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Protesters sing for Obama at fundraiser

Paying attendees broke out in song as President Obama addressed a crowd at a San Francisco hotel. They used the tune to lament the treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of passing classified information to WikiLeaks.

April 22, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — As free speech goes, it was anything but.

Protesters disrupted a big-ticket fundraiser for President Obama at a San Francisco hotel Thursday, serenading the president with a song about Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of passing classified information to the website WikiLeaks.

Obama was speaking to the crowd of about 200 supporters when Oakland activist Naomi Pitcairn stood up and declared that she and others at her table had written a song for the president.

Brushing off his suggestion to wait, the 10 people seated at the table burst into a refrain that lamented the Pentagon's detention of Manning, described as abuse by human rights advocates. The song also touched on the cost of a ticket to the president's fundraiser, and on Florida Rev. Terry Jones, who recently burned a copy of the Koran, sparking a deadly reaction in Afghanistan.

"Each of us brought you $5,000 / It takes a lot of Benjamins to run a campaign / I paid my dues / Where's our change?" they sang.

The group held up small signs that read "Free Bradley Manning."

Obama appeared somewhat displeased, as did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), also in attendance. But the president ultimately seemed to take the disruption in stride.

Pitcairn, who told reporters she paid the $76,000 for the group at her table to attend the breakfast event, was escorted from the ballroom by the Secret Service. Two other attendees at the table left on their own. The rest of the singers remained.

Tickets for the event ranged from $5,000 to $35,800.

"That was a nice song," Obama said when the protest was over. "Now, where was I?"

Aides later said Obama found the interruption "funny" and that it had energized his morning. He did not address Manning's treatment.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

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