Hundreds of protesters wielded signs, chanted slogans and argued with each other Tuesday outside Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, while President Barack Obama spoke about housing and the economy inside.
Students, activists, curiosity-seekers and motorcade-junkies, some from as far away as California and Black Canyon City, thronged the sidewalks as rain drizzled from gray skies.
“Joe Arpaio for President!” one group called.
“Don’t be weak, pipelines leak!” yelled another.
“Yes we did, twice!” chanted a third.
Environmentalists competed with “tea-party” members and immigration foes for attention to issues ranging from climate change to Obama’s ethnicity.
Angry with policies
Tim Ray, who lost a home in the West Valley during the housing crisis, sat outside the school for hours before the president’s arrival.
“They enacted all of these programs and the president’s going to talk about them, but they haven’t helped anyone,” Ray said.
Ray’s friend, Roland McNew, held a sign that read, “The O.C.C. refuses to help homeowners,” referring to the Officer of the Comptroller of the Currency, and “Bank of America made a joke of HAMP, ” referring to the Home Affordable Modification Program.
Tempe resident Doug Bland, a member of Arizona Interfaith Power & Light, and Mesa resident Laurel Hardina, chairwoman of the Green Sanctuary Group in Chandler, said decimating forests for fossil fuels must end.
“Fossil fuel is leaking up through the ground in Alberta, Canada, where they are razing trees,” said Hardina, whose sign featured a dinosaur and the saying, “Dinosaurs Disapprove.”
Also, the Sierra Club, 350.org and CREDO protested any extension of the Keystone pipeline, even if it is not in Arizona, because “we still experience the effects of climate change,” said Josette Madonia of Tempe.
Racially-charged sentiment infused the protests and split the crowd both politically and physically. Obama supporters congregated on the west side of the road in front of the high school and his critics lined up across the street.
Obama foes at one point sang, “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” a derogatory reference to the president’s skin color, while protesters like Deanne Bartram raised a sign saying, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”
Many on both sides wore red, white and blue and carried small flags.
“It just kind of happened naturally,” said Michael Pomales of how the opposing sides separated. Pomales, an 18-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident who graduated in the spring from Desert Vista High, said he decided to join the protesters side “to spread a little love” as the crowds began shouting at each other.
Pomales said his response to people yelling for Obama to go back from where he came from is simple: “He’s a great man. He cares about what I care about, education, jobs. He’s our president. He’s an American.”
Deanna Bartram, a 17-year-old University of Arizona student from Black Canyon City, lashed out at people who call her racist for not supporting Obama. She believes Obama supporters use the “race card” against her because they disagree with her political message.
“Obama is ruining American values. He is ruining the Constitution. He needs to go back to where he came from because obviously, he is a liar,” she said. “I am not racist. I am part Indian. Obama’s half Black, half White.”
“He’s 47 percent Negro,” shouted Ron Enderle, a 77-year-old Chandler resident who said that he and his son served as Marines and his grandson is currently serving in the Marines.
Enderle criticized the president mishandling security at the U.S. Benghazi Embassy.
“My grandson is third generation Marine, and it bothers me to have this man as our commander in chief. I’m ashamed,” Enderle said.
Judy Burris said that she blames Obama for racism in America reaching heights not seen since the 1960s Civil-Rights Era.
“We have gone back so many years,” she said. “He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”
She said that she brought her 12-year-old grandson Christian Cabrera to the protests because she thought it would be educational.
“He’s Mexican,” she said of her grandson.
Cabrera said he wanted to accompany his grandma “so I could protest about impeaching Obama.”
Immigration was also part of the debate.
Victor Cos, from Los Angeles, called Obama a “dictator in chief” and said he supports Joe Arpaio for president to keep crime rates low.
On the other extreme, Puente Arizona demanded an end to deportations, saying breadwinners are shipped off at the expense of their dependents.
“Right now, we are dealing with a separation of families,” said volunteer Josh Mercado. “The breadwinners are getting deported and the kids are the most affected. Arizona feels working is a crime.”
As some Obama supporters called, “Obama!,’’ detractors shouted, “Sucks!”
Bill Freitag of Gilbert likes Obama so much he dressed like an Obama bobble head.
Dorn Cook of Gilbert said, “he’s the best president we’ve had for a while. He’s much better than Bush.”
Jonathan Rines, a retired member of the U.S. Navy, and his wife, Angelica, said they support Obama and were appalled at some of the negativity in the crowd, especially the “Bye Bye Black Sheep” singing.
“There’s so much extremism in Arizona,” said Jonathan. “The people who are doing that are a vocal minority.”
Obama fans outnumbered foes on the streets nearest the motorcade as it departed, filling the air with cheers as the president left.