With shouts of "Kill the bill!" and "Thank you, Mr. President!" demonstrators staked out their positions on health-care legislation yesterday outside the Arcadia University gymnasium, where President Obama urged support.
Tea-party activists who oppose the legislation outnumbered supporters, with about 200 sign-wielding, slogan-shouting tea partyers attending a morning news conference before Obama arrived.
"At stake for America is our future, our independence, and our liberty," said Steve Lonegan, a former New Jersey gubernatorial candidate and the state director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative public policy group.
Lonegan called the current health-care overhaul proposal the "cold fingers of government wrapping around the soul."
The half-hour news conference organized by the Independence Hall Tea Party Association got off to a boisterous start when Cheltenham Township police tried to move the location for safety reasons.
When protesters shouted down the police with yells of "Free speech!" and organizer Don Adams assured police that the group would stay clear of passing traffic, authorities relented.
Demonstrators as young as 14-year-old Rachel Victor, of Cheltenham, were joined by seniors including Hugh Miller, 88, of East Norriton.
But by the time the president's 20-plus-car motorcade arrived on campus, pro-health care legislation activists wielded their own signs and slogans.
"I believe it's the right of all Americans to have health care," said Troy McLean, 28, a Cheltenham librarian. "We are the freest country in the world, and there's no excuse that many Americans are uninsured."
Trokon Kofa, a 42-year-old Liberian immigrant and Obama supporter, got into a spirited debate with Clare Chomyn, 58, of Germantown.
"If we can pay taxes for our children to go to war and die, then why can't we pay taxes for people to live?" said Kofa, a student at Community College of Philadelphia.
Chomyn, a registered Democrat who opposes Obama's proposals, told Kofa that tax rates would rise to unmanageable levels and that government was incapable of managing health care.
Kathy DiPangrazio, 52, a Montgomery Township Democrat who worked on the Obama campaign, said that it was time for supporters of the legislation to raise their voices as loudly as those who oppose it.
She held up an Obama/Biden sign left over from the campaign.
Other demonstrators waved signs including "Keep the Change, not the Debt," "Obamacare, Sick Joke," "Healthcare Reform, Yes We Can," and "Stay the Course, Thank You!"
When the president's motorcade departed shortly after noon, only a few demonstrators remained, but the debate among them continued.