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News: Do-It-Yourself Politics

Bush foes aren't leaving it to the party pros

By Jay Antenen · July 7th, 2004 · News
Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, brings the
Cameron Knight

Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, brings the "Pants onFire" Mobile -- and the battle for regime change -- to Cincinnati.

They are unified by a common goal: former Nader supporters, veterans, political neophytes, lifelong Democrats, college students, single women, immigrants, retired folk, members of the "creative class," even some Republicans. They're driven by a revulsion that remains bottled up and then erupts spontaneously with wisecracks, talking points and critiques when the time is right, or the passion is too strong or his name is mentioned.

They're willing to do -- or talk about doing -- anything to drive former Texas Gov. George W. Bush from the White House. Undecided voter? You're invited to the party.

Bringing it all home
8:25 p.m. June 28, home of Alex Cline. Filmmaker Michael Moore is addressing about 30,000 Americans in a Webcast sponsored by the moderate pro-Democratic group Moveon.org. Thirty-five supporters have shown up at Cline's house in Pleasant Ridge to hear Moore speak.

Younger men sip beers and smoke. A group of older women sit in plastic lawn chairs around a table on the brick patio. Everyone is focused on the TV peaking out a window. The screen shows a blue map of the country with white circles over cities. The larger the circle, the more people attending house parties in that city. Cincinnati's circle is one of the smallest in Ohio, but Cline's party has attracted nine more people than he expected.

"I wanted to make an effort to get the people who are ready for regime change organized, and I noticed that on the Web site no one had volunteered," Cline says. "So I said, 'I need to be involved.' I complain about it enough, so I should probably do something about it.' "

Moore discusses the box office success of his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and encourages presumptive Democrat Presidential nominee John Kerry to fight the urge to move to the center -- a sentiment common among the people at Cline's house.

"Kerry is being pushed in directions more central than how he wants," says Steve Herbold. "But I think in his heart of hearts that Kerry is a good man."

The party ends around 9:30 p.m.

Peter Obermark, a Marine Corps veteran, says he supports Kerry in addition to disliking Bush.

"It's a vote against Bush and a vote for Kerry," he says. "I think that it is very striking that if you look at the voices in this administration that most aggressively pushed this war are not military veterans. I think Kerry, having served, having fought, understands that it is a cornerstone principal of the United States that we don't send troops into combat unless it is absolutely necessary."

More Moore
1 p.m. June 29, HofbrÀuhaus, in Newport. Meet Rob Seil, Republican for Kerry.

"I would like to bring the Republican Party back to the center," he says. "I don't know if that is possible with Bush."

Seil and about 40 other Kerry supporters are here to dine on German food and to discuss Fahrenheit 9/11.

Michael Altman, editor of QueenCityForum.com, organized the luncheon, which followed a special morning showing of Fahrenheit 9/11 at the AMC Theaters. The chairs of the Democratic clubs at the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University organized the 10 a.m. showing; it sold out.

Altman wants to use the film as a starting point to discuss media spin. But his goal is brushed aside as people stand to talk about the movie and offer recommendations on how to participate in grassroots politics. Kerry campaign staffers hand out volunteer forms and recruit precinct captains.

Seil receives a round of applause when he mentions he is a Republican. A mother tells the story of her son, a military surgeon in Iraq.

A Vietnam veteran who was hospitalized for nearly a year in 1967-68 addresses the crowd. His steady voice collapses into tears.

"I can remember the deaths of innocent soldiers," he cries. "They (the Bush administration) sent 800, 900 to their death and they said, 'Oh that is the cost of war.' "

Burning Bush's breeches
7:45 p.m. June 30, Burnet Woods, Clifton. Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, is standing next to a 12-foot high statue of Bush mounted on a trailer. Cohen explains the finer points of driving the "Pants on Fire" Mobile.

Bush's outstretched hands hold a red LED sign that streams his "lies," followed by the "truth." On his back a patch reads, "Mission Accomplished." Fans blow pieces of orange cloth to simulate flames. In the background, the "Pants on Fire" song plays" "Liar, liar! Pants on Fire / His nose is longer than a telephone wire."

The "Pants on Fire" Mobile, piloted by volunteers, is touring Greater Cincinnati until Saturday. Cohen's group, True Majority Action, promotes progressive issues in Congress. Cynthia Winners says she agreed to drive the contraption around Butler County because she wants to ensure Bush is kicked out of the White House in November.

"The Bush administration is raping our environment," she says. "If we don't do something now, it won't be here for our children."

Through True Majority, a sister organization to True Majority Action, Winners got involved in politics and now volunteers at the Butler County Democrat Party.

Ria Matlib, another volunteer driver, hopes Bush's flaming pants will convince people to vote against him.

"People will get educated with what is going on," Matlive says. "They'll go to the Web site (www.pantsonfire.net) and it'll possibly sway their vote so Bush will get out of office."

Americans Coming Together (ACT) volunteers walk among the crowd with clipboards in hand, trying to recruit volunteers to canvass neighborhoods. ACT works to register and collect information about voters in battleground states.

As the event winds down, people come up to Cohen to thank him for coming to Cincinnati. One man says, "I came because I heard Ben Cohen was going to be here."

At the house party two days earlier, Cline was asked if he thinks Kerry can win Hamilton County, a Republican stronghold.

"I think that if we get enough people like us together, yeah we can," he said. "I think that, with only 50 percent of the population voting, there is a lot of room for people to come out and vote who haven't gone before. That's what I am hoping will happen."

Other Democrats aren't as hopeful.

"Living in Cincinnati is so hard when you see all the opposition to Kerry," says Nancy Savage, a member of Nurses for Kerry, during Cohen's visit. "It is very difficult to be a liberal in this environment."

To get involved, register to vote. Forms are available at all public library branches and at most Kerry campaign events. Attend a brownbag discussion sponsored by the Hamilton County Democratic Party at noon each Friday. To reserve a seat, call 513-421-0495. Join www.Moveon.org for e-mails about house parties and other events. To canvass neighborhoods with Americans Coming Together, call 513-281-1500. Veterans for Kerry hosts a Kerry fund-raiser Saturday; for details, visit www.johnkerry.com.


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