KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine - The scene played out Saturday for what could be the last time: a sitting president visited Walker’ s Point, tourists held out hope of getting a glimpse of the president, and a group of noisy protesters paraded through the heart of town.
President Bush kept a low profile as 50 to 60 anti-war demonstrators marched to a police checkpoint less than a half-mile from his parents’ seaside home. The group chanted “Hands off Iran!” and “Jail to the Chief!” as tourists in this seaside community paused to gawk.
Within sight of Walker’ s Point, peace activist Laurie Dobson called for a moment of silence “for all the people this man has killed in his two terms in office.” Then Carlos Arredondo spoke of the loss of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, who was killed in Iraq on Aug. 25, 2004.
Then the group turned away.
For his part, Bush was making preparations for a wedding. A white tent was set up on the Walker’ s Point property for the reception for two White House staffers, one of them a distant Bush cousin. Offshore, a Coast Guard cutter and several smaller patrol boats stood watch.
The number of demonstrators who set out on the 2-mile march under overcast skies was far fewer than the 1,700 who gathered last summer when Bush met with Russia’ s Vladimir Putin.
The noisy march was organized by the Kennebunks Peace Department and coincided with a series of “Hands Off Iran” demonstrations over the weekend.
Heading up the parade was a “Hands Off Iran” banner and a giant dove made from white bed sheets that was held aloft by demonstrators. Arredondo drove a pickup truck with a coffin in the back. Behind the truck, in a trailer, were empty boots, crutches and a walker in a nod to wounded veterans.
Some motorists honked their horns in support, but others honked their horns in frustration as the group made its way down Ocean Avenue past stores and inns.
Mike McKinley, a Texan who was in town for the wedding, said the family should be able to enjoy the day without the interference of protesters. “They should be able to enjoy their privacy and enjoy the celebration,” he said as the protesters marched nearby.
Others, like Harold Beelte and Britta Hildebrand, visiting from Germany, enjoyed the opportunity to see U.S.-style democracy in action.
“You can call it a bonus,” said Beelte as the two stopped their bikes to snap a photo of the demonstrators making their way down Ocean Avenue.
While in Kennebunkport, Bush usually goes fishing with his father but the weather wasn’ t cooperating over the weekend. He did get in at least one mountain bike ride, though.
There’ s talk that this could be Bush’ s last visit before he leaves office in January. But a White House spokeswoman said she wasn’ t certain.
Some Kennebunkport residents will he happy to see the circus-style atmosphere surrounding presidential visits come to an end. But most people don’ t mind. The former president, George H.W. Bush, and his wife Barbara, are well liked and freely go about their business.
Their three-story, stone-and-shingle home overlooking the ocean at Walker’ s Point has been in the family since the turn of the century.
Dawn Patten, who runs Patten’ s Berry Farm, behind the Cape Arundel Golf Club, said she’ s happy to see the younger Bush visiting his parents.
She didn’ t have kind words for the protesters, though.
“It’ s outrageous. He comes to town for two or three days and people harass him while he’ s here. I don’ t think it’ s right,” Patten said.
Robert Fischer, owner of Mabel’ s Lobster Claw Restaurant, which was along the parade route, said he supports both the president and people’ s right to gather.
“I’ m glad that they can protest. I don’ t expect everyone to agree on every issue. Luckily, in this country, everyone has the right to protest,” said Fischer, who serves up an occasional coffee-flavored ice cream cone to the former President Bush.