WINSTON-SALEM - A mostly quiet group of protesters gathered outside the entrance of Wake Forest University on Wednesday night to petition for causes as diverse as an excise tax on meat to overlooked third-party candidates.
About 200 people, some wearing pig costumes and others waving signs, stood in the cold night air under the brightly lit tower of Wake Forest's Wait Chapel, while presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore faced off in this year's second presidential debate.
The designated protest site, surrounded by a chain-link fence and divided into areas for different protest groups, stood empty for most of the night. The majority of protesters favored the more visible entranceway and the greater chance for exposure it offered.
Two members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, dressed in pig costumes, waved signs by a main campus entrance supporting a need for an excise tax on meat.
PETA spokesman Sean Gifford said the federal government routinely taxed products like tobacco and alcohol that posed health risks but neglected meat, which posed similar health risks.
Other protesters chose issues that affected them on a more personal level.
Shane Crews of Winston-Salem, wearing an Indian-style shirt with fringes and carrying a fan made with imitation eagle feathers, said he was protesting for universal health care and the environment.
Crews, who is part Comanche, said he works as an independent disc jockey and does not have any health insurance despite his severe asthma problem.
He said the presidential candidates should offer a health care plan for all Americans, not just those who qualify for welfare. "I'm an able-bodied worker who pays his fair share of taxes," Crews said. "Why should I not get affordable health care?"
But other protesters focused on third-party candidates excluded from tonight's debate, such as Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne, Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.
Some members of the Libertarian Party, chanting "Vote Browne, Not Green," said they attended the debate to bring attention to issues like income taxes and political persuasion.
Libertarian supporter Tom Howe, husband of the N.C. Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Barbara Howe, said the Presidential Debate Commission should include all feasible presidential candidates, including Browne.
Howe, carrying a sign emblazoned with a penguin resembling the Statue of Liberty, said it captured the party's political ideology. "The penguin is a cool animal," he said. "It's not stubborn like a jackass, and it won't trample our rights."
John Guglielnetti of Gastonia said he was protesting Buchanan's exclusion from the debate. "They won't let Pat in, so I'm here to wave the flag," he said.
Guglielnetti, waving a sign protesting financial involvement - not a flag - said the presidential debates were the most important events of the race.
"Big cash rules," he said. "The (PDC) won't allow anyone to challenge that."
Wake Forest senior Sarah Rackley of Charleston, S.C., was wearing a pro-Nader shirt. Rackley said she supports Nader due to his stance on issues like women's rights and the environment.
"I don't see a lot of difference between the two main candidates," Rackley said. But not all people gathered to petition for issues or candidates.
About eight Hare Krishna devotees attended the debate to lend it an air of spirituality, said Madan Mohan Mohini, a Hare Krishna devotee. "We're here chanting the holy names of God to bring auspiciousness and holiness to tonight's event."
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