Picketers fill West Wells Street

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Before the Democratic presidential candidates showed up for Sunday's debate, there were already debates raging along West Wells Street.

A portion of West Wells Street between North 12th and 16th streets changed from a thoroughfare into a mass circus, complete with police officers on horseback acting as ringmasters.

Groups supporting senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) and people supporting Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) showed up. Following on their footsteps was a large crowd of Howard Dean supporters. The College Republicans and Students for (President George W.) Bush, which comprised roughly the second largest group of supporters, migrated from outside the Alumni Memorial Union to counteract the flow of Democratic support on Wells. When the College Republicans arrived, Kerry and Dean supporters started to yell cheers at them, and the College Republicans yelled back. Occasionally, arguments broke out among the supporters of various groups.

Abortion opponents affiliated with the American Life League brought signs asking Kerry why he was Catholic and favored abortion rights, contradicting the offical position of the Catholic Church. Mayoral candidate Vince Bobot appeared, attempting to campaign, but for the most part he stood around and watched the supporters for Kerry and Bush yell at each other, while the Dean supporters yelled at everyone.

The Falun Gong, a religious group affiliated with Buddhism and banned in China for being a "dangerous sect," was handing out flyers. Citizens for Responsible Government held signs. Some people wore "Clean Energy" T-shirts and said they were supporting whoever supported the environmental policies they liked, and a solitary Sierra Club member was marching around as well.

Attempting to control the many demonstrations were several police officers on horseback who, along with a traffic officer, were directing traffic on the street including cars, the John Edwards campaign bus and Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt's campaign bus.

Yet while the atmosphere on West Wells Street was boisterous and raucous, those who were there had shown up for serious reasons.

American Life League member Laura Wolski said she was present to question Kerry's stance on abortion. Holding up signs stating "Senator Kerry, You Can't Be Catholic and Pro-Abortion," her group was trying to spread the word that Kerry was disobeying his faith. Although she did not think Kerry would see her group's signs, she said that it was still important to get the word out about his actions. She thought Kerry would not change his stance on abortion.

"It's his platform," Wolski said. "Why would he change it?"

Wolski also expressed disappointment that Marquette, a Catholic campus, was hosting an event in which all the of candidates supported abortion rights.

But Thomas Fritzsche, a Kerry supporter from Iowa, said he thought it was possible Kerry would change his stance on abortion if elected to the White House. Proclaiming himself a "pro-life Democrat," he said that "we right-to-life Democrats have to bring (other Democrats) over (to an anti-abortion stance)." He said this after arguing with members of the College Republicans over Kerry's votes on abortion while in the Senate.

Karen Erb, a Dean supporter, said she was a fan of Dean because of all he stood for.

"(Dean) will do well here," Erb said as she adjusted her "cheesehead" hat. "In polls, he was in second place here."

After all the energy and time spent, the crowds were largely dissipated by the beginning of the debate and entirely gone after the debate. According to the Department of Public Safety, no arrests were made.

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