Protesters criticize White House agenda


BRIDGEPORT – David Stevenson clutched his sign and headed for State Street. Soon, he'd park himself a block away from where President Bush would lead a discussion on health savings accounts.

The Bethel man wasn't part of the seminar but wanted his voice heard. He is angry that Bush invaded Iraq. He disagrees with the idea of health savings accounts, and he feels Bush should have helped Hurricane Katrina victims sooner.

"I Know Real Christians .Ÿ.Ÿ. Mr. Bush, You Are Not a Real Christian," his sign read. He carried the same sign to the president's 2005 inauguration.

"I think people need to speak their minds," said Stevenson, a 52-year-old Realtor, around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Bridgeport. "The best way to save our freedom of speech is to express it."

Minutes later, Stevenson mixed into a large crowd a block from the Playhouse on the Green, the theater where Bush spoke.

Nearly 200 people shouted out their views, with most opposing Bush. Many opposed the war while others argued for universal health care. They carried signs like "Stop the 9-11 Cover Up," "Fire the Liar" and "Rumsfield Must Go," referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Police reported no arrests related to Bush's visit throughout the day.

Bridgeport resident Tye Hardy stopped by the scene around 10:30. The 26-year-old knew Bush was coming but didn't know which day. She soon found out, when she noticed extra police officers stationed around downtown.

Hardy said she stayed mainly because she opposed war.

"War is wrong, because people die," Hardy said, watching the crowds. "I don't understand why we're over there."

Taking a break from their work at the Aquarion Water Co. of Connecticut in Bridgeport, Gigi Berg and Liz Schultz stood near the yellow caution tape blocking off State Street.

Berg, from Trumbull, and Schultz, from Shelton, said they wanted to support the president. Schultz, who wore a "Viva Bush" button, said she thinks the news media are too negative in their coverage of Bush.

Berg wore an American flag sweater. "He's fighting for our freedom – something we all cherish," Berg said.

Bush favors health savings accounts, which let consumers save money tax-free for their future health care expenses. Consumers also pay for a relatively inexpensive insurance policy for catastrophic expenses. That policy, however, has high deductibles – meaning that a consumer would have to pay more than $1,000 out-of-pocket before the policies pay.

Groups, including the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, and the Health Care For All Coalition argued against Bush's plan.

Gretchen Vivier, a member of Health Care For All Coalition, a West Hartford group, said the savings accounts shouldn't substitute for affordable insurance. "Everybody should have their basic needs met," she said.

Throughout the three-hour protest, several dozen people chanted "Bush Has To Go."

Jogging through the crowd, Waterbury resident Ziggy Berisha waved an American flag and chanted "U.S.A., U.S.A."

Decked out in American flag pants, shirt, hat and fanny pack, Berisha said he didn't understand the protests. "Forget Democrat or Republican. Stand up for your country," he said.

When President Bush's long entourage of tinted-window vehicles sped by around 11 a.m. and left again shortly after noon, boos went up from the crowd, mixed with the fainter sound of cheers.

As the crowds cleared away, Stevenson said being there was worth his trip from Bethel. "Always. It's gets me motivated to write more letters (to elected officials) and other things," he said.