PHILADELPHIA -- A review of the freshly minted Republican platform turns up few planks to which the fortunate might object, but that didn't stop "Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)'' from hitting the streets Sunday for a Million Billionaire March "to end the isolation of the very wealthy.''
Chanting "What do we want? Tax breaks!'' the mostly young "billionaires'' wore tuxedos and ball gowns, and carried a bipartisan message. "Bush? Gore? Bush? Gore?'' they yelled. "We don't care who you vote for! We've already bought 'em.''
"It's already clear that one of our two candidates will become president. We've already won,'' declared the group, which is in Philadelphia all week to deliver the message that "we're paying for America's free elections (so you don't have to).''
The "billionaires'' will be joining all the marches, rallies and demonstrations organized to protest this week's Republican National Convention. Angered "because inequality is not growing fast enough,'' the group announced plans for a "Vigil for Corporate Welfare,'' a "Billionaires Rampage,'' and a "Coronation Party'' to coincide with George W. Bush's acceptance of the Republican presidential nomination.
A wholly owned subsidiary of Boston-based United for a Fair Economy, Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) is, in the words of UFE's Chuck Collins, "a not very subtle reminder for delegates and the media that big money has stolen our democracy.'' Collins, who was born into the family that once owned Madison's Oscar Mayer meatpacking plant, has devoted much of his life to campaigning for progressive tax laws that require wealthy Americans to pay their fair share.
When they're not marching, Collins and his fellow "billionaires'' will link arms around the Federal Reserve Building and levitate interest rates, auction off advertising rights on the Liberty Bell and conduct a feng-shui ceremony to create the proper atmosphere for demolition of Chinatown neighborhoods for a proposed stadium that will use taxpayer subsidies.
In addition to satirizing the GOP's economics, UFE is a convener of the Shadow Convention designed to raise issues not being addressed on the convention floor. The other conveners include Common Cause, Public Campaign, the Lindesmith Center, Call to Renewal, the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support and author Arianna Huffington.
Seminars and related events throughout the week will focus on drug war failures, poverty and campaign finance reform, as will a Shadow Convention paralleling the Democratic convention in mid-August.
The Philadelphia Shadow Convention opened with a speech on campaign finance issues from U.S. Sen. John McCain -- who drew cheers until he endorsed Bush. Other scheduled speakers include thinkers and doers ranging from former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream founder Ben Cohen to the Rev. Jesse Jackson. And, unlike the Republican gathering down the road, issues -- as opposed to partisan hoopla -- will be on the agenda.
"The parties have drained the meaning out of the conventions,'' says Huffington. "The Shadow Conventions will make people sit up and say: `Why aren't George Bush and Al Gore talking about the issues that really matter?' ''
Copyright 2000 The Capital Times