Megan Vogt and Connie Durkee don't think Adidas should be making soccer shoes out of kangaroo leather.
So when the women's World Cup soccer matches came to Portland earlier this month, the two middle-aged women decided to draw attention to their animal rights cause by stripping off their clothes and running naked in front of more than 27,000 spectators at PGE Park during the Oct. 5 semifinal between the American and German teams.
Vogt, 40, and Durkee, 48, say they are not exhibitionists. But they agreed that streaking during the soccer match was the best way to get their message across.
"It seemed like the only way we could get people to pay any attention to us," Durkee said.
Both women regard their protest as civil disobedience. They were arrested after a few minutes on the field and pleaded guilty Tuesday to criminal trespass II charges.
Public political protests have become commonplace in recent years. Rallies and marches are routinely held to support or oppose a wide range of government policies and private business practices.
Adidas Kills Kangaroos
But the streaking episode is one example of activists using outrageous stunts -- and even humor -- to make a serious point.
"The crowd seemed to really enjoy it. They were cheering us on," Vogt said.
Another local example is Jennifer Whitney, a member of the Infernal Noise Brigade, a Pacific Northwest-based precision marching drum band with a toy rifle twirling contingent and flag corps. The group, whose numbers fluctuate between eight and 12 members, rejects dogmatic chants and slogans in favor of spirited drumming that mocks traditional military-style marching bands.
"How do we make rebellion enjoyable, effective and irresistible?" Whitney said. "Who wants the tedium of traditional demonstrations and protests -- the ritual marches from point A to B, the permits and police escorts, the staged acts of civil disobedience, the verbose rallies and dull speeches by leaders?"
Even the police appreciate the lighter approach.
"If people break the law, we have to enforce it. But you also have to give credit where credit is due, and when people are being creative it makes the job a lot more interesting," said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz.
Some protest targets find the attempts at humor confusing, however.
"I've seen demonstrations where I think some of the protesters are trying to be funny, but sometimes I can't figure out what they're actually trying to say. Sometimes the humor gets in the way of the message," said Dawn Phillips, press director for the Republican Party of Oregon.
'I felt like I was floating'
Vogt and Durkee consider their unconventional protest a success, in large part because the story was picked up by the Associated Press and ran in such newspapers as The New York Times and The Seattle Times.
"We only came up with the idea just two days before the match. That's a good thing, because if we'd had a long time to think about it, we might have chickened out," Durkee said.
Durkee said she and Vogt bought snap-off pants at a secondhand store the day before the game. They also wore blouses that could be quickly removed. Another activist smuggled cloth banners and poles into the stadium under his clothes. The two women assembled them in a restroom before stripping down to their sneakers and rushing onto the field when a foul stopped play.
"I know I was only on the field for a few minutes, but it felt much longer," Vogt said. "I felt like I was floating and could have outrun the security guards forever. But I slowed down and allowed myself to be caught after a short time because we had already made our point."
Although both Vogt and Durkee are physically fit, they deny there was anything overtly sexual about their protest.
"I'm not an 18-year-old. As we were being led out, one man yelled, 'Next time get in shape,' " Vogt said.
The idea of using nudity to convey a political message is hardly new. Another example occurred March 23 when approximately 150 people gathered at a farm near Banks, took off their clothes and lay on the ground in the form of a peace sign. A picture was taken from an airplane and posted on the Internet to protest the war with Iraq.
"By using our nude bodies in peaceful protest, we hoped to remind ourselves and others and the world that we are all equal in our fragility, vulnerability, morality and humanity," organizer Theresa Reed said.
A different approach is taken by the Radical Cheerleaders, a group of Portlanders who dress in traditional cheerleading outfits and perform mock chants and dance routines at antiwar rallies. Their over-the-top enthusiasm contrasts markedly with the angry demeanor and apocalyptic signs carried by many other peace protesters.
Portland Oregon's 'Radical Cheerleaders' - March 2003
Sentence lauded by the guilty
Despite their attempts at humor, however, such protesters occasionally find themselves at odds with the law.
Three members of the Infernal Noise Brigade were arrested by Portland police on a variety of charges during an July 8, 2002, protest outside the downtown Umpqua Bank. After a late August trial, Karl Johnson was acquitted of criminal trespass and Denell Fahey was acquitted of resisting arrest and interfering with a police officer. Jenna Barrett was convicted of interfering with a police officer.
Vogt and Durkee were arrested after their brief dash across PGE Park and pleaded guilty Monday to criminal trespass II charges. They were sentenced to eight hours of community service and required to write essays explaining how they can make political statements without breaking the law.
Both women thought the sentences were fair and were looking forward to the community service, which involves picking up garbage.
"The way I look at it, we'll be helping the environment," Durkee said.
© 2003 THE PORTLAND TRIBUNE