Demonstrators assemble next to debate venue

More than 350 people assembled at Washington University’s Public Viewing Area to express their opinions and political dissent Oct. 2 during the hours leading up to the vice presidential debate at Washington University.

The area, located on the corner of Forsyth and Big Bend boulevards, was situated on the University’s Intramural Field.

The public viewing area on the Intramural Field provided a forum for many protestors to speak and express a variety of opinions.

“We wanted to dedicate an area in proximity to the Athletic Complex where people could have their voices heard,” said Don Strom, chief of University Police.

Julie Thornton, the area’s coordinator and director of student activities, said, “Because of the high security of the debate, we want to make sure everything was happening in one particular area. We wanted there to be a dialogue, and this was the forum to do that.”

Starting at 4 p.m., a variety of groups took the area’s stage. The Energy Action Coalition/ group set up papier-mache wind turbines and advocated the importance of wind power, solar energy, clean coal and hybrid/electric vehicles.

“Our group is seeking to establish 5 million new green jobs and a clean energy corps similar to the ones established during the New Deal era,” said Kassie Rohrbach, co-director for the coalition.

The Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition delivered a speech that railed against Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, while a group representing Planned Parenthood jeered and shouted back.

The Missouri Every Child Matters group had a strong contingent present, including children, and assembled to show the importance of funding programs that deal with children’s issues such as abuse, neglect, education, poverty and health care.

The nonpartisan Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease promoted awareness of preventable diseases.

“Companies that invest in prevention see more efficiency, less absenteeism and reduced health-care costs,” said Ann Mangelsdorf of the Arthritis Foundation. “We can reduce $260 billion in health-care costs by investing in prevention.”

Other groups present included Falun Dafa, the Chinese spiritual movement that faces oppression from China’s government; the Libertarian Party, supporting their candidate, Bob Barr, as an alternative to “McBama”; and a group of local women who had recently joined together as Mothers and Others Against Palin.

“We need to make it clear that Sarah Palin doesn’t represent our values,” said Shannon Davis, a stay-at-home mom from Webster Groves, Mo.

Palin remained a hot topic during the afternoon. Demonstrators sold pro-Palin T-shirts that featured Palin shooting a rifle and calling her the “Palinator.” Also, near campus, two people opposing Palin donned costumes — one was dressed as a polar bear with a sign reading, “Polar Bears Against Palin,” while the other was dressed as a moose, with a sign reading, “Sarah Palin Killed My Baby.”

Nearby, on the west side of Big Bend at the entrance of Northmoor, a peace rally was held by the Instead of War coalition, with the majority of the crowd supporting Obama. Speakers included Melanie Schause, a woman suffering from end-stage breast cancer and in need of health care; Mamie Turner, an unemployed woman facing foreclosure; and John Johnson, father of LaVena Johnson, a soldier who died in Iraq. The cause of her death has been a source of controversy. Johnson described the forensic details of his daughter’s death and demanded an investigation.

Each speaker was given a mock ticket to the vice presidential debate, and, at 6:22 p.m., the group began marching north on Big Bend toward the police barricade, demanding to be let in. Drums, chants and comments to the police ensued.

At 6:35 p.m., Bill Ramsey, leader of the rally, said, “This is an empty road that leads nowhere, a space with barricades to keep people from people. Let’s move from this dead space to one of forthrightness and collegiality.” The group then left the area to continue the rally at the Delmar Loop.

Four WUSTL students calling themselves Stig’s Old Hat played their brand of bluegrass-styled music as the gathering died down.

The area was mostly empty at 6:59 p.m. when a group of more than 100 people wearing yellow T-shirts that read “Fire Fighters for Obama/Biden” marched north on Big Bend to the police barricade. They mingled cordially with each other and with the police on the other side of the barricade.