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Behind Closed Doors

The Bohemian Grove protests get wacky, remain focused

By Joy Lanzendorfer

The 23rd annual Bohemian Grove protest, called the "Fat Cat's Festival and Parade," was held July 19 in the Monte Rio Amphitheater. About 150 people attended the protest against the summer encampment of wealthy men, including many government and corporate officials, which has been held for approximately the last 125 years in the 2,700-acre redwood grove.

The crowd of protesters, though smaller than in previous years, was colorful, with activists wearing costumes and handing out fliers. Police on foot and motorcycles were noticeable on the outside of the amphitheater, some videotaping the crowd.

"We're surrounded on the parameter by law-enforcement officials," said Miguel Molina of KPFA radio to the crowd. '"That tells you there are some very important people in the grove."

The event lasted four hours and finished with the march down to the gates of the Bohemian Grove. This year's festival-like atmosphere focused less on issues than it has in the past and more on entertainment. Musicians ranging from hip-hop to folk took the stage and several skits criticized the Bush administration.

One skit, called "Dubya the Dubious," featured a man in a Bush mask and his assistant performing the "magic tricks" of the Bush administration, such as the Disappearing Ballots Trick, Mass Hypnosis, and the Ever-Changing Excuse for Invading Iraq. The skit ended with a "fat cat" effigy--a large cat mask smoking a cigar--leading the Bush character around the stage like a puppet on a string, symbolizing corporate control over the current administration.

What few political speeches there were touched less on specific issues and more on general complaints and encouragement.

"Is it worth it to do this event?" asked labor activist Alicia Sanchez in an emotional speech. "Do we have any impact? Remember, brothers and sisters, this society makes you doubt that you can have any effect. Well, I'm here to tell you that yes, you do have an effect. You are the thorn in the fat cat's ass!"

The lighter atmosphere of the event was a matter of controversy among organizers. Mary Moore, who founded the protest back in 1980 but has since stepped aside from a leadership position, criticized the upbeat mood.

"I felt the folks who organized the event should have included more information in the protest," she said. "I know that the idea of a parade and the festival is sort of mocking the Grove, but I felt that it somewhat trivializes the issues."

However, organizer Susan Lamont from Not in Our Name, which hosted the event, said the lighter atmosphere was a deliberate attempt to avoid inundating people with heavy-handed political rhetoric.

"Two years ago, I went to the protest when International Answer was hosting the event," she said. "They have a way of being very strident with one speaker after another shouting at you. I wasn't even disagreeing with the message, but I didn't like it. I thought there would be a way to do it that was more positive."

The Bohemian Grove promotes an atmosphere of secrecy that has inspired much interest. Theories about what goes on in the Grove range from the likely to the bizarre. Rumors of well-known politicians sacrificing children stink of urban legend. Though some protesters hold such beliefs, most of the activists at the protests focused their aim against the idea that policies are secretly made in the Grove--deals closed and inked, forgoing the customary democratic process.

The Grove's motto is "Weaving Spiders Come Not Here," a line from Shakespeare that warns guests to leave business at the door. In the past, schedules of events that have been smuggled out included lectures with titles like "Do We Need a Foreign Policy?" and "Status of Missile Defense." Some high-profile guests are said to have included George Bush Sr., George Bush Jr., Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.

"Whether policy is made behind closed doors or in redwood trees, it has reached a point that corporations and the government are almost the same," said Lamont. "Everybody is cozy with one another. It's an incestuous relationship."

Matt Oggero, general manager of the Bohemian Grove, said that while he respects the protesters' right to protest, they are mistaken in their beliefs about the Grove.

"What they are claiming takes place here does not take place here," he said very carefully.

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From the July 24-30, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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