On Saturday April 28, 2007, 1,500 Miami Dade College students participated in a graduation ceremony featuring guest speaker, President Bush. Despite the Miami Herald’s predictions that Bush would receive "more cheers than heckles," in visiting the school, a group of people equal in size to the number of graduates greeted the president with a criminal’s welcome on the hottest day of the year. On the same day activists in cities across the country took to the streets calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney, more than a thousand people confronted Bush with a wall of opposition along the entry way of the college’s Kendall, Florida campus.
In an April 27 article, "Cheers likely for Bush at MDC speech," the Miami Herald quoted accounting and economics teacher, Maria Mari saying, "This is a commuter school. Students don’t stick around” to plan protests. Yet, the number of young protestors was equal if not greater than the number of aged activists. Luis Cuevas, Florida state coordinator of the Progressive Democrats of America, was specifically impressed by the turn-out of young activists. "I think it’s a wonderful experience to see so many people, particularly very young people, present at this place," he said.
First-time protestor, 25-year-old Miami resident, Cassandra Wendels, said the event was both positive and empowering. "This is actually my first event," she said. "It’s nice to feel so much energy from other people so that it makes the whole point stronger. And it’s nice to know you’re not sitting home and watching the shit on TV that you’re actually there, you’re in it. I’m going to get off my couch a lot more and make a whole lot of other people get off of their couches a lot more and be here."
Wendels said that she felt her presence at the rally was meaningful because it would embolden others. "I feel like if me being here, if two or three other people see me here then two other people will come next time and it just makes it stronger. So everybody has to do there part. Everybody has to be here."
Responding to the Herald’s contention that Bush was almost guaranteed a friendly welcome, Miami Beach resident, Dave Patlack, said he felt like protesters stood up to the paper’s challenge. "This is hugely successful," he said. "The Miami Herald, on Friday, threw down the gauntlet to South Florida activists and said, show it. And we did, today. This is the largest outpouring against Bush we’ve had in Miami Dade county. This is a blue county and we don’t want Bush here. He’s a bad example for the commencement. This should be a day of celebration for the students, their family, the staff, the teachers. But today we feel the pain that Bush brought to this country through his lies, through his integrity loss, through the terrors that he has brought throughout the world."
Despite the solid showing from a city often labeled as politically-apathetic, many news reports failed to portray the event accurately. In its online story, "Protestors Greet President Bush With Jeers," posted the same day of the event, CBS 4, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, inaccurately reported that only "dozens of protestors voiced their disapproval of the President’s actions in Iraq," while Bush delivered his commencement speech (Apr 28, 2007, http://cbs4.com/local/local_story_118193421.html). The short article went on to distortedly note, "Not everyone at the protest had something bad to say about Mr. Bush. Even though they were in the minority, there were some people who had nothing but good things to say about the President’s performance."
In actuality, at the height of the event, around 5pm, less than half-dozen Bush supporters waded through a sea of more than 1,000 anti-Bush protestors. In one particular instance, a group of young activists shadowed a lone Bush supporter chanting, "Republicans for Peace." In other instances Bush supporters were so outnumbered that they appeared to number among anti-Bush protestors.
While the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, in its story had no trouble reporting that the president spoke to "1600 of the College’s 8,000 graduates," the paper demeaned the protest twice stating that "hundreds of protestors" had gathered outside of the college. ("At Miami-Dade Graduation, Bush Talks Immigration," April 30, 2007, http://www.hispanicbusiness.com/news/newsbyid.asp?id=63105).
Meanwhile, TV stations and newspapers around the state and nation ran the Associated Press’s take on the event, which underestimated protest attendance to be "about 600 people."
One of the event’s many organizers, Simon Rose, press secretary for Democracy for America, Miami, believes inaccurate crowd estimates are unforgivable.
"Before you site a number, if you say hundreds then you better make darn sure you’ve counted the number of people rather than arbitrary throwing out a number. I know several people who counted well over a thousand."
At the start of the event, around 3pm, Rose led a group of about 300 marchers to the main entrance and was surprised at those already gathered in front to the school. "When we marched around the corner, came around 97th avenue onto Killian to go to the main entrance, I couldn’t believe how many people were already there. Instantly, the number doubled to about 500. And people just kept coming and coming."
Even more important than the media’s low-balling of protest attendance, Rose believes the ratio of supporters to detractors was the real story that went unreported. "What was really significantly is that there were over 1,000 protestors against his policies as opposed to maybe half-a-dozen supporters," said Rose. "Later in the protest a few of them walked away, leaving about three.
"To me, it is almost shameful that the media isn’t reporting that, the tremendous ratio of protestors versus supporters. Frankly, I expected a lot more supporters of the president to show up. I felt very good about how few did show-up, it’s so telling."
Among those at the event were Miami Dade College graduates, punk rock musicians performing anti-war anthems, bullhorn bellowers clamoring for impeachment, college and high school students, members of the Unitarian Universialists, a couple holding helium field balloons with ‘Impeach’ slogans, and middle aged men and women across the ethnic spectrum.
Brad Shaw, an African-American Miami local, said he came to the protest to "stop Bush and his crimes against us all." "He needs to respect us all," said Shaw. Adding, "Bring our troops home, they need to come home and see their kids, they need to be back home with us."
Graduate art student, Jacqueline Gopie , who attends Miami’s Florida International University, set-up her paper-mache anti-Bush work on the side of the road. Describing the piece Gopie said: "I have a cartoon that Jim Moran did where one hand he’s bleeding Iraq, he’s like ‘oh I can’t’; this is the first time he’s ever enacted the veto and this is what he uses it for. So I just put all of these articles of people, the names of the dead, people who have been killed, various stories about the Iraq war and just put them all over his body to show how hypocritical it is."
"It’s in reaction to the statement Bush made when he signed a veto of a bill that was going to increase funding for stem-cell research," she said. "He said he didn’t want to allow stem-cell research because it would mean the murdering of innocent lives, and this is four-years into the Iraq war and I just thought that is so hypocritical how could you even say that."
Gainesville resident, Cuevas bolstered the event’s impeachment theme dressing as an imprisoned Dick Cheney. "This is part of the backbone campaign–Chaingang.org–we carry across the country to places where there are activities," he said. "And what we want to do is attract attention to the problems and to the individuals that have caused it. And at the same time to bring attention to the activities of the activists who are against the war."
When all was said and done, co-organizer Rose felt the event was successful in more than one way. Not only had over a thousand people come out in 90-degree weather to unwelcome Bush from his Miami visit, Rose believes the event an indication that Miami is a city waking from its slumber. "This was by far the largest demonstration in the county since the FTAA protest," he said. "Miami is always being accused of being apathetic and so many people turned out for this thing. That’s a story in itself about Miami, that Miami is getting the message."
Rose added that it’s no small accomplishment that the president "snuck in from the North end" of the campus" so as to avoid the wrath of the American people.
What good had a dictator for the opinions of his subjects anyway?