Presidential cheers and jeers

Inside Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium, a supportive crowd of business leaders and political supporters waited to hear President George Bush deliver what would be a 23-minute speech echoing many of the same lines and themes that he has been using to rally the nation.

“We will not tire. We will not falter and, my fellow Americans, we will not fail,” Bush told a crowd of roughly 3,700 invitees.

Outside, on the streets, Sacramento area residents excitedly clamored to see or be seen by a commander-in-chief who is leading the United States of America into the early stages of what he promises will be a long, difficult fight against the “evildoers” of the world, particularly those responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

Presidential visits usually carry an aura of gravitas. But as the nation moves from mourning to war and rallies around an increasingly popular president, Bush’s Sacramento stop last Wednesday—made en route to a trip to Asia—was an epic occasion to those who took to the streets.

“He looked right at us and waved,” enthused Ben James, a self-described “lifelong Republican” who was one of thousands that lined I Street. “Boy, that was exciting!”

Although the presidential motorcade route was kept secret for security reasons, the placement of street-blocking Regional Transit buses, police barricades and crowd movements lured supporters and the curious toward I Street.

And by 11:15 a.m., when a phalanx of California Highway Patrol and Secret Service officers sped down I Street to seal off every possible entry point, it was clear that the president was on his way. He arrived 15 minutes later in his black presidential limo, smiling and waving to the crowd as he passed.

“We prayed about it this morning,” was how Jean Hamilton said she selected I Street to convey her support to Bush. “We wanted to support our president.” She and her group held a large American flag and sign reading “We stand united praying for you.”

Such signs and shows of support dominated the motorcade route, largely because Sacramento Police officers on foot and horseback prevented protesters—who had massed at K and 16th streets, carrying signs like “Stop the Bombing” and “War Creates Terrorism”—from going within one block of the motorcade route (for more on that issue, read Capital Bites on page 10).

Yet isolated protesters did manage to make it over to the motorcade route, such as Michael Noble, who walked up I Street carrying a small sign that read “No More Innocent Victims,” and occasionally yelling out, “Murderers! Hypocrites!”

Those denied a chance to send their messages to the president were angry about being singled out. “I am really, really mad about this,” said activist Heidi McLean. “This is censorship.”