Protesters proliferating in Obama era

19 08 2009


President Barack Obama has indeed brought change to Washington — or at least to Lafayette Park.

The seven-acre esplanade across the street from the White House has seen a dramatic uptick in protests since Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20.

According to documents obtained by POLITICO through a Freedom of Information Act request, the National Park Service issued 55 protest permits for the park during the first six months of Obama’s presidency — almost as many as the 63 it issued in the final year of George W. Bush’s second term.

The current crop of agitators includes both the protesting regulars of recent years — groups trying to call attention to international human rights violations, torture and abortion issues — and new entrants reflecting the policy and landscape changes of the new administration.

Recently, a group of Iranian hunger strikers gathered outside the White House to demand the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Camp Ashraf, an Iranian refugee camp in Iraq.

Iranian demonstrators have been a staple outside the gates of the White House over the course of the last two decades. “They know us very well,” said Asad Daryani, a freelance photographer for Iranian National TV, who is helping to lead the efforts in support of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran and other Iranian dissident groups.

Daryani said he and his fellow protesters feel let down by Obama.

“If you ask most of these people they would say that we were more pleased with the Bush administration,” he said. Obama “came with the promise of ‘better than Bush.’ He came with the promise of change. Everybody’s disappointed.”

He added that such disappointment will likely translate into an increase in his group’s White House demonstrations during the Obama presidency.

“Silence is not an option,” Daryani said.

When it comes to Lafayette Park, that much seems certain.

Perhaps the most memorable crowd of protesters outside Obama’s door — and certainly the most vocal — was a group supporting the cause of the Tamil Tigers, a Sri Lankan separatist organization that has fought to create an independent state in the South Asian country.

From the start, the group caught the attention of administration officials and journalists alike with its unflagging, mind-numbing chants.

“Pres-i-dent Oba-ma! Pres-i-dent Oba-ma!” women and men on a megaphone would call as the rest of the crowd — sometimes as large as 300 people — echoed, “Stop the genocide.”



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