KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine – At every wedding, it seems, something happens not according to plan. Expect the unexpected, planners warn. But how many brides and grooms expect a peace protest?
That is what happens when the president shows up for the ceremony in the midst of a polarizing war. About 700 demonstrators marched past the seaside church where President Bush’s second cousin was to be married Saturday and then up to the checkpoint guarding the family summer compound to protest the war in Iraq.
The protesters left a few hours before the service so as not to disrupt the event itself, but they took advantage of the president’s visit to make their point and showcase their opposition to a war that polls show has lost most of the public’s support. Just as Bush found himself trailed to Texas by war opponents last year, now he has been dogged to his parents’ getaway on the rocky shores of the Maine coast.
“People wanted to speak truth to power,” said Jamilla El-Shafei, 53, a business owner in Kennebunk who helped organize the march. “What we wanted to do was let President Bush know we are the face and voice of a majority of Americans who are standing up to say, ‘Enough is enough; we want out of Iraq.’ “
If Bush or the family was irked, they gave no public indication. “As the president has said, Americans are free to protest,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Bush came to his family’s Walker’s Point compound Thursday for a four-day weekend filled with fishing, biking, family events and no official appearances. Beyond his daily intelligence briefing, his only announced business Saturday was updates on Tropical Storm Ernesto. He had recorded his weekly radio address, about Hurricane Katrina, earlier.
Bush will fly to the Gulf Coast region Monday to inspect progress in reconstruction. But for this weekend he seems intent on soaking up the waning days of summer. He woke up again Saturday for an early-morning bicycle ride in a nearby federal forest, this time with employees from the local bike shop.
For the Bush clan, this was a weekend of family milestones, with a funeral, wedding and christening on successive days.
On Saturday, they celebrated the wedding of Walker Stapleton, 29, a real estate businessman in Colorado. Stapleton is the son of the former president’s first cousin, Dorothy Walker Stapleton, and her husband, Craig Stapleton, who was a partner with the current president when they owned the Texas Rangers and now is ambassador to France.
With Secret Service and local police cordoning off the area, the president showed up Saturday for the wedding at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, an elegant stone building jutting out on a promontory overlooking the sea.
The protest earlier in the day did not disrupt the ceremony, but it provoked controversy in this small resort town. Ednamay Taraba of Alfred, Maine, summed up local sentiment in a posting on the site of the Portland Press Herald: “I think it is terrible that people are going to protest the President at the wedding, the couple that are getting married have nothing to do with the presidents (sic) policy, they are just a young couple who happened to be related.”
Organizers rejected that complaint. “An inconvenience for President Bush?” asked El-Shafei. “My God, the Iraqi people are inconvenienced, the military families are inconvenienced. That’s very telling of the self-absorbed culture we’re living in that people would be miffed because a bunch of rich Republicans would be inconvenienced.”
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