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Security Thwarts Anti-War Protesters' Attempt to Send a Message to President Bush

By Eric Allen Hatch | Posted 10/9/2002

As President Bush and Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich presided over a $1,250-a-plate fund-raiser at the Hyatt Regency on Oct. 2, there was another very different meal being served on the sidewalk outside. Food Not Bombs was serving free meals to the roughly 200 protesters who gathered at the nearby corner of Light and Pratt streets to send an anti-war message to the president. The group entrenched on the corner, representing a wide range of organizations and concerns, tried to present a unified front in its criticism of Bush and his plans for war against Iraq. Unfortunately for the protesters, Bush was not to hear their chanting or see their banners that night.

Chants of "War is idiotic, peace is patriotic!" erupted several times during the protest, which began around 4 p.m. and lasted for about three hours. Some protesters described potential military action against Iraq as a political war that would serve the interests of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Others said it would be a war for oil, and that it would hurt, not help, the American people.

The protesters occupied several street nearby corners, until police began corralling them at the corner of Light and Pratt streets in front of Harborplace. Some didn't want to move. Morgan Wheeler, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wanted to protest closer to the Hyatt's rear entrance, where dozens of Ehrlich supporters--mostly young, conservatively dressed, and white--gathered. "See, the police represent the monied interests," Wheeler stated as he was escorted to Light and Pratt. "We just want to share the spotlight." Wheeler noted the diversity of the crowd of protesters and said, "[I] don't think Bush or Ehrlich represent the best interests of Maryland or this country."

As police moved protesters from the Hyatt (officers said that, from a safety perspective, it would be unwise to allow the protesters and Ehrlich supporters to mingle), several officers assured protesters that their new position would still be "highly visible."

Highly visible to the public, perhaps, but not to the president's motorcade. The protest seemed to lose steam around 6, as participants concluded that the president had bypassed them completely. The Sun reported the next morning that the presidential motorcade had arrived at the Hyatt's rear entrance, far from where the protesters had been placed by police.

Ehrlich supporters, on the other hand, were led by police to the rear entrance of the hotel, where they had a clear view of Bush's arrival. Shareese DeLeaver, deputy communications director for the Ehrlich campaign, denies that there was a deliberate attempt to shield Bush from his critics. She says that the pro-Ehrlich demonstrators were relocated to the rear of the hotel because they were slowing the Secret Service's ability to process the fund- raiser's paying guests, who arrived at the front entrance.

As Bush's motorcade finally exited onto southbound Light Street, protesters redoubled their efforts to be heard: "No blood for oil!" they chanted.

Many who participated in the protests viewed the day's proceedings as an opportunity to draw attention to an anti-war march on Washington, scheduled for Oct. 26. Activists are hoping the march will draw numbers comparable to the 150,000 anti-war protesters who recently marched on London. "If the president doesn't see us here, he'll hear us in D.C. on Oct. 26," said Andre Powell of the All People's Congress. Powell said that he believes the U.S. embargo on Iraq itself constitutes an act of war.

Protesters continued to chant until dusk, as the fund-raiser's guests departed the hotel. As one young protester cleaned up the signs and banners, he watched well-heeled attendees, who helped raise $1.8 million for the Ehrlich campaign, walk off into the evening. "They could've eaten our food for free," he said.

"They wouldn't want to eat our food," another bemused protester replied.

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