Puppets and protest fill ‘free speech zone’

October 29, 2015

Jeb Bush (L) and Marco Rubio puppets accompanied a student protest at the “Free Speech Zone” at the University of Colorado’s Business Field, while the candidates gathered across the street for a forum held by CNBC before the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Boulder, Colorado, October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Evan Semon

By Keith Coffman

As giant puppets of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio waved at a huge inflatable elephant labeled “racism,” scores of anti-Republican protesters gathered on Wednesday at a so-called “free speech zone” outside the party’s debate in Colorado.

Hopefuls seeking the Republican nomination for next year’s U.S. presidential election are clashing at the University of Colorado in Boulder, a small city in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains that is better known for its hippies and left-leaning outlook than hard-bitten political operatives.

In a good-natured demonstration outside, protesters waved placards with messages including “Hedge funds own the GOP” and “Republicans: what’s your plan to end gun violence?”

A light aircraft circled overhead pulling a banner that read: “GOP has a #kochproblem,” and the towering figures of Trump, Bush and Rubio all wore signs saying “#kochpuppets,” referring to the billionaire industrialists and political donors Charles and David Koch.

Organizers of the protest outside the debate included activists focused on issues including climate change, racial justice and immigration. The “My Country, My Vote!” rally was called by Latino groups to demonstrate against what they say has been a “stream of anti-immigrant attacks” made by Republican presidential hopefuls.

Dolores Huerta, a board member with the equal rights group People for the American Way, said all the candidates were widely at odds with the vast majority of Latinos on issues such as healthcare, the minimum wage, and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

Huerta, a recipient of the U.S. Medal of Freedom in 2011, said it made no difference that two of the Republican contenders on stage in Boulder are Hispanic.

“That’s true, but Rubio’s position is the same as Trump’s,” she said. “He has turned his back on the Latino community.”

Denisse Guerrero-Harvey, 34, was born in the United States and said her parents were immigrants from Mexico.

“All of this anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Republicans is very personal to me,” she told Reuters at the rally, holding her eight-month-old son Joaquim in her arms.

“Immigrants have been contributing to this country for centuries,” Guerrero-Harvey said.

Scattered among the crowd of about 200 demonstrators and curious bystanders were a posse of Ben Carson supporters, all clad in red, white and blue T-shirts with the slogan “Dr. Ben Carson President 2016″ and the medical “caduceus” symbol of a winged staff and serpents.

Stephanie Gilbreth, an 18-year-old nursing student from Colorado Springs, said the group used social media to organize to come from across the state to back their candidate.

“I really believe he is going to heal us as a nation,” Gilbreth said of Carson, a former brain surgeon who she said lived the American dream from an impoverished upbringing.

“He’s the only hope for our generation,” Gilbreth said.

Another Carson supporter, Jolene Linke, 50, a cattle rancher from Grand County, said everyone was sick of the longstanding career-politicians on offer to voters, on both the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle.

“This country is tired of them,” Linke said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Daniel Wallis)

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