Volume 74, Number 16 | August 18 - 24 , 2004

Just two guys who don’t want G.O.P. to have a grand old time

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

Villager photo by Talisman Brolin

Gary Boston, left, and Jeff Adler of Shut It Down!

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay may not be able to tap his foot to the tunes of the Broadway show “Bombay Dreams” in early September and Congressmember Marilyn Musgrave (R – Colo.) might have to forgo such delicacies as champagne and caviar from room service at the New York Marriott hotel. That is, if two Downtown “accidental activists” have their way.

Through Shut It Down! — New York City, a project designed to challenge the city’s impending Republican National Convention, New Yorkers Gary Boston and Jeff Adler are encouraging actors, musicians, servers, retail salespeople and hotel staff from across the city to call in sick on Sept. 1, the day before President Bush’s speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination. Boston and Adler have declared the day a citywide holiday and said participants will help send a clear message to Republicans flooding Manhattan — that the current administration’s policies are unacceptable.

“The primary message we want to send conventioneers is how far out of the mainstream we think the party has moved them,” said Boston, one of the two self-proclaimed “just two guys with a computer” who dreamed up the project this past spring. Both Boston and co-creator Adler live Downtown — Boston in Chelsea and Adler in Tribeca — and work full time in corporate America, Boston on Wall St., Adler in advertising.

Inspired by a fundraiser they attended for John Kerry and frustrated with the current administration’s policies and plans, the two wanted to voice their concerns about the Bush administration’s effect on New York City. They said they were troubled by Bush’s support of the proposed Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage — authored by Congressmember Musgrave — by the administration’s $1.2 billion cut of federal funding to New York City schools and by the White House’s misinformation about the quality of air following 9/11.

“We were feeling frustrated and powerless in general about the whole election and about the Republicans coming to New York,” Boston said.

So, late one night at a diner on 15th St. and Seventh Ave. the two created a logo — an upside-down, dead, Republican elephant — and planned a simple Web site, http://shutitdownnyc.com, to help New Yorkers protest what they call the “Republican invasion.” Waiters and salespeople should take the day off, the two decided, and their non-service industry friends should in turn take them out to lunch or dinner to support the decision, a concept Boston and Adler called shared sacrifice. “It’s our city, we run it, we can SHUT IT DOWN,” they post on the Web site.

In June, during screenings of the film “Fahrenheit 9/11” the pair kicked off the project by spending an entire night handing out Shut It Down! — New York City stickers and fliers to moviegoers. The fliers are available on the project Web site. One depicts religious broadcaster Pat Robertson with two text bubbles — one containing an actual quote of his and the other a fictional thought.

“Many of those people involved with Adolf Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals,” the Robertson quote reads. “The two things seem to go together, it is a pathology, it is a sickness.” “I bet that red-curried duck at Spice Market is gonna be dee-lish!,” the thought bubble reads.

The response to the fliers was positive, Boston said. Since then, he and Adler have designed and printed T-shirts with the project’s name and logo, which they sell on the Web site. The site has now received more than 12,000 hits. “It’s been very viral, very word of mouth,” said Boston. “We didn’t want to get into raising money because we both have demanding jobs and no experience with the activism front.”

Along Spring St. in Soho, waiters, bartenders and salespeople shared mixed feelings on the project — some said they would support any idea that protests the Republicans, but others worried about a day’s less salary and lost tips.

“I’m completely against Bush and would definitely consider it,” said John Reno, a waiter at Tennessee Mountain Restaurant at Wooster and Spring Sts. Reno is Canadian-born, but now an American citizen. “Nothing positive has come from the Republican administration,” he said.

Down the street at La Dolce Vita restaurant, bartender JoAnne Anderson said she could not afford to call in sick — everyone has to pay the rent. “I wouldn’t reelect [Bush] and I appreciate what they’re doing, but I would not only be risking missing a day of work, I would risk getting fired,” she said.

Others worried about the effect such a protest could have on New York’s economy. But the city has survived major economic events in the past, Boston said, and one day of protest would probably not have any severe, long-lasting repercussions.

The number of Shut It Down! participants will be hard to gauge, Boston said, but given the number of e-mails he has received, he thinks the project will be a success. “If we get 200 people to do it that’s great, and if we get 20,000 that’s great as well. At least we’re giving people the opportunity to express themselves.”

As for Boston and Adler, on Sept. 1 they too will take off work and take to the streets in their Shut It Down! T-shirts to observe the public’s reactions to the convention. “I think there are many different ways to raise your voice against the Republicans coming here,” Boston said. “If [Shut It Down!] sends people back to their home states with even a kernel of a question in their minds that they’re out of step with the rest of country, that would be ideal.”

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