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Tonight's Debate: A Billion Ways to Protest - Not Your Father's Protest March
Published on Thursday, September 30, 2004 by Boca Raton News (Florida)
Tonight's Debate: A Billion Ways to Protest - Not Your Father’s Protest March
by Paige Stein
 
Pink lingerie, lemonade stands, rented limos and opera-length strands of pearls - groups protesting the Bush administration and its policies are using wit, satire and creativity to get their message across in Florida and other key battleground states.

Billionaires for Bush, is just one the grassroots groups opposing Bush that will be holding activities in Southeast Florida throughout the month of October – beginning with a debate watching event in Miami tonight.

Billionaires, which was founded during the 2000 Presidential election, uses street theatre and humor to draw attention to what it calls the “disastrous economic policies” of the Bush administration. ‘Billionaires’ dressed up in evening gowns, opera-length gloves and top coats and tails show up at Bush-Cheney events holding signs that read “Corporations are people too,” “Widen the Income Gap” and “Leave No Billionaire Behind.”

They also make limo tours through swing states to sign up new members, garner media attention and shadow Bush and Cheney on the campaign trail.

Members have ‘billionaire names,’ such as Letta M. Eatcake and Ionna Big Yacht, and their press statements are often given in character and entirely satirical. “When people see a sign like ‘Healthcare for the healthy,’ they have to think about what they’ve just read. It’s in that moment of looking back that makes people think and question these policies and that’s what we’re aiming for. That’s the reason satire works because people look twice,” said Billionaire Clea R. Channel, who is helping to organize Billionaire for Bush events in Florida.

The 21-year-old student said that it was the satire and irony that drew her to Billionaires in the first place.

“I knew I wanted to work in this election, but I didn’t know if I wanted to work on my own or be part of a group, but I liked the way Billionaires used humor and satire to point out the increasing division between the middle class and the wealthy and the policies that are hurtful to the middle class,” she said.

“Most of the new jobs or jobs available to people my age coming out of school are part-time, not full-time, or they’re minimum wage without healthcare benefits. You can’t call those jobs for people who want to be part of the middle class, be able to own a home and send their kids to college.”

Although Billionaire Clea. R Channel says she’s not dramatic by nature and hasn’t acted in a play since third grade, she says she enjoys going to events in character because, even if people don’t agree with the Billionaires – and many don’t, she points out – they usually appreciate the humor behind the message. “It’s hard to be hostile when you’re smiling,” she said.

Florida Billionaire Ollie Garky said he was attracted to the group because of its level of professionalism and high degree of organization.

“It was a good fit for me. There are a lot of political organizations out there and a lot of strange people become part of them, to be honest. But I found Billionaires to be really organized, really on the level and very business-like and driven,” said the 29-year-old musician. “And I really enjoy the irreverence, the costumes and the street theater.”

He also said that although there were many issues motivating him to participate in the elections this year, as a Floridian, he was particularly concerned about the fairness of the state’s elections this year. “Personally, I was really appalled by what when on during the last election and, unfortunately, I don’t think things have gotten much better, when you look at the purging of the voter rolls, and the intimidation of African-American voters, and the millions that were spent on a touch screen voting system that doesn’t even leave a paper trail so vote counts can be checked for accuracy,” he said.

As part of their activities in Florida, Billionaires will be traveling throughout the state, beginning October 2, for one month on their Florida ‘Get on the Limo’ Tour. The tour will feature hip hop Billionaires Fifty Billion and musician Felonius Axe “performing satirical, political hip hop songs at college campuses, concerts and street actions.” The group says they specifically hope to galvanize student and African American voters in Florida with the tour.

“We’re running a new campaign called ‘Block The Vote,’ which highlights the measures used in the 2000 Florida elections that are in danger of being used in the current election,” said Billionaire organizer ClearR Channel. “We’re hoping that sending rappers into African American neighborhoods and colleges campuses will motivate people to vote and keep them from being intimidated.”

The Power of Pink

Billionaires is kicking off their Florida activities, with a debate-watching event held at the Sunset Tavern in South Miami in conjunction with CODEPINK, a “women-initiated” grassroots group that considers itself “pro-democracy and pro-peace rather than anti-Bush” – although its agenda often coincides with groups opposing Bush. The name CODEPINK plays on the Bush Administration’s color-coded homeland security advisory system that signals terrorist threats. The group says its CODEPINK alert is “based on compassion” and is a “feisty call” for women and men to “wage peace.”

“The debate-watching event is an opportunity to be able to talk to each other and address serious issues in a fun and creative way,” says CODEPINK event organizer Andrea Buffa, 37. Buffa says that the group’s creativity was exactly what drew her to it in the first place. “I was very much opposed to the war in Iraq and a lot of new groups were forming before the war started, but I liked the way CODEPINK tried to draw women’s energy into the anti-war effort. I was captured by its creativity and the way it appeals to women. And I’ve been wearing pink ever since.”

In fact, wearing pink at events and handing out symbolic pink slips, pieces of lingerie, to politicians who they think deserve them is just one of the ways the group tries to harness the “power of pink.” The group also set up pink lemonade stands across Florida and other battleground states on Sept. 18, in honor of National Women’s Election Day, in order to register voters.

“We put out pink table clothes and set up stands on street corners and in parks and we registered a bunch of voters. It was great. It was really hot and people really wanted the pink lemonade,” she said.

One of the added benefits of wearing pink, according to Buffa, is that it tends to deflect hostility. “It disarms people to see us all in pink, even if they disagree. People are less likely to give the finger or curse at me because I’m a small woman wearing pink.”

In addition to the debate-watching event, Buffa says that CODEPINK will be staging an anti-war protest in conjunction with the Broward Anti-War Coalition tomorrow night in front of the Ponce de Leon Middle School in Miami at 6:00 p.m. The group will be making 70 coffins for the event to represent the soldiers who have died in Iraq since Sept. 1.

“It brings it home to a lot people to see what it really means. The military has banned journalists from taking photos of coffins coming back from Iraq, so this is one way to show people what it really means, the enormous losses,” she said.

© 2004 Boca Raton News

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