America is diverse! Yes it's true. For proof, we present a list, with commentary, of the various demographics we encountered at Friday night's catch-all protest of Nancy Pelosi's arrival at the Irvine Hilton for a Democratic Party of OC event:
Tea-baggers/Republicans/"patriots." Call them what you want, but boy are they mad. The majority of the protesters were of the sort we saw on tax day '09, sans adorable colonial garb. The signs were the same--railing against spending, immigration and "socialism"--but the ratio of anti-Pelosi to anti-Obama slogans was, understandably, skewed for this event. I asked a woman holding a sign featuring Pelosi drawn as a troll about what brought her out. She said she had "always" thought that government was bad but, lately, she's really been thinking it! Wasn't quite sure why. Something about Obama.
9/11 Truthers. They held a big black banner painted with the words "CAN 2 PLANES BLOW UP 3 BUILDINGS?" Which makes me wonder: Is that really an effective slogan/question? I'd think most people, knowing the banner was referring to 9/11 but not having any idea what WTC Building 7 is, would just think of the people holding the banner as confused and unable to count. There were four planes hijacked that day, after all.
I asked one of the guys holding the banner, Todd McCain of Cypress, whether his group's cause had lost steam at all since Bush left office. He said no; Obama's been great for truthers. "I feel we're having better success than ever now," McCain said. "We used to get flicked off all the time. Now we get honked at." Another woman, Lorri Bethel of Costa Mesa, spent about 10 minutes telling me about how Obama's reign was just a phase of the "neo-Malthusian" new world plot. And she said she was "pro-freedom, pro-Consitution," a line so familiar that I had to ask whether she considered herself part of the tea party movement. "No," she sighed regretfully. "The tea party's unfortunately been hijacked by the Republican party."
Abortion-rights activists. Yup, Planned Parenthood and National Organization for Women supporters stood shoulder to shoulder with the 'baggers, holding signs asking Pelosi to "keep your promise" and saying "Stupak NEVER!" That's a reference to the so-called "Stupak Amendment" in the House of Representatives' version of the health care reform bill; the amendment would sharply limit insurance coverage for abortion procedures.
I spoke with Stephanie F. Kight, senior vice president of community affairs for Planned Parenthood Orange and San Bernandino counties. She said that while her protesters got some accusations of socialism lobbed at them by the anti-Pelosi crowd, it was actually a nice change of pace from the rabid anti-abortion activists they usually had to contend with. Why come out for a protest that's going to be filled with people on the other side of the aisle? "It's important to let Nancy Pelosi know there are people who love her," Kight said. Awww.
Birthers. Actually, we can't prove this one. Orly Taitz, despite what she had earlier indicated on her blog, was a no-show. And I didn't see one birth-certificate-related sign. But given the poll numbers, you know there had to be a few "eligibility" skeptics there.
Random liberal activist groups. I saw a few members of the Orange County Equality Coalition (you might remember them from a recent Weekly cover story) lobbying, as always, for marriage equality. I also saw one sign for single-payer health care. Now that's radical!
LaRouchies. The sexiest posters for anyone looking to take pictures or come to the conclusion that the discourse in America right now is terrible-just-terrible are the big, laminated portraits of Obama, decked in a well-trimmed Hitler 'stache, over the words "I've Changed." Two 20-something women were holding these signs on the very-public corner of MacArthur and Douglas. I asked them if they'd talk with me. "Uh, I don't do interviews," one said. "I'm shy." Shy? You're holding a large, beautifully made poster comparing Obama to the killer of millions of jews, and you're shy? She handed me a glossy pamphlet with the Obama-Hitler picture on this. It'll explain everything, she said. Then I saw it: "LaRouche Political Action Committee." Indeed, everything suddenly was explained.
The unions. Actually, THE union: the Service Employees International Union. Its members took up an entire corner on road entering the Hilton parking lot. And, impressively, its members were the loudest, banging drums and bells and shouting slogan that, for the most part, drowned out the tea partiers' "KILL THE BILL" yelling. This garnered plenty of sour looks from said tea partiers. One guy who was holding a big ole' star-spangled banner, seeing I was a journalist, made sure I'd make note of the fact that out of all the SEIU members that had showed up, not one was waving an American flag. Noted, sir!
The SEIU's crowd was melded with proponents for the DREAM Act, pending legislation which would provide a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. At one point, a lady--who later identified herself to me as construction-company owner Lynn Duthridge--came up to the SEIU crowd and got into a verbal confrontation with a young, glasses-wearing DREAM Act fellow. "SPEAK ENGLISH," she kept shouting. "No free lunches!" The DREAM dude wasn't really listening, he kept yelling back at her that she needed to "get educated." "Speak English!" she kept saying. Finally, the guy heard her. "What?" he asked. "We are speaking English." And, indeed, the SEIUers all around had been chanting "Yes we can" for the past few minutes.
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After the confrontation, I asked Duthridge why she was so worked up. "If you're having a protest in the US, speak English," she said. "Their signs are in Spanish and in, I don't know, Korean or whatever." She said that she saw all the pro-immigration, pro-union protesting as a desire for "free lunch." This healthcare plan that Obama's pushing--don't people realize that it has to be paid for, she wondered.
I gestured to the SEIU and Planned Parenthood crowds. Had she expected such a diverse crowd for this protest? She said no. What do you think is happening in America, I asked.
She looked around and seemed disgusted.
"It's a mess," she said. "I think it's a mess, and it's scary."