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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Disappointed Democrats protest Obama's SF visit

Disappointed Democrats protest Obama's SF visit

(10-25) 17:26 PDT SAN FRANCISCO --
In a powerful display of profound disappointment with President Obama, some of the Democratic Party's biggest donors gathered Tuesday - not inside his tony San Francisco fundraiser at the W Hotel, but outside on the sidewalks carrying signs in protest of his policies.
Occupy San Francisco protesters carry a sign during a protest outside of the W Hotel in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011. Medical marijuana supporters, antiwar protesters, and some nearby Occupy Wall Street campers, are expected to converge on President Obama's downtown San Francisco fundraiser on Tuesday. The medical marijuana supporters are upset with a current federal crackdown on marijuana.

"I don't even know what he stands for," said Susie Tompkins Buell, a co-founder of the Esprit de Corps clothing company and one of the most generous Democratic Party donors in the nation - instrumental in backing such powerhouse progressive organizations as the Democracy Alliance and Media Matters.

Tompkins Buell, a longtime friend of Hillary Rodham Clinton who was among the former presidential candidate's biggest donors in 2008, has long played a starring role in San Francisco as a hostess for presidents, top legislators and world leaders at fundraisers to generate money for progressive campaign causes.

But on Tuesday, instead of dining with the elite crowd of about 200 who paid at least $5,000 a head - and up to $7,500 for a photo with the president - at the two-hour luncheon, the Democratic activist, who could easily afford the fundraiser, said it was more important to stand outside with an estimated 1,000 demonstrators.

Her goal: to urge Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed 1,700-mile underground conduit linking the tar sand fields in Alberta, Canada to Texas refineries. Environmentalists say the pipeline would result in untold environmental damage. "I think this is a huge issue about our future, about the planet, not just America," she said. "And he needs to be a leader ... to have the awareness of it. To fight for it."

David des Jardins, a leading IT consultant who donated $60,000 to Democratic causes in 2010 alone, agreed.

"The concern of the donor community is that he really doesn't get the picture of how important this is," said des Jardins, also protested the Keystone project outside the W.

Variety of causes

While the largest faction rallied against the pipeline, there were also anti-war protesters; supporters of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of giving documents to WikiLeaks; people from the Occupy SF camp and a group protesting the Obama administration's recent crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries across California.

While the causes varied, many of the protesters at Third and Howard streets appeared to share a deep disappointment with Obama. While many said they were unprepared to support a Republican presidential candidate next year, some vowed to withhold money, volunteer time and manpower from Obama's campaign. Others considered sitting out the election altogether.

"I'm not writing a check to the president until he does something to stop the Keystone pipeline," said Anna Hawken McKay, wife of Rob McKay - a wealthy philanthropist whose father founded the Taco Bell empire. As she stood on the sidewalk with other protesters, McKay vowed to be part of a protest of 5,000 Americans who will circle the White House on Nov. 6 - a year to the day from the 2012 election.

With Obama's approval ratings at an all-time low, the choice of such wealthy Democratic donors to reject the opportunity to dine with their president while protesting his policies underscores his increasingly tenuous relations with his political base.

Opponent even worse

"If he says yes (to Keystone), I won't give him money," said Michael Kieschnick, president and co-founder of CREDO Mobile and Working Assets, which has donated $60 million to progressive causes, as he stood outside the W Hotel. Added Kieschnick, whose CREDO Action, the activist arm of his cellular service company, rallied a large band of protesters Tuesday: "But I'll work to defeat his opponent - who will be worse."

Kieschnick echoed the concerns of activists who said they are increasingly concerned that, with the approach of the 2012 election, the Democratic president has appeared too eager to mollify business interests and abandon his base - moves that have raised doubts about his core convictions.
"This is why we elected him as president. He ran understanding global warning and he can't blame anyone else," said Kieschnick who said his response to invitations to high-priced Obama's fundraisers like Tuesday's is "the same every time," he said. "Talk to me after you decide on Keystone."

Disappointed donor

Heidi Hess, a San Franciscan who contributed $4,600 to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, also doesn't know if she will contribute again. "It depends on what kind of president he is. I've been disappointed on a lot of issues," she said.

At an event before Obama's appearance, state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said he was part of the "loyal opposition" to Obama and asked him to "reign in" the Department of Justice. He said federal prosecutors were "acting like thugs" by threatening medical marijuana dispensaries with criminal charges and forfeiture of property, moves some Bay Area pot clubs said could force them to close.

But some protesters said they might stand with him - despite their disappointment.
Sue Shattuck, a retired teacher who lives in Danville, held a sign that asked Obama to protect Social Security. She wanted Obama to "please stand strong and fight for those things we elected you to do." She'll still vote for him, though, "because I'm very, very frightened of what the alternative would be."

The president arrived in the Bay Area Tuesday as part of a two-day California fundraising trip. Before his arrival in San Francisco, he taped an appearance on the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

Local media - print, radio, television, internet - were barred from covering the fundraiser. But according to the pool report from the small group of national media given access, Obama told donors present that "I know times are tough ... but change is hard. Change takes time. But change is possible."

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