HAMPSTEAD, Md. - At a busy intersection in the bucolic and conservative town of Hampstead yesterday morning, seven people waved signs calling on Carroll County drivers to honk for President Bush's impeachment -- and yelled "thank you" to those who cursed at them.
But nearby, an unlucky man who worked the night shift was trying to sleep. He called the police.
The protest organizer, Brad Brown, 27, of Westminster displayed his permit. Capt. Jay Gribbin of the Hampstead Police Department read Brown a transportation code that bans honking on highways for nonsafety reasons.
Brown agreed to move the small group to the northeast corner of Main Street and Gill Avenue so that most of the honking drivers were traveling away from the man's house. Brown didn't really mind. He was just tickled by all of the honking.
"In this county, I just can't believe it," said Brown, who borrowed the "honk for impeachment" idea from a Web site and organized a similar protest last weekend in Westminster. "It's just amazing. In Carroll County, of all places."
Brown is leading a small contingent of peace protesters this summer at four stops in Carroll and Baltimore counties on his way to a nationwide pro-impeachment march in Washington next month.
Brown and a network of grass-roots activists nationwide are trying to build support for impeachment, even in conservative areas such as Carroll County, where almost 70 percent of voters cast ballots for Bush in 2004.
"The Democrats in Carroll County, I don't want to say they're desperate, but probably the best way to describe it is that Carroll is a red county in a blue state," said Larry Helminiak, chairman of the county's Republican Central Committee, who did not pass by the protest. "Democrats who want to be in public office here switch to being Republicans. That's not a joke."
Helminiak said he often sees bumper stickers that say, "Courage is being a Democrat in Carroll County."
The seven people, working under the banner of Carroll County Progressives, certainly had chutzpah. They flashed peace signs, gave supportive drivers a thumbs up and waved American flags. But they also absorbed insults and vulgar gestures during their two hours in 90-plus-degree heat.
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One driver yelled, "Do you know a president that doesn't lie?" Another yelled (erroneously), "We didn't impeach Clinton." (He was impeached by the House but not convicted in the Senate.)
One woman pulled over and asked sign-wavers whether the Democratic Party was sponsoring the protest. When they said no, the woman said that she was glad or she would have changed parties.
Most people just scowled or giggled at the sight of people in their 50s taking such a hard-line position.
According to a recent CBS News poll, President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent. A July survey by the nonpartisan American Research Group found that 45 percent of respondents said they want Congress to begin impeachment proceedings, while 46 percent opposed the idea.
Democratic leaders in Congress have vowed not to do so -- likely with independent voters such as George Bellgraud in mind. Bellgraud, a Hampstead resident, said that he found yesterday's protest "repulsive."
"It's not President Bush's problem," Bellgraud said. "It's our citizens' problem. We don't vote the right people in."
Protesters said that the war in Iraq, Bush's efforts to "neuter" the other two branches of government and their overall anger motivated them to take to the streets.
"People ask me why I do this, especially in Carroll County, and I say that it's even more important to show people here that we're not all of one opinion," said Jessica Conaway, 54, a psychiatric nurse and mother of three who lives in Eldersburg. "Some people who agree are passive, but hearing someone else honk gives them encouragement."
Helminiak, however, wondered whether the protesters had thought through the potential consequences of their call to action: "Then Richard Cheney would be our president."
Brown's answer was on his T-shirt: Impeach Cheney too.
Copyright © 2007 by The Baltimore Sun