[FoRK] Billionaires for Bush
Joseph S. Barrera III
joe at barrera.org
Tue Aug 3 20:59:43 PDT 2004
Artists and activists stockpile Dick Cheney jokes, Dubya drag, and
phalluses in preparation for the Republican invasion
The Art of Party Crashing
by Trav S.D.
August 3rd, 2004 9:55 AM
Billionaires for Bush: Properly attired for class warfare
(photo: Fred Askew www.fredaskew.com)
Street Scenes: In Anticipation of the RNC, Activists Pound the Pavement,
Theatrically by Alexis Soloski
A guide to activist activities
Later this month, when 5,000 Republicans and their families descend on
the city for their national convention, they will likely be greeted by
tenfold their number of Bronx cheers. Scores of theatrical productions,
festivals, and street actions are planned in response to the RNC's
four-day invasion. In keeping with its ancient beginnings, theatrical
satire will play a leading role in the symbolic dethroning of the
powerful. And while authorities scurry around to prepare for 1,000
arrests a day, they might just be missing the point: The most lethal
force to emerge from the RNC protests this summer could well be ridicule.
During the week or so of activism, look for groups like Reverend Billy
and his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, the Sisters of Perpetual
Indulgence (a gaggle of men in nuns' habits), and the Clandestine
Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (a squadron of George Bushes in "mission
accomplished" flight suits). Meanwhile, so-called "people's acoustic
orchestras" like the Hungry March Band, the Infernal Noise Brigade, and
the Rude Mechanicals Orchestra will provide a rousing soundtrack, as
will the Radical Cheerleaders, who shake their pom-poms to an
anti-Bush-Cheney refrain. In a class of their own are the Missile Dick
Chicks—an a cappella singing group purporting to be from Crawford,
Texas, who wear missile-shaped phalluses and sing songs like "Shop! In
the Name of War."
Except for the phalluses, a cursory observer might be forgiven for
mistaking such an assemblage for a Republican rally. With 65 chapters
and hundreds of members nationwide, Billionaires for Bush will perhaps
be providing the largest costumed contingent at the protests. The
tuxedoed and tiaraed Billionaires plan a week of merry pranks, including
a croquet game in Central Park, a "vigil for corporate welfare,"
ballroom dancing in Penn Station, an attempt to privatize the New York
Public Library, and a "coronation ball" for George W. Bush.
The use of humor and entertainment, says founder Andrew Boyd (a/k/a Phil
T. Rich), is vital for making their message accessible to a large
audience. The use of Republican drag and the just-short-of-plausible
"pro-Bush" sloganeering ("Small Government. Big Wars.") also help
generate interest. Says Boyd, "the costumed approach gives us tactical
room to maneuver. There is often a moment of uncertainty, when
spectators don't know if we're serious or not."
It is that priceless moment that allows the Billionaires and similar
groups to hold the attention of the uninitiated long enough to make
their point. Boyd cites an example of recent Bush campaign stops in
Pennsylvania, where the group was placed in close proximity to actual
pro-Bush demonstrators. The Billionaires managed to get the Bush
supporters to change their chant of "Four more years!" to "Four more
wars!" before the ruse was discovered and the pranksters were shooed away.
At the other end of the spectrum in terms of scale is the outfit known
as the Yes Men, whose core consists of just two members, Andy Bichlbaum
and Mike Bonanno. Where the Billionaires use a sledgehammer to get their
point across, the Yes Men use a precision-tooled stiletto. The group was
founded by accident in 1999, when their satirical WTO website began to
be mistaken for the real thing. The partners were soon invited to actual
corporate and right-wing political events, which they attended in full
conservative camouflage. On numerous occasions, the pair has made
Swiftian PowerPoint presentations at such gatherings (advocating the
sale of votes to the highest bidder, and defending Hitler's economic
policies at a conference in Salzburg)—sometimes with no one ever
catching on. During the RNC, the Yes Men plan to clone themselves in a
special "makeover booth," handing out free suits of clothes, haircuts,
and "special buttons that will confer extra authority, so that the
wearer will look like someone the out-of-town delegates ought to follow."
Where the Yes Men take a stealth approach, the group known as Greene
Dragon is all about calling attention to itself. Dressed as
Revolutionary War–era patriots, Greene members have been re-enacting
some of the major events of the American Revolution, a timeline that
will accelerate during the days of the RNC. On August 24, they will
stage a parody of Paul Revere's ride ("The Republicans are coming! The
Republicans are coming! One if by charter jet! Two if by SUV!"). On
later days, they will re-enact the Boston Tea Party (with "Texas
Tea"—oil—as the dumped substance) and Washington's crossing of the
Delaware, which will consist of a trip on the Staten Island Ferry, after
which, says Greene Dragon Elana Levin, "we'll regroup our army at Fresh
Kills and have some beers."
Even more than the Billionaires, Greene Dragon's "patriotic burlesque"
is about reaching out to a broad audience. "Some find the left
intimidating," says Levin, "but we're not going to throw a pie in your
face. We're not mimicking Middle America—the right doesn't have a
monopoly on the Stars and Stripes. They're the narrow ones; we're the
While these costumed characters run amok during the RNC, a number of
other performers will be taking their political wit to the stage for
special performances timed to make maximum hay out of the citywide ferment.
Greene Dragon: Re-enacting history with revolutionary zeal
photo: Fred Askew www.fredaskew.com
The Imagine Festival (nyamerica.org), a "nonpartisan" citywide festival
of over 100 RNC-related performance events at dozens of city venues,
will have several notable comedy events, including Patriotic Acts, a
September 1 show at P.S.122 hosted by Taylor Mac and featuring burlesque
dancers Julie Atlas Muz and Dirty Martini, and performance artist Mike
Albo, whose targets include the Christian Coalition and the inherent
ridiculousness of consumerist culture. Comedy writer Andy Borowitz,
mastermind of the award-winning website the Borowitz Report, will host a
special RNC edition of "The Moth" on August 30. Twisted country
star-performance artist Tammy Faye Starlite will be performing at Joe's
Pub on September 2.
Comedian Scott Blakeman (who calls himself "one of the five stand-up
comedians left who still do political satire") is producing a series of
comedy nights called "Laughs From the Left" at HERE's American Living
Room Series (August 23), as well as the Society for Ethical Culture
(August 26). The lineup will include fellow comics Barry Weintraub and
Palestinian American Dean Obeidallah, and will be followed by panel
discussions and Q&As.
Just as American street theater enjoyed its first great flowering in the
days of the yippies, the Living Theatre, and Vietnam, Blakeman and
company are resuscitating a comic style that was last popular in the
days of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce to tackle the current war and other
injustices perpetrated by the Bush administration. According to
Blakeman, audiences are responding: "I've been doing this kind of comedy
for years, and I've never seen audiences revved like they have been the
last few months. This president has everyone completely energized."
Perennial provocateur Margaret Cho, who will launch her State of
Emergency tour at the Apollo Theater on August 28, agrees. "Everything
political is personal right now," says Cho. "This level of upheaval
hasn't existed in my lifetime. It's both terrifying and exciting."
But above all, what drives Cho up the wall is the fact that the
Republicans were dumb enough to choose New York, a hotbed of protest,
for their convention in the first place: "It amazes me! There are no
Republicans here! They're going to have to import them all. And all the
people here are against it. It's going to look like that movie The
Warriors. The Republicans are setting themselves up for a terrible time.
And we should bring them one!"
A quart of wheat for a day's wages,
and three quarts of barley for a day's wages,
and do not damage the oil and the wine!
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