PORTLAND — President Obama’s visit to the Portland Museum of Art on Friday night created a festival atmosphere on the surrounding streets, where crowds engaged in protests, politicking and star-gazing on nearly every corner.

Obama came to the museum for a fundraising dinner that donors paid as much as $30,000 to attend. That fact attracted protesters, including 100 or more from Occupy Maine, who said they are upset by the influence that wealthy donors wield in politics.

The protesters positioned themselves in front of the Eastland Park Hotel, across Congress Street from the museum. Some held signs, sang songs or passed out literature. Some set up a soup line, with six kinds of free soup for anyone who wanted it.

“The 99 percent can’t afford Super PACs, so we’re giving them soup,” said Rachel Lyn Rumson, one of the organizers.

Doug Bowen, 66, drove more than an hour from his home in Porter to be part of the protest. He, too, criticized the Super PACs – independent fundraising groups that can accept unlimited amounts of money for campaign or issue advertising.

“If we get the big money out of politics, like what’s going on here tonight, then we can start to make our votes count more,” he said.

At times, the protests got loud. Protesters banged pots and pans and chanted slogans like “We are the 99 percent” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

In back of the museum, at High and Spring streets, quieter people with cameras stood behind police tape, trying to get a look at people attending the dinner and see Obama’s motorcade.

One of them was Alex Haslam, 12, who lives near the museum on Park Street.

“We’ve been learning about government in school and it really made me want to see the president,” she said.

Jaime Bourque, 29, waited behind the museum, hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, to see the president,” said Bourque, a teacher from Portland. “I think it’s cool that he came to us, in Portland.”

On all the closed streets — including High, Free, Spring and Oak – dozens of police officers patrolled on foot. About two-thirds of Portland’s officers were on duty Friday, police said.

At times, the crowd around the museum – numbering several hundred at least – swelled because, just across Congress Square from the museum, the State Theatre was hosting an 8 p.m. show by rapper Snoop Dogg.

And just a block to the east, the Cumberland County Civic Center was hosting a hockey game. Because several streets were closed to pedestrian crossing, people going to those events often had to walk many blocks out of their way.

Besides the protesters, there were a few jugglers and people singing songs with religious themes near the museum.

The few people who were really focused on getting a glimpse of Obama – or at least his black limo with the presidential seal on the door – gathered behind the museum as night fell.

About three dozen of them waited in the cold and dark behind police tape near the Holiday Inn by the Bay until Obama left the museum at 8 p.m.

As they waited, three men on the museum’s roof – apparently a security detail – were patrolling and shining hand-held spotlights on the crowd. Obama’s limousine was parked inside a tent attached to the museum’s loading dock.

Even though the onlookers knew they would probably not be able to see him get into the car, they waited.

When Obama’s motorcade left, the crowd cheered and cameras flashed. But no one pretended that they saw the president, in the dark and behind very darkly tinted windows. It was enough, apparently, to have seen his car.

“I happen to like this president. I like his idealism and I think he’s very well meaning,” said Debbie Dunn of Portland, a retired special-education teacher who waited more than two hours and snapped a picture of the limo. “I’m sure you won’t be able to make out anything in my picture, it’s so dark. But still, it was worth it.”

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: @RayRouthier