Volume 73, Number 54 | May 12 - 18, 2004

Irony and politics do mix for street-theater group

By Heather Paster

In February, Billionaires for Bush staged a demonstration with a convincing Karl Rove look-a-like, right, outside a Bush fundraiser in the Flatiron District.

With a presidential campaign in full swing, most can’t help but tune out a certain amount of the barrage of hype and campaign ads. Special interest political organizations pop up, make their claim and are quickly forgotten.

Billionaires for Bush, a satirical political organization, has been trying to break this pattern by melding humor and politics. Portraying wealthy billionaires with noms de guerre like Phil T. Rich, Iona Yacht and Pam Perd, they attend demonstrations not against, but to all appearances, in support, of the current administration. At the demonstrations, their ironic slogans reflect how the administration purportedly helps them succeed — “More Blood for Oil,” “Corporations Are People Too” and “Leave No Billionaire Behind” — the Billionaires create a spectacle and then engage people in discussions about the issues.

Lest there be any confusion, in reality the group has one goal — they’ll do anything to get Bush out of the White House.

Currently focused on the swing states, the organization wants to educate voters about specific issues. Billionaires are given a list of talking points when they go out in public and are told to avoid discussing issues such as abortion or gay marriage.

“They are not relevant and can alienate supporters,” says Lucinda Regulations. The guidelines help ensure they have a unified front.

Preparing for an upcoming demonstration, the more experienced Billionaires role-played potential discussions with “the common folk.” Members then discussed the interaction and offered suggestions to prepare

April 15 was a big day for the Billionaires as they led their first nationwide demonstration on the steps of post offices across the country. With their satirical signs of “Tax Work Not Wealth” they hoped to garner a few laughs on a normally stressful day, as well as get media coverage.

As a rule, the Billionaires for Bush stay in character during protests. But as any Billionaire will tell you, there are exceptions to every rule. Members will break out of the persona when appropriate to the situation — generally if something serious arises. One such time was when a pro-Bush supporter felt the group was disrespecting the casualties of Sept. 11. The Billionaire explained that he was stepping out of character and addressed the concerned demonstrator.

Many members only know each other by their Billionaire name. For some, a name was chosen swiftly, perhaps inspired by suggestions from the group’s Web site. Others spent a longer time before naming their alter ego. Lucinda Regulations (Emily Wyns) responds just as naturally to Lucinda as she does to Emily.

“This character is just as much part of my identity as Emily is,” she said. Hal E. Burton uses his name and leadership role to bring attention to Haliburton and Vice President Cheney’s unseemly golden parachute and the company’s aims on Iraq’s oil.

Ranging in ages and careers, the members cannot be characterized by anything other than their passion for the organization. For many, this is their first foray into politics. The volunteer members say the group’s humor, creativity and high energy are contagious and empowering. Already, Billionaires for Bush claims chapters in 45 states with more popping up internationally. Their Web site has Do-It-Yourself kits, downloads and all of the necessary paraphernalia necessary to start a chapter. An active blog on the Web site keeps all members informed of events.

Using irony and satire in street theater, Billionaires for Bush feel they are able to draw attention that they would not otherwise get. The media has played an important role in spreading their message and attracting new supporters. At their weekly meetings — at a loft in Nolita — members talk about the press they have received and brainstorm ways to generate more attention.

The group scored its biggest media coup in February when they staged their act outside Eugene nightclub on W. 24th St., where Karl Rove, the president’s political advisor, was hosting a fundraiser for under-40 Bush supporters. A Rove look-a-like among the adoring Billionaires initially faked out the media, leading photographers and reporters to believe he was the real Rove.

While they have not been acknowledged by the Bush administration, the Billionaires certainly would like to be in the national spotlight. Despite portraying a rich exclusive club, Billionaires for Bush welcomes all members and encourages people to assume leadership roles.

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