A crowd of anti-Sarah Palin protesters gathered in Midtown Anchorage soon after the Republican nominee for vice president left Alaska to resume campaigning in the Lower 48.
The Saturday protest in front of the Loussac Library appeared bigger than any Anchorage has seen in recent memory. The crowd looked to be in the high hundreds at least, and organizers said they counted 1,500. It included roughly 100 counter protesters supporting Palin.
Planning for the protest began as discussions over coffee by a small group calling itself "Alaska Women Reject Palin." As recently as Friday, the group thought it possible that just 10 people would show up to the event. But it went viral on the Internet, with friends forwarding e-mails to friends, and people saying they saw a chance to vent their frustration over what several called the myth of Palin.
"Sarah Palin frightens the hell out of me. I don't want her anywhere near the White House," said Marybeth Holleman of Anchorage.
Protesters had a wide range of beefs with the governor. They included backers of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, abortion rights proponents, advocates for wolves and polar bears, opponents of the Iraq war, and people who said Palin is not ready to be a heartbeat from the presidency.
Alison Till, a geologist in Anchorage with the U.S. Geological Survey, said issues such as energy and global warming require solid and unbiased science to make good decisions. Palin's opposition to listing the polar bear as threatened under the endangered species act and her support of teaching creationism in public schools are not the hallmarks of someone who relies upon solid science, Till argued.
"She is unqualified," Till said.
Palin said in a 2006 debate during the governor's race that she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools, but she has not pressed that agenda in the governor's office.
Palin supporters at the protest said she has done a lot of good as governor, including the $1,200 energy rebate checks all Alaskans just received from the state.
"I'll bet on the other side none of those people are going to reject that and send it back," said Rick Case.
Many in the pro-Palin group said they heard about the event on the Eddie Burke radio show on KYBR AM in Anchorage.
Palin opponents said the Burke show also inspired many of them to show up after Burke gave out cell phone numbers of protest organizers on his show.
"We were bombarded with all kinds of hateful, abusive, intimidating phone calls," said Charla Sterne, one of the organizers.
Burke was at the Saturday protest, carrying a sign that said "Alaska is not Frisco." He said the women sent out the phone numbers in a press release about the protest, and he didn't realize they were personal cell numbers.
Burke said he's apologized for calling the Alaska Women Reject Palin group "maggots."
"I used the words socialist, baby killing maggots," said Burke, adding he's only taking back the part about maggots.
Burke said he didn't want the women threatened but thought it arrogant when they denounced Palin's record and position on issues important to "most women and families." As Burke spoke to a reporter at the protest, an angry group formed around him, and a woman declared he "deserves the man of the year award for beating up on women."
"Am I a maggot?" another woman asked.
The protest, which went on for over three hours, appeared peaceful despite the opposing camps. Police were at the scene but were taking a hands-off approach.
It took on a relaxed, almost carnival air. A man with a "Palin Power" sign stood agreeably next to a woman with a placard that said "McBush Palin = More Exxon Justices." One person strolled through the crowd wearing a polar bear suit. A dog was wearing a target that said "Sarah Slaughters Wolves."
There were signs that said "Bush in a Skirt" and signs that said "Palin for President."
Many chanted "O-bam-ah," while, on the other side of the street, the chant was "Sar-ah!" Drums pounded and drivers honked solidarity with one camp or the other.
The protest started about two hours after Palin gave a speech to enthusiastic supporters at a downtown rally. Palin enjoyed high approval ratings in polls as governor, but her candidacy for vice president seems far more divisive.
"Democrats don't like Sarah's conservative views. She's the ultimate of what they are opposed to," said Tony Patrone, standing in the pro-Palin camp. "They'll do whatever they can to keep her from winning."
Some of the anti-Palin protesters said she brought nastiness into the presidential campaign with jabs against Obama, including making fun of his past as a community organizer in Chicago. Others pointed to her support for the "Bridge to Nowhere" -- before she diverted the federal money to other projects -- and the federal earmark money that Palin pursued as Wasilla mayor.
"This election is too important be left to the smears, trivial issues and lies McCain and Palin are trying to make it into," said Rob Lipkin. "The myth (that) either McCain or Palin are mavericks, bringing reform and fresh air into Washington, it's nonsense."
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