Ben Swartley owns the Peacock Bar in Corvallis on Monday nights. A regular for one dollar PBR pints and Monday Night Football, the research assistant and organizer of the local Howard Dean effort sits at the center of the bar, right beneath the television, and the taps.
If you don't see Swartley — his 6'2" sturdy frame is hard to miss — you will hear him. His voice booms as he greets newcomers, most of whom he knows. "Hey, how about 'dem Birds this weekend," he asks another Philadelphia native who walks into the bar.
At first glance, Swartley appears to be the quintessential man's man, slugging a pint of beer and shoveling down cheap tacos. But the 31-year-old research assistant in Oregon State's Department of Forest Science is just as comfortable talking about his beloved Philadelphia Eagles as he is discussing the nuances of regional French dialects in Africa, where he spent four years with the Peace Corps.
This rugged individualism makes Swartley an ideal fit for Oregon's Dean campaign, which is not at all a traditional campaign. There is not a single paid employee in the state, just a web of enthusiasts spun together by a common goal. Dean supporters always mention they are not employees of the official campaign, yet they are encouraged by Dean headquarters to "speak to anybody and everybody to get out our reasons for why we support Governor Dean," according to Swartley.
They do this principally through Meetup.com, the site used to organize monthly meetings/pep rallies across the country. The Nov. 5 meetup in Corvallis has an unusual air of excitement, with Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury showing up to stump for Dean. Those who attend represent a surprising cross section (in terms of age) of Corvallis Democrats and independent voters. There are 45 people, and perhaps a half dozen are younger than 30. Many more are retired.
Many Dean supporters, including Swartley, still share a common characteristic — they have never worked on a campaign before. The fiery former governor seems to have introduced a new segment of America to politics. Many of them explain their attraction to the candidate in two words: "No bullshit."
Like John McCain in 2000, Dean has at least created the perception that his campaign is all about issues, not slick talk. He is brutally direct, and that chord resonates with the hundreds of thousands of people across America who spend one night each month gathered in rooms like the Tunnison Community Center in Corvallis to plot a strategy to take Dean from the governor's mansion to the White House.
STODGY OLD CORVALLIS?
Sitting in a room full of like-minded people, it's easy to believe the entire country is ready to serve the current White House residents with an eviction notice. In reality, America is split down the middle, and there is a perception that Corvallis tends to fall on the right side of that divide. The community of 53,000 is set among farms, fields and fruit stands and is small compared to Eugene's population of 138,000. Oregon State University is roughly the same size as its southern academic partner, but is widely seen as a Mecca of agricultural studies, not a hotbed of activism. "It's different in cow town," jokes Sam Sappington, a Dean supporter who has been involved with the Corvallis effort for about six months.
Swartley laughs at the perception of Corvallis as a stodgy old farming community. He suggests a visit to the Benton County Courthouse for a taste of the town's liberal sensibility. A group has held an hour-long peace vigil there every day since Oct. 7, 2001, when the U.S. began to bomb Afