KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- Nearly 1,000 AIDS activists briefly took over the main roads of this tiny town yesterday to highlight their demand that President Bush take bolder action to combat the deadly epidemic.
Although sponsored by ACT-UP, a group known for its extreme tactics, yesterday's demonstration was calm, peaceful and extremely well-organized.
When parading protesters were stopped by heavily gloved Maine State Police about a quarter-mile from Mr. Bush's vacation home, they chanted for the benefit of onlookers and camera crews for about 30 minutes and then retreated quietly.
"We're trying to say to the world that George Bush isn't paying attention to this issue like he is to other issues," explained Lawrence J. Kessler, a member of the National Commission on AIDS who also marched. "But we wanted it to be calm so we wouldn't feed him the opportunity to discredit a legitimate protest."
The demonstrators contend that Mr. Bush has not moved fast enough to develop a comprehensive and coordinated federal response to the AIDS crisis and that people are dying unnecessarily because of the delay.
"Health care is a right," they chanted. "We need more than points of light. . . . How many more have to die? . . . Shame, shame, shame."
At the climax of the four-hour demonstration, scores of protesters were taken off stretchers and laid down on Ocean Avenue, which leads to Mr. Bush's home, in a "die-in."
The president and the entire summer White House staff were out of sight and unavailable for comment during this performance.
The president attended unusually early services at St. Anne's Church, near what would later be the protest site and returned to his Walker's Point compound for the rest of the day.
Earlier last month, he said that he was troubled by the thought of what a large, unruly protest could do to a town that has only 3,000 residents and narrow, winding streets. He warned that demonstrators could hurt their cause if their behavior was illegal or disruptive.
Merchants have been braced all week for the onslaught, unsure of whether to close their doors on the biggest holiday weekend of the year.
In the end, most stayed open, and the march of colorfully customed gay men and women was treated as an interesting spectacle by local residents as well as by tourists, many of whom snapped souvenir photos.
Jean Briggs, proprietor of the Mast Cove art gallery, even provided plastic cups of mineral water in front of her shop to show her support for the demonstrators as they came by.