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PHOTOS: Locals, protesters welcome Obama on first Oakland visit

Medical marijuana supporters protesting in Downtown Oakland. (CALIFORNIA BEAT PHOTO)

With President Barack Obama appearing in Oakland for the first time during his presidency, it was a given that Oakland residents — as well as protesters of all stripes — would turn up.

And the hundreds who showed up had many different messages for him.

“Maybe they could stop” some of the violence that has plagued Oakland in recent years, said Adeline Espinoza, a 35-year Oakland resident who turned out to greet the president. “It didn’t used to be like this,” she said. “People would wait for the bus” outside at night then, something which isn’t done “even in the daytime anymore,” she said.

“I’m glad he’s here,” said Espinoza. “He is a good president.”

That’s a sentiment Sacramento resident Bette Braden, one of a crowd of protesters supporting medical marijuana, wouldn’t necessarily disagree with. “No, no, no,” she said when asked whether she was protesting the President’s visit.

She did have a bone to pick with him, though. Obama’s Justice Department “said that they would not use their resources to target medical marijuana” — a promise that hasn’t been kept, she said, given the recent DOJ actions against medical marijuana dispensaries in California, including Oakland’s Harborside.

Braden says she uses “medical marijuana to replace a slew of opiate-based pain medication.” “I’m not a criminal,” she argues, “and I don’t want to be one.”

Her message to Obama? “Keep your promise,” she said, and instead direct the resources used to “stop violent crime.”

Others were prepared to go further.

“In some ways, Obama is worse than Bush,” said Stephanie Tamg of World Can’t Wait, who was among a group protesting Obama’s use of targeted drone strikes to assassinate al-Qaeda leaders. “Every major crime that Bush carried out” has been committed as well by Obama, she said.

El Cerrito resident Mike Wilson agreed. “I don’t believe the executive branch of the government deserves that much power,” he said.

American dream “at risk,” Obama says

No such concerns were in evidence inside the Fox Theater in Downtown Oakland, where Obama entered on schedule at 7:55 p.m. to a rousing welcome from a paying crowd of supporters.

“The core American dream […] is at risk like never before,” he warned supporters, blaming Republicans’ “uncompromising view […] that the only path forward is to go back to the same top-down economics that got us into this mess in the first place.”

Obama did not hold back in attacking his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, either, comparing Romney’s economic plan to the one advanced by former President George W. Bush. “We tried that, and it didn’t work!” he said.

Warning that the opposition would be spending more money than ever before, Obama urged his supporters to go out and work for his reelection, in the same way they did in 2008.

The Fox Theater stop capped off an afternoon of fundraising in the East Bay for the Obama campaign. After landing at Oakland International Airport around 2:30 p.m., Obama was whisked off to the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland for meetings with high-dollar donors and local officials, then attended a $38,500-per-plate Alice Waters-catered dinner in Piedmont at which he took questions from the attendees.

Weak Occupy Oakland turnout for Obama visit

The Fox Theater is just a few blocks from the epicenter of last fall’s Occupy Oakland protests at City Hall.

But Occupiers were few and far in between in the crowd of protesters and rubberneckers, though a handful of Occupy protesters were seen attempting to hang up a banner near Oakland City Hall.

For the most part, protests were peaceful, though a banner welcoming Obama to Oakland and an American flag were burned by a small group of protesters, and some protesters shouted abuse at Obama supporters leaving the Fox Theater fundraiser.

President Obama, who spent Sunday night in San Francisco after adjusting his schedule at the last minute to attend a memorial to the victims of the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting, is now on a three-day fundraising swing through Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and New Orleans. He will spend another night in San Francisco before leaving for Portland on Tuesday morning.

Beat reporter Vanessa Guerra contributed reporting. Contact Steven Luo at sluo@californiabeat.org.

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