Iowa City — President Barack Obama appeared at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the University of Iowa Field House, bringing full circle his health care pledge made during the campaign in an address at the University of Iowa campus.
Air Force One landed in Cedar Rapids, 21 miles away on I380, at 12:05 p.m. and the motorcade proceeded to the University’s old basketball facility, since supplanted by Carver Hawkeye Arena, which was built during the Lute Olson coaching years.
While Obama was speaking inside, explaining the health care initiative that is being challenged by at least 13 states as of last count, demonstrators gathered outside the old Field House, with the “pro-Obama” forces on one side of the street, closest to the Field House, and the “anti-Obama” Teabaggers on the other side of the median. The Tea Partiers carried bullhorns and posters depicting Obama as Hitler and decrying him as a “dictator.”
My favorite sign: Generic Protest Poster.
There were approximately 300 demonstrators (both pro and con) gathered at the entrance to the fieldhouse before I arrived, but the bullhorn-toting anti forces seemed to be more belligerent and out-of-control than the pro Obama defenders on the west side of the median. Earlier, a shoving match/fight had broken out on the median and police moved in to declare it a “no standing” zone.
I spoke with Tom (no last name given) from Dubuque, Iowa, who said he distributes construction and industrial supplies. I asked him if he had been to any other Obama rallies and he said he had not. While I was speaking to Tom, a TV cameraman filmed him and another gentleman took his picture. Tom said, “This poster seems to be getting a lot of attention today.” The well-dressed gentleman who had just taken Tom’s picture said, “Why wouldn’t it? It’s pretty outrageous.” The man who had just taken the picture did not sound amused. Then he moved on, and so did I.
Next, I spoke with Don Blackford, a federal government employee in Omaha who is originally from Logan, Iowa. When I asked Don his intentions this day, he said, “I’m just here for the Constitution. What is right, what is wrong.” (Good question; no answer immediately given.) Missouri Valley native Sheila Murphy , who was standing with Guy Williams (Obama = dictator sign) said, “People don’t see what it costs, so they think it’s fine. It’s not fine.” Guy is a fireman, but he retires in three months, he said.
On the opposite side of the median stood Tom Cigrand, an informatics major (whatever that is; I asked and Tom said, “It’s new.”) at the University of Iowa, Elliott Beenk, a mechanical engineering major at Iowa, and Gabe DeJong, a journalism major with the sign bearing the legend, “Don’t sell my grandmother into prostitution.”
I ambled over from the bullhorn side of the median to ask the trio, who were standing on the pro-Obama side of the street, what their intentions were this day. The college students said, “We’re trying to show how ridiculous the other side is. We just wanted to come out to poke fun at the Tea Party guys.” On the pro-Obama side of the street also stood Sharon Holle of Davenport, Iowa, a Democratic activist who wore a shirt supportive of Obama’s health care initiative and said that her mother had died of cancer and she had just buried her sister-in-law, also dying from the same disease, a few days earlier. Sharon and a girlfriend who said she had been “working on health care for the past two years” as an activist from Davenport were incredulous at the arguments the bullhorn-carrying Tea Party types were shouting through their miked megaphones.
I decided it was time to find out who the annoying guy with the bullhorn was. He was loud and proud and bearded and wearing a bandanna. His name was Larry Aden and he was from Jolley, Iowa, a farmer and manufacturing engineer. Larry also took part in the rally in Washington, D.C., in September. Larry was not at all jolly as he periodically harangued the crowd in a very loud voice. (Message unclear; too loud to distinguish the words.)
Shortly after 2 p.m., just as my camera batteries died, the motorcade bearing Obama pulled out and headed back to the Cedar Rapids airport near Ely. If my camera had been working, you’d be seeing a picture of the president waving at me as he drove by, but, instead, you’re seeing these pictures of the protesters in Iowa City.