While a two-hour debate raged on the floors of the U.S. House and Senate over the certification of the presidential election, more than 400 activists waited outside to learn which of their leaders would join their cause.
Under an overcast sky, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the activists - still refusing to accept the results of the November election - not to be bitter.
As he spoke, many of them wept, because for some, the anger over what they refer to as "the stolen election" is precisely what won't let them let go.
It has been more than two months since President Bush declared victory. But the activists who assembled Thursday in Washington, D.C., and countless others across the country say they refuse to concede and have made investigating voter irregularities in Ohio their top priority - sometimes forsaking their livelihood or former selves.
A close look at four of the many activists who refuse to concede the election.
Kerry concession ignites blogger's passion
Lawyer Ray Beckerman was so stunned that he nearly crashed his car into a light pole when he heard Sen. John Kerry was expected to concede the election.
All at once, the election night volunteerism, which Beckerman thought would be a nice community service, had lit a fire beneath the 56-year-old commercial litigation attorney. Within two months, Beckerman would become one of the nation's foremost bloggers on Ohio's voting irregularities, devoting 90 percent of his time to his cause.
The lawyer had spent election night in Columbus, manning the Democratic Party hot line to advise voters reporting trouble at the polls. He and 19 other lawyers heard more than 1,000 stories from people who waited up to 10 hours to vote, never received absentee ballots, had provisional ballots rejected or said they were interrogated by poll challengers for no reason.
The next day, Beckerman was on his way back to New York City, where he has practiced business and entertainment law for 26 years. He flipped through the radio stations searching for news that echoed the reports of the Ohio voters he spoke to the night before, but heard nothing. Beckerman called his son, Eli, an astrophysicist in Somerville, Mass., and asked for an update on the chaos in Ohio.
"Haven't you heard?" his son said. "Kerry's about to concede."
"I absolutely could not believe he was conceding," Beckerman said. "And all over, we later heard that, except for the long lines, the election went smoothly in Ohio. Never mind that almost everyone in long lines had black faces or were in Democratic precincts."
Beckerman wrote his election night experiences in an e-mail to friends, but within days he learned that his e-mail, which he titled "Basic Report from Columbus," had been circulating on the Internet. Beckerman, who had written only a general Web log before the election, decided to shift the focus of his blog to voter disenfranchisement.
"I decided there must be some kind of grass-roots organizing to bring this to the attention of the world," he said.
Beckerman's blog includes a list of upcoming protests and hundreds of links to material he calls "primary evidence" of an unfair election in Ohio. The attorney said that to free up time for his law practice, he must pull his efforts away from election reform and focus on pending investigations of the election.
"I have to do this for my children and my children's children," Beckerman said. "Years from now, if someone were to ask me what I was doing during this period in history, I want to say I was fighting it."
Beckerman's blog can be found at: http://fairnessbybeckerman.blogspot.com.
Poll watcher won't rest until she sees reforms
On election night, after Dr. Patricia Blochowiak finished her duties as a Democratic poll watcher at Lakeside Baptist Church in East Cleveland, she headed over to the Sheraton hotel to celebrate with Cleveland's Democratic Party.
She didn't stay long. She was exhausted. And Ohio, she figured, would put John Kerry over the top.
"I remember knowing at some point that [John] Edwards said he wanted to make every vote count, and that seemed like good news," Blochowiak said.
But while she drafted a letter to lawyers, describing long lines and the harassment of voters at the East Cleveland polling place, she heard over the radio that Kerry had given up. She vowed she would not.
Blochowiak, a family doctor with a history of advocating peace and sustainable energy, visited meet-ups for several Democratic candidates last year before deciding on Kerry.
"I appreciated that he fought in Vietnam and then for peace when he returned," she said. "And also, as a physician, I just really believed in his plan for health-care reform."
The East Cleveland doctor threw herself onto the campaign trail, serving on the steering committee of Doctors for Kerry, going door-to-door with literature, distributing bumper stickers outside of theaters showing the anti-Bush film "Fahrenheit 9/11" and housing out-of-state members of Kerry's campaign team.
Blochowiak thought her work was done on election night and she could return to her work with Global Awareness Through the Arts (& Sciences), the nonprofit group she founded to broaden the perspectives of children in East Cleveland. But it was just the beginning.
Blochowiak observed ballot recounts in Medina, Jefferson and Cuyahoga counties. None of them, the doctor said, was done according to state law.
