Presidential preparations: Many ready to welcome Obama to Chattanooga

Presidential preparations: Many ready to welcome Obama to Chattanooga

July 30th, 2013 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Stephanie King, left, and her sons, Mark Grayson and Malek Grayson, make welcome President Barack Obama signs Monday with dozens of others at the Urban League offices on M.L. King Boulevard.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

PRESIDENT'S APPEARANCE

The president's remarks at Amazon will be for distribution center employees and invited guests. The event is not open to the public.

T.J. McKenzie with the Ortwein Sign Co. puts the finishing touches on a new sign at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in preparation for President Barack Obama's visit Tuesday.

Photo by Kate Harrison Belz/Times Free Press.

LOCAL VOICES

"We support the idea that all people have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. If you don't, you don't have much of a say."

-Theresa Turner, representative for Chattanooga teachers

"I would hope that (critics) would at least respect the office. They don't have to like Obama, but they should respect that he is our president and commander-in-chief."

- Angelia Stinnett, 2012 write-in Senate candidate

"Watching these elementary school students come in here is just exciting for America. Obama's got to talk education, and that's what I'll be listening to."

- Kemmer Anderson, resident of Chattanooga for 36 years

"President Bush came to town in 2007, but Tennessee voted for President Bush and really didn't support President Obama in the general election. This is a surprise for me. Even though the county didn't go blue, the city did. This is a reflection of the tremendous energy that the president has."

- Jermaine Edward Freeman, acting deputy & state director for "Organizing for Action" advocacy group

Compiled by staff writer Jeff LaFave

<span class='IDappliedStyle' title='InDesign: Black Condensed'>Even a glimpse of the limo will be enough for Sarah Steffner and her two children. They&#8217;re among the hundreds planning to welcome President Barack Obama to the Scenic City today, when he&#8217;ll lay out his proposal for recharging the nation&#8217;s economic engines through manufacturing and other high-wage jobs during a visit to the Amazon distribution center at Enterprise South industrial park. The company announced Monday that it is adding full-time jobs at the Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn., plants as part of a national employment boost of about 5,000.</span>

So far, news of the president&#8217;s visit to Chattanooga has generated plenty of disdain, mockery and contempt.

The Chattanooga Tea Party plans to picket near the Amazon fulfillment center. The Tennessee Republican Party aired a television ad touting the state&#8217;s economic boom so the president could &#8220;see what real leadership looks like.&#8221; And Rep. Chuck Fleischmann&#8217;s faux post card made its way through a news cycle, thanks in part to its many spelling errors.

And though she supports people&#8217;s right to protest, Steffner said she&#8217;s surprised by the reaction, even in a conservative stronghold like Tennessee.

&#8220;Some of it just really seemed so aggressive, and I was really bothered by that,&#8221; she said. &#8220;Southerners pride themselves on hospitality. And that means hospitality to everybody, not just the people you like.&#8221;

Steffner and other supporters met Monday to make signs before the president&#8217;s arrival. They plan to line Bonny Oaks Drive near the Redoubt Soccer complex. She said she&#8217;s had to warn her kids that they could spend hours waiting only to see the presidential motorcade buzz by in a few seconds.

&#8220;But to me it&#8217;s important to be a part of the group that is welcoming him, regardless of if we get to see him,&#8221; she said. &#8220;It&#8217;s still a chance to do what I see as doing the right thing.&#8221;

And even those who find little common ground with Obama&#8217;s policies plan to attend his event. Republican County Mayor Jim Coppinger, along with GOP members of the Hamilton County Commission, will be in attendance today.

&#8220;I certainly don&#8217;t agree with the president on a lot of issues,&#8221; said Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry. &#8220;But I&#8217;ll go out of respect for the office.&#8221;

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke plans to attend as do several City Council members.

Local supporters held two media events Monday to highlight Obama&#8217;s agenda.

At Niedlov&#8217;s Breadworks, owner John Sweet touted the president&#8217;s focus on improving the middle class. He said he&#8217;s supportive of Obama&#8217;s vision for strengthening the middle class, especially since the gap between the rich and poor seems to continually widen.

But as a small-business owner, Sweet said he doesn&#8217;t know what the answer is for boosting the nation&#8217;s economic prospects. He hopes to hear that from Obama today. Niedlov&#8217;s does about $1 million in annual sales and employs about 25 people, about half of whom are full-time.

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PROTEST MOVES

Because of security issues, the location of the Rally to Protest President Barack Obama's policies has changed to 5615 Lee Highway, the site of the old Target shopping center.

People are welcome to attend the rally and present their messages with familyfriendly signs, flags, and banners in a peaceful manner.

The Chattanooga Tea Party is a nonpartisan grass-roots organization seeking to educate and inform its members and the public at large of the fundamental issues and struggles our country is facing.

&#8220;I don&#8217;t know if I really want help from the government,&#8221; Sweet said. &#8220;I think if I&#8217;m being a conscientious good employer, a good provider of a service, an excellent producer of bread, then we&#8217;re kind of doing our part for the community, our neighborhood. My family and I live next door. Our kids go to school down the street. We&#8217;re the proverbial Main Street business.&#8221;

Obama supporters also met at the Kingdom Center of Olivet Baptist Church to create welcome signs for the president&#8217;s motorcade. Felt tips squeaked as marker aroma and an excited buzz filled the air among talks of Obama&#8217;s speech.

Jeremy Finch, a high school social studies teacher, said the answer to a stronger workforce begins with education. He hopes the president illustrates how a workforce relies on the school system.

&#8220;Education is something that is important, but sometimes gets ignored,&#8221; Finch said. &#8220;Teachers are what produce all other jobs.&#8221;

<em>Staff writers Louie Brogdon and Jeff LaFave contributed to this report.</em>

<em>Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.</em>