his experience.  While his parents didn’t speak much English, they beamed proudly while Raoul talked confidently about taking his place in our democracy.

Even the little ones, got into the spirit. Like 3-year-old Eyvi draped in an over-sized “Vote Early” and “No Marilyn Musgrave” tee shirt that nearly touched the ground save for his new Superman slippers peeking underneath. He and his sisters eagerly gobbled down chocolate cookies provided by Renate.

“Baa. Baa. Baa.”
Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly red, white, and blue-clad adult rally attendees weren’t amused by the cute little kids and boisterous “welcoming committee” that awaited them at the gates of Island Grove baa-ing at them like sheep as they drove away. Several flipped off the protestors as they left the grounds. Others yelled “get a job” to the bemused liberals who countered with “I have two to keep my kids fed!”

The war of words didn’t dampen the excitment of cub scouts Austin and Bryan from Fort Collins Pack 98. It was their first presidential encounter.

“It was a little weird. Sort of. Like weirdly exciting,” said Austin, who won’t be eligible to vote for another eight years.

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Wendy Norris

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