"We were not allowed to see the way the pretest of the tabulating machines was done," she said. The precincts were not chosen at random. "In Medina, they were chosen according to size. The rationale was that otherwise we'd be here all day."
The unsatisfied doctor helped organize a public hearing in East Cleveland, where voters related stories of painfully long lines and unnecessary harassment at the polls. The transcripts have been sent to Congress, Blochowiak said, but even after Bush's inauguration on Jan. 20, she won't rest until the process of voting has been reformed.
"We need paper ballots that people mark with X's" to avoid hanging chads, she said. "And counting needs to be done publicly and on videotape. We cannot have the votes counted by people who are committed to delivering the vote to the Republicans."
A history of activism dating from the '60s
Harvey Wasserman, senior editor of freepress.org, speaks to the media about the lawsuit against President Bush on the presidential election results from the state of Ohio, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2005, in Washington. Wasserman, along with 50 other people from Ohio have come to Washington to constitutionally challenge the election results of Ohio. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
Harvey Wasserman was in the middle of his workout when Kerry conceded the election.
All around him people ran on treadmills, paying little attention to the health club television - or to the Columbus-based activist who listened in shock to Kerry's speech.
"It was short and quick, like a thief in the night," Wasserman said. "After he spent all this time and half a billion dollars to put himself forward as the candidate who would win the election for the Democratic Party, to concede less than 24 hours after the election was a complete abdication of responsibility."
Before he went to bed on election night, Wasserman learned that the tide had turned away from Kerry's victory. But he had no idea that, for the Democrats, the controversial election would be over so soon - or that for his corps of activists, it was the beginning of a struggle to prevent Bush's inauguration.
Wasserman's résumé as an activist and journalist dates to the early 1960s civil rights movement. In the 1970s, he helped launch the grass-roots anti-nuclear movement and helped coin the phrase "No Nukes." He teaches history at Columbus State Community College and has spent most of his career speaking and writing against nuclear power and promoting trends in renewable energy.
Currently, he is senior editor at www.freepress.org, an alternative Web site, which started as a publication in 1970 as a forum for activism and protest against the Vietnam War. Since Nov. 2, Wasserman has rallied support for investigations into voting irregularities, organized public hearings in Columbus, worked on a documentary and called for a revote in Ohio.
The hearings and demonstrations and a soon-to-be-released book and the documentary, which contains what Wasserman called "devastating footage" from election night, will stand as historic record, the activist said. But Bush's inauguration won't end Wasserman's activities.
"The people of progressive politics who are despairing should remember what happened to Nixon after he was re-elected in the midst of Watergate," he said. "We must make sure the crimes of this election are not lost in their impact. Bush can't steal an election and walk away without consequences."
'Nobody's giving up,' activists are galvanized
Sheri Myers was in the Orlando, Fla., airport, coming off of John Kerry's Florida campaign operation, when she got the call. Her mom phoned to tell her that Kerry had conceded the election.
"You know that feeling when you're in a relationship, and you know in your soul that someone has been cheating on you?" she said, remembering that moment in the airport terminal. "That's how I felt. I knew something was terribly wrong."
Myers started Mar Vista Neighbors for Peace and Justice, a protest group in her Los Angeles neighborhood, and is a member of Code PINK, a women's peace organization, which made waves in September when members were arrested outside the Republican National Convention.
Myers helped mobilize 200 volunteers in Marion County, Fla., who worked the phones, drove the elderly to the polls and distributed literature. But the mission, Myers said, only intensified after Kerry gave up.
Myers is distributing a DVD as part of a "Voter Fraud Activist Kit." The video, produced by Columbus filmmaker Linda Byrket and titled "Ohio/Nov2-Standing in the Rain with Jim Crow," depicts long lines, voters waiting in the rain or being told they're at the wrong precinct, Myers said.
"What we have here is a civil rights violation on a massive level," she said.
Originally from Delaware, Ohio, Myers spread the word about the DVD on her e-mail list of 300 activist friends. She also distributed copies of the DVD along her bus tour to Washington, D.C., to protest Congress' certification of the election.
Even as Bush prepares for his inauguration, Myers said she will galvanize her protest by linking up with activists in other major cities and bringing them to Washington.
"Nobody's giving up," she said. "Thousands of people are gonna come to Washington by the busload, because now we know how to do it. Nothing is stopping us. These buses are gonna roll."
© Copyright 2005 The Plain Dealer