Volume 74, Number 28 | November 10 - 16, 2004

Actor Paul Rudd exited from P.S. 3 on Hudson St. on Election Day to find paparazzi waiting for him.

After Bush win, progressives say the battle has just begun

By Ronda Kaysen

While most blue staters are still licking their wounds in defeat, some who were active in the months leading up to the presidential election are saying they are invigorated — not discouraged — by this latest setback. While many progressives express dissolution and alienation from the country’s expansive red states, these New Yorkers have laid out the groundwork for political action and intend to use it.

“I am not deterred one bit,” said Harold Kramer, owner of Raven bar on Avenue A. During the campaign Kramer joined up with Kerry Village, an East Village Democratic group, and transformed his bar into a political action base of sorts, hosting debate parties, clothing swaps for Kerry and fundraising parties. “The Democrats launched the most vital campaign they’ve launched in years,” he said.

Suspicious of what he sees as another “stolen” election, Kramer donated money to BlackBoxVoting.org, a new nonprofit organization that cropped up after the election to investigate allegations of faulty electronic ballot boxes. “This election was stolen by the Republicans and by the use of touch-screen machines, voter intimidation, the long lines to discourage voters,” he said. Kramer has encouraged friends in the television media industry to cover the story of the faulty machines. “I will do whatever I can to get fair elections in this country once again,” he said. He is also considering launching a political action group of his own in the event that Kerry Village folds.

The group that drew Kramer into the fold, Kerry Village, has yet to plot its next step and may close up shop. Its members, however, remain energized. “We’re sort of in a regrouping mode and a reassessment,” said Adam Rich, the grassroots organization’s director. After the election, Rich sent out an e-mail to his members, testing their mood. One hundred percent of the people who replied had no intention of throwing in the towel. Most of them, he said, had never been politically active before this election. “Pretty much unanimously, people want to stay involved in the fight,” he said. Just how that will happen remains to be seen. Rich may rename Kerry Village — which may not be necessary given John Kerry’s recent announcement that he intends to take another crack at the White House in 2008 — or he may redirect his members to a larger, more established network of activists.

With the nation’s increased usage of Internet and cell phones, this election saw a new way to boost local political involvement across state lines. Many New Yorkers found themselves at phone banks calling voters in swing states and following Web blogs to get a sense of the country’s mood. After the election, that infrastructure still exists and activists are just beginning to figure out ways to keep it going. John Raskin, founder and director of Democracy in the Park, a group that used free weekend cell phone minutes to call voters in swing states from Manhattan’s parks, plans to continue to reach out to likeminded individuals in the country’s red states. “We need to build coalitions with allies in other parts of the country,” he said. “Our model of using cell phones is going to come back in some form.”

Howard Dean, the innovator of the Internet-based campaign method, has no intention of slowing down, and with rumors flying that he has designs on Terry McAuliffe’s job — chairperson of the Democratic National Committee — he may ultimately steer the Democratic Party itself. His group, Democracy for America, sees this election cycle as a collection of smaller victories where Dean-endorsed candidates, called the Dean Dozen, were elected to victory across the country as part of a larger 10-year plan.

One of the Dean Dozen candidates in New York City, Jonathan Bing, won re-election to the New York State Assembly, securing 74 percent of the vote. “We are absolutely going to continue what we’re doing,” said Laura Gross, a spokesperson for Democracy for America. “We need to start campaigning now. We have to start talking about these issues.” New Yorkers can stay active through Web blogs, sending letters to the editor to newspapers, writing elected officials and getting involved in local political races, she said. “What Dean brought is a whole sense of community through the Internet,” she said.

Staying active in the face of defeat has its risks, according to Dr. Robert R. Butterworth, a psychologist at International Trauma Associates in Los Angeles. Before the election, Butterworth sent out an e-mail blast advisory warning people to be on the alert for symptoms of post-election despair.

“There’s a lot of anger,” he told The Villager. “The more involved they were, the more angry they are. They can’t unhook it, it’s like a dog holding onto a bone with meat left on it.”

Recent allegations of voter fraud, said Butterworth, may be examples of anger run amok. He suggests everyone take a step back from politics — at least until the holidays are over — and relax. “They need to take a break,” he said. “Put a little sign up that says ‘political free discussion zone.’” Since anger and depression are directly linked to heart disease, a break from politics — even Kerry and Bush took it easy last weekend — may be good for more than the spirits.

But for activists who see this election as a setback of epic proportions, there may not be time to relax. “If we don’t stand up and talk about our support for Roe v. Wade, we’ll lose it [the right to an abortion],” said Mary Alice Carr, director of advocacy programs for NARAL Pro-Choice New York. NARAL was particularly active during this election cycle, organizing bus trips to Pennsylvania and hosting nightly phone-banking sessions. The possibility of the three Supreme Court appointments under a Bush administration could have disastrous consequences for a supporter of abortion rights, Carr said. “A lot of people think Roe is safe and they don’t get upset about it,” she said, referring to one of the hurdles NARAL faces when forging alliances.

With New York a solidly pro-choice state, NARAL’s New York City’s office is focusing its efforts on its “sister affiliates” in less abortion-friendly states. With the Senate evenly divided on the subject of choice, Carr hopes that a moderate Arlen Spector-steered Judiciary Committee will keep the courts balanced in NARAL’s favor.

NARAL plans to rethink its methods in the coming months, said Carr, forgoing the traditional March-on-Washington model and instead reaching out to the progressive groups they connected with during the campaign. “We are more coordinated than we have ever been,” she said. “We know each other, we talk to each other.”

Politics has taken on a near frenzied quality for some of the more theatrical activists. Reverend Billy, minister of the Church of Stop Shopping, spoke to The Villager from Los Angeles, 24 hours after his release from a Los Angeles Country jail. Rev. Billy, a performance artist who frequents Starbucks Coffee houses and other corporate institutions to perform cash register exorcisms, was convicted of obstruction of a lawful business for exorcising one cash register too many in L.A. “It felt good to go to jail after Bush’s election,” he said.

The next stage of activism for progressives is civil disobedience, said Billy. “The ultimate drama is to really put your body on the line and go to jail,” he said. “Social change comes from the commitment of one’s physical self.”

Rev. Billy is planning a Buy Nothing Day parade in Times Sq. for Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving and historically the busiest shopping day of the year. Teaming up with Greene Dragon, a public theater group that, among other things, rode along Lexington Ave. on Horsecycles — bicycles affixed with cardboard horse heads — during the Republican National Convention in August shouting, “The Republicans are coming! The Republicans are coming!”

Greene Dragon, named after the tavern where the Sons of Liberty planned the Boston Tea Party, has many plans brewing. Jonny America, the group’s General of the Revel Forces, thinks the last election was the beginning — not the culmination — of a progressive movement. “It’s just kicking in,” he said. “I see major crossover now.”

He is planning a brainstorming meeting next week at an East Village bar with Code Pink, a grassroots women’s organization, Billionaires for Bush, an ironic street theater group of “billionaires,” Democracy for America, Howard Dean’s organization, and Complacent, “a loose-knit collection of culture jammers around the planet and on your street corner,” according to its Web site. “We’re going to try to put some grease on the wheels of the movement,” America said.

The inauguration may be the next large-scale point of action for progressives. Billionaires for Bush is planning an Inaugural Ball, which Greene Dragon intends to “invade.” “I don’t think this administration knows the movement that’s growing,” said America. “The American Revolution never ended. It’s an ongoing struggle. You have to keep going.”

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