Thursday, September 02, 2004

THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION: PROTESTERS KEPT AWAY FROM N.M. DELEGATES

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Sept. 2, 2004

NEW YORK _ Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to demonstrate against the Republican National Convention this weekend. More than a thousand protesters were arrested for acts of civil disobedience earlier this week.

And almost everywhere one walks in this city there’s someone carrying an anti-Bush or anti-GOP sign -- and sometimes haranguing convention-goers.

At a reception at the Haier Building on Broadway for western state delegates Wednesday, a lone demonstrator in a T-shirt that said “Fuck Bush” yelled obscenities at guests standing in the line going in.

“Republicans go home,” he bellowed. “Pick someone else’s tragedy to exploit,” he said, apparently referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which has been a constant theme at the convention.

However members of New Mexico’s delegation said Wednesday that they’ve had few if any encounters with demonstrators this week.

“I think the police are doing an excellent job keeping the protesters away from us,” said Sherolyn Smith DeSantis of Albuquerque.

John Gonzales of San Ildefonso Pueblo said the closest thing to protesters he’s seen is a group of bicyclists riding down the street yelling at pedestrians to vote.

“They weren’t saying anything anti-Bush or anti-Republican,” Gonzales said.

And in a city with a 5-to-1 Democratic registration advantage, New Mexico’s delegates said they’ve had mainly positive interactions with the locals.

Rick Lopez of Santa Fe said the only protesters he’s come across were near the Majestic Theatre Sunday when he and other New Mexico delegates went to see a performance of The Phantom of the Opera.

“On the way over to the theater, we discussed it with the delegates from Oklahoma and other states that if we came across any we’d only engage in positive conversation with them,” Lopez said.

On Tuesday night he got to put that into practice. “When we were strolling over to have our pictures taken, a woman whispered in my ear, `How can you support Bush when he hasn’t done anything for Native Americans?’”

Lopez, who is state director of the farm Service Agency for the federal Department of Agriculture, said he told the woman about specific programs aimed at American Indians, specifically the Navajo tribe.

Though the conversation started out on a hostile note, it ended up friendly, Lopez said.

Lopez said he and other New Mexico delegates did volunteer work Tuesday -- reading to children and distributing bags of food to neighborhood residents at the Latino Pastoral Action Center in the Bronx. The center is a Pentecostal group that has several social programs.

Lopez, who was wearing a Bush T-shirt said several people in the neighborhood and on the subway back to his hotel asked him why he was supporting Bush. But the conversation, he said, was civil.

“A lot of people asked how things are going at the convention,” he said.

However, DeSantis said she had an unpleasant conversation with a New York taxi driver earlier this week.

“He was telling me his views on President Bush,” she said. “And he raised his voice

DeSantis said at first she tried to ignore the driver. “I knew he wasn’t going to change my mind and I wasn’t going to change his,” she said.

But she felt compelled to stand up for Bush when the driver referred to the President as a “criminal.”

At the end of the ride, she said, she gave the driver a tip despite the political argument.

“He was extremely surprised,” DeSantis said. “He said, `You left me a good tip.’ I said, `It’s a free country. You’re entitled to your opinion.’ "

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