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Enemy Turf

W. came to California this week for his first visit since losing the state by 1.5 million votes. After a brief stop at Camp Pendleton to reassure U.S. Marines that a pay raise is coming, he headed north to sell his trade agenda and energy plan to the Los Angeles Affairs Council at the Century Plaza Hotel. While there, he met with Governor Gray Davis to discuss the ongoing power crisis.

Outside the hotel, some 300 protesters gathered on the Avenue of the Stars seemed as unimpressed with W. as they were with the governor.

The protests, organized by the San Francisco–based Global Exchange, focused on the president’s oil- and gas-industry-friendly energy policy. Carrying a banner that read, “Bush Cheney: Fossil Fools” and another depicting a family of polar bears with the words “Save Our Refuge,” demonstrators beat drums and chanted, “Clean energy now!” as passing cars honked their support. Actor Ed Begley addressed the crowd from a small sidewalk podium, singing the merits of energy-efficient appliances and municipally owned power. “This is the wrong direction to go in,” he said of W.’s energy plan. “We need to emphasize conservation.” Donna Warren, Green Party candidate for the 32nd Congressional District, chided both Bush and the Democrats for the nation’s woes. “A deviant Supreme Court conferred kingship on a babbling idiot,” she said, “and the Democrats have done nothing to protect the people.” Warren had specific words for Davis as well, demanding that he “stop making Californians pay for the price of energy regulation.”

A bearded man calling himself Felonious Acts, claiming to represent the Billionaires for Private Profit and wearing a top hat over his ponytail, mocked W.’s attempts at bilingualism, chanting, “Exploracíon sí, conservacíon no!”

Three activists brought the protest inside the hotel as well. Global Exchange leader Medea Benjamin and two others made their way in, unfurled a banner reading, “Rate Caps Now” and began chanting, “Stop the price gouging, stop the greedy generators, rate caps now!” They were arrested but released when hotel officials decided not to press charges.

Despite some wrangling when police briefly refused to let anyone carrying a protest sign walk on the sidewalk closest to the hotel, all was peaceful outside. No arrests were made, though National Lawyers Guild director Jim Lafferty was given a jaywalking citation for standing a foot from the curb.

As two little girls marched back and forth chanting “Bush go home” into a megaphone, W. and Davis accomplished little behind closed doors. Though their meeting stretched to twice its allotted time span, no agreement was reached. “The president reiterated his opposition to price caps, and the governor reiterated his interest in price caps,” summed up White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. “They talked about the ramifications of price caps.”