President Joe Biden made a stop at the Green River College in Auburn on April 22 during his two-day visit to Washington and Oregon last week, prompting crowds of curious bystanders and passionate protesters while the commander in chief spoke with students and elected officials inside.
The scene along 124th Ave. SE, through which Biden’s motorcade travelled to reach the school, was a cacophony of democracy. Eager critics of the president — many flying pro-Trump flags or chanting the euphemistic “Let’s Go Brandon!” slogan — stood across the street or mixed in with throngs of students and local residents, keen to catch a rare glimpse of the president’s arrival. At one point, members of the Biden protesters unfurled a massive “Trump won” banner.
Inside the college’s Mel Lindbloom Student Union building, Biden called for action on rising prescription drug costs and other national issues, according to news media reports. He was joined by Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Representative Kim Schrier and Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.
Outside, a raucous microcosm of the country bloomed.
There was the preacher warning the crowds of the dangers of sin, an attendee blowing bubbles and the group unfurling a “Flavortown” flag in reverence of American restaurateur and Food Network star Guy Fieri. There were the younger students talking both about Biden and about catching Pokémon, the protesters telling the president and governor to go home, and the Secret Service agents scanning the crowds.
For Rob Meadows, an 18-year-old Green River student, Biden’s visit was simply too unusual to miss.
“This is kind of the center of the U.S. right now,” Meadows said. “I’m not really much of a Biden fan to be honest, but that’s not stopping me from coming out. I still think it’d be pretty cool to see him.”
That’s how Wilber R. felt too. He felt neutral toward President Biden, but didn’t want to miss this chance.
“The adrenaline is coming in,” Wilber said. “You’re not going to see a president every day of your life.”
Given the chance to ask Biden a question, he’d ask: “What do you do with so much power? You have the authority to do anything, to help people, but there’s really no change. So what do you do with that much power?”
Allan P., a 21-year-old Green River student, said he would like to see Biden address immigration reform, climate change and end the criminalization of cannabis.
“I have a little baby brother, and luckily he’s here in America,” Allan said. “But unfortunately I hear so many stories of little kids from Guatemala coming all the way up here … put in detention centers. When I see those videos, I see my baby brother, who’s only six years old. I think, ‘Wow. If it wasn’t for my mom immigrating all the way over here, that could be me and my little baby brother.’”
“As you can see, it’s lively out here,” Allan said with a laugh as a driver honked in loud support of the sign wavers.
Meanwhile, Anton May’s voiced his frustrations with a sign reading “Come on, man: Resign.”
“The pain at the pump, the price of food, the disaster we had in Afghanistan; the list goes on and on,” he said. “It’s been the worse year and a half of any president. He makes Jimmy Carter blush.”
May’s said he wants to see a stronger border, less dependency on foreign oil and better leadership on inflation.
But “I have nothing against people who support the President,” he said. “I want the President to do well. Why would you not? If the president does well, we all do well.”
He said Biden has abandoned his once-moderate platform, and he’d like to know why: “He makes me wish for the days of Barack Obama, and that’s saying something.”
Tim Schumaier, 69, lives in Auburn and came out for the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to see and support the president. Reflecting on the crowd in front of him, Schumaier said the country has seemed more divided in the last six years than any other time in his life.
“I’m just glad that we live in a country where we can all be here, and express our thing,” Schumaier said. “There’s a lot of places where you can’t do this.”
Ian K., a Green River student, said he’d like to ask Biden why he revoked permits for a planned expansion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
“Quite frankly, I think it’s one of the worst decisions he’s made as part of his presidency,” Ian said. “I’d like some answers for that.”
Next to him was Ryan T., a high school sophomore, who said he was glad the president’s supporters were successful: “And obviously we’re going to be respectful as well. I admire them and thank them for that.”
Nick Perius, a 51-year-old business manager who lives a couple miles from the college, came to see the spectacle for himself. Perius said “there’s a lot of room for improvement” with Biden’s performance, though he granted that being president is a difficult job.
He was happy on Friday to have a chance to hear out what all sides had to say.
“I can’t stand on one side of the street and scream without being on the other side of the street and understanding,” Perius said. “I’m here with an open mind.”
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