Ben Carson: Progress and protest in downtown Sarasota

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Photo credit: Jasmine Respess
Some of the protestors who gathered across from Bookstore1 included Professor of Chemistry Steven Shipman and first-year students James D’Amours and Emily Via.


Ben Carson’s “Heal+ inspire + revive” slogan struck a chord with the citizens of Sarasota as policemen shouted, a senior citizen fell to the floor, and news crews dove to the front of the room while Carson calmly entered a local independent bookstore. On Wednesday, Nov. 4, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson arrived for a book signing of his latest work, “A More Perfect Union” at BookStore1. The downtown Sarasota bookstore buzzed with anticipation while across the street, members of the community gathered to protest.

“I heard he was coming to Sarasota, I live close by and I’m a Republican,” University of South Florida (USF) student Nicole Hittel said. “I’m excited to meet a potential new president.”

Fans had to purchase a book, which retails for $28.84 plus tax, in order to meet Carson. He sat at a podium at the back of the store ready to sign books and take photos.

Carson described “A More Perfect Union” as a piece of literature that allows readers to become more familiar with the U.S. constitution’s history, how it can be used, and why it is important.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free… it expects what never was and never will be,” Carson cites Thomas Jefferson in the first chapter of his book.

“I have admired Dr. Carson for many years,” Bradenton resident Susan Hittel, a former editor of Reader’s Digest said. “We did a story on him and all his accomplishments. There are so many candidates, but I know, as a person, he is very admirable. He is someone who is a role model to many people, so I am showing support for him.”  

Bodyguards and policemen littered the bookstore while customers waited outside. Shouting could be heard from inside as Carson’s campaign truck arrived. During the hustle and bustle, an elderly man fell to the ground and had to be taken away on a stretcher.

“I guess we are making progress,” Carson replied when a reporter cited a poll that claimed that 52 percent of Donald Trump supporters have their mind made up when it comes to voting for Trump, while 34 percent of Carson supporters are steadfast in their support for Carson. Carson saw that as an improvement, citing previous polls that put the number at 15 percent.

Carson spoke exclusively with the press, which included reporters from CNN, ABC and local stations in the Sarasota area. He addressed his own policies, whether he would ever appear on Saturday Night Live like current president Barack Obama has in the past, and his thoughts on current political issues.

When asked about the country’s heroin epidemic, Carson said: “As far as our policies and what to do with addicted people, there are all kinds of addictions in our country right now, heroin is just one of them. A lot of that goes to the underlying needs in our country and I think we are going to have to start addressing some of those underlying needs that people have.”

Carson also spoke of the potential benefits of medical marijuana but he was adamant in his refusal to support marijuana for recreational use.

A group of demonstrators marched across the street, protesting Carson’s presence in Sarasota. “I’m here because the things that he’s been saying are not okay,” Professor of Chemistry Steven Shipman said. “Gay people have rights, it’s perfectly fine for Muslim people to be president. There are just so many things that he’s been saying that are just ridiculous.”

Shipman was one of several members of the New College community who arrived to protest the event. “I just came to protest Ben Carson’s harmful messages of hate that seem to be gaining traction,” first-year Jason D’Amours said. “I can’t wrap my head, I can’t understand how much popularity he has.”

D’Amours found out about the protest through the Facebook page and posted a thread on the Forum to alert other students.

“[Carson] has a lot of opinions that negatively impact working families, that negatively impact minorities,” first-year Emily Via said.

As protesters marched and shouted, customers waiting in line for the book signing yelled at them in retaliation. Tensions were high.

“It’s exhilarating,” Shipman said in regards to protesting. “Seeing other people who feel the same way you do is phenomenal. It’s really interesting to see the array of forces against progress […] and so also knowing who you’re going up against can also be intimidating.”

Although the store ran out of physical copies before Carson arrived, people were able to purchase the book and use a receipt to obtain a copy at the event. Bookstore1 sold 500 copies of the book, days before the actual event.


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