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[whitespace] Protestors Fat Cats vs. Magical Activists: Protesters at the Bohemian Grove get fancy with papier-mâché.

Photograph by R. V. Scheide

Kinder, Gentler Protest

The Bohemian Grove protesters shake it gently

By R. V. Scheide

It's just after noon on Saturday, July 13, and Greg Haas, owner of the Pink Elephant bar in Monte Rio, is pissed. In 15 minutes, a crowd of demonstrators will march across the bridge spanning the Russian River, past his establishment, and into the nearby Bohemian Grove, where the Bohemian Club has just begun its annual two-week retreat in the Sonoma County redwoods.

The exclusive all-male club, which counts some of America's wealthiest and most powerful men among its approximately 2,500 members, has been meeting at the grove for 125 years. The intense secrecy surrounding the gathering, which in the past has been attended by such luminaries as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both George Bushes, has led some critics, including the Sonoma County Global Justice/Direct Action Network, which organized the protest this year, to claim that the annual retreat provides conservative politicians and their rich cronies convenient cover for designing public policy in private.

But Haas has no beef with the Bohos, as they are known locally. It's the demonstrators that have him down. They scare away the tourists, he says. They trashed Monte Rio last year, he protests. Adding insult to injury, the protesters don't even patronize his establishment. Bucking the New World Order and hoisting drinks don't seem to be compatible behaviors to these folks, who dubbed their protest this year the "Fat Cats Festival and Parade."

"Why are they messing with me?" asks Haas. "I'm not a fat cat."

And it's true, he's not a fat cat, and they are messing with him, if only unintentionally, standing in the public-beach parking lot across the river, listening to speeches about corrupt politicians instead of ordering drinks at the Pink Elephant. "By the time this thing is through, we'll have her house," Haas says, alluding to Mary Moore, the longtime Sonoma County political activist who until this year played a leading role in the annual demonstration. "I hope they have a nice house, this little group of do-gooders."

Not all of the patrons are in agreement with the bar owner's sentiments.

"We'll all be living in mud huts by the time that happens," says one silver-haired patron perched on a bar stool. "That's the way the Bohos want it."

Outside the bar, smoking a cigarette next to his Harley knucklehead chopper, a local biker is in concurrence when told that the demonstrators believe a bunch of rich people are trying to take over the planet, and he doesn't seem bothered that the protest might be scaring all the tourists away.

"Get rid of all the tourists, that's what we need to do," he says, nervously eyeballing a squadron of CHP motorcycles parked across the street, part of a contingent of 34 CHP officers and 20 Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies deployed to direct traffic and make sure the protesters don't get out of hand.

Nearly 1,000 demonstrators showed up for the Bohemian Club protest last year, snarling traffic and riling some Monte Rio business owners who claim they were left to clean up the protest's mess. This year, the local chamber of commerce tried to force the protesters to get a parade permit, but the Sonoma County Global Justice/Direct Action Network said it couldn't afford one and planned the march anyway. About 150 protesters are gathered in the parking lot on this brilliant Saturday afternoon, some helping carry larger-than-life street puppets, including one of Vice President Dick Cheney wearing prison stripes and a sign that says "Corporate Criminal."

According to Schuyler Erle, a spokesman for Global Justice, the protesters can roughly be divided into two camps. Generally, those over 40 fall into a group he calls the "rational left," epitomized by the a cappella singing group the Raging Grannies, who belted out a song slamming the genetic engineering corporation Monsanto to the tune of "Old McDonald" before the march into the grove started. Those under 40, a group that includes Erle, can loosely be called "magical activists," young people who have perhaps read their Trotskyist literature but also believe in a more holistic, New Age approach to political activism. They also tend to sport dreadlocks and wear body glitter. At any rate, the goal of the two groups is the same.

"We want justice for all the beings on this beautiful planet," Erle explains.

Marching to the steady beat of bongo drums, the protesters, young and old alike, carrying street puppets and placards and pushing baby strollers, make their way peacefully across the bridge and past the Pink Elephant, looking more like a lost tribe than angry, leftist rebels. The CHP has temporarily closed the bridge to traffic, delaying at most a dozen motorists. The police reopen the bridge after the marchers turn left onto Bohemian Avenue and proceed into the grove, where, about a hundred yards before the encampment's entrance, they're met by a line of khaki-clad police officers stretched out across the road, halting the march's progress.

The protesters begin moving in a circle, chanting "Let it go! Let it go!" Their Resurrection of Care ritual has begun. The ritual was originally intended to satirize the Cremation of Care ceremony the Bohos traditionally use to open their annual retreat, in which members don hooded, Klan-like robes and hold a mock human sacrifice. The protesters, perhaps inspired by the magical activists among them, seem to take the Resurrection of Care ceremony seriously, calling upon all of the forces of nature to restore the world's equilibrium, knocked off balance by the evil Bohos. "Love is what will heal the world," says Dusty, the woman leading the ceremony.

That may be so, but after all is said and done, when the last scrap of litter has been picked up and the last protester has left Monte Rio, it's difficult not to think that the complaints of the demonstrators will have fallen on deaf ears. As Greg Haas, owner of the Pink Elephant, pointed out earlier in the day, it's doubtful that the Bohemians, safe and secure in their private enclave, will have even been aware the protesters were here.

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From the July 25-31, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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