NEW YORK -- Politics never interested Caryn Schenewerk until President George W. Bush decided to run for a second term. A twentysomething corporate lawyer working in Washington, Schenewerk vowed to galvanize her peers - she calls them "The Sex and the City" generation to get Bush out of office.
Thus Women Against Bush was born, complete with branded clothes and a series of anti-Bush singles parties that lasted until the early hours. Her organization quickly spread beyond the capital to claim more than 5,000 dues-paying members in 47 states. Those parties ended in November, and now, with the inauguration coming on Thursday, Schenewerk and the many other grassroots organizers who opposed the president are wondering what to do.
"In some ways, we are an opposition group in search of a purpose," Schenewerk said. "I am looking to give our list to a number of different groups who advocate equal pay for women, or deal with women's health care issues or abortion rights."
The fact that advocacy groups independent of the Democratic Party supported Senator John Kerry to the level of $188 million - more than three times the amount spent by groups supporting Bush - has political analysts saying that the country has entered a new era of political opposition.
"We have something unprecedented in U.S. history, and not just in modern U.S. history," said Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia who is writing a book about the 2004 election entitled "Armageddon: The Bush-Kerry Clash." "No other second-term president has started with such a slim margin of the popular vote and faced such well-organized opposition," Sabato said.
The only presidents re-elected by comparably tiny margins of the popular vote - Bush's margin was 2.4 percent - were Grover Cleveland, with 3 percent and Woodrow Wilson, with 3.2 percent, Sabato said. Moreover, he added, the bitter divisiveness of the election means that Bush has little prospect of winning over those who opposed him.
Nonetheless, with the Republicans dominant in Congress, the many Americans who are still angry and who oppose the president will likely have little means to influence his agenda within the governing structure.
"The funny thing is that when you look at all this opposition from the point of view of governance, it really doesn't matter," Sabato said. "If anything, the president has come out stronger."
Anger combined with an inability to take action will lead to frustration that Sabato predicts will boil over into street protests in Washington. Not all analysts agree. "Don't expect those critical of Bush policies to fade away, but don't expect to see us rerun 1960s-style protests," said Tom Andrews, a former congressman from Maine who is national director of Win Without War, a group that includes 42 national organizations opposed to the war in Iraq. "You will see 21st-century antiwar organizing."
One example of such organizing was a "virtual march" conducted by his group last March, in which Win Without War claimed to have rallied more than a million telephone calls to jam the switchboards of the U.S. Senate.
Schenewerk of Women Against Bush is still looking at how best to make use of the political group she created. "Of course we were not happy with the outcome," she said. "But we were very successful in getting a lot of young women interested in politics for the first time."
Indeed, more than 10 percent of voters in the 2004 election cast a vote for the first time, and the majority of them voted for John Kerry, Sabato said.
"These newly engaged voters will remain a force to be reckoned with," he said. "They will oppose anything Bush does and likely rally around specific issues that galvanize them in large numbers."
The search for a post-election purpose was kicked off in November by Moveon.org, one of the largest and most active groups opposing Bush, which held a town hall meeting in the form of 1,600 simultaneous house parties to get sense of what the group's 2.9 million members want to do next.
"We found there is still a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm among our members," said Wes Boyd, president of Moveon.org.
The top short-term issues raised by Moveon.org's members included pushing through election reform, opposing the war in Iraq, protecting the environment and defending civil liberties. In addition to a petition signed by 400,000 demanding that Congress investigate the fairness of voting in the November election, the group has been actively fighting Bush's nominee for attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, with a series of advertisements in newspapers and on television.
Moveon.org's concerns over the medium-term are focused on congressional elections in 2006, while the main longer-term issue is developing think tanks to better communicate a progressive agenda, Boyd said.
Those who worked to organize Democratic voters overseas, meanwhile, say there is already unprecedented enthusiasm to help win Congressional seats in 2006.
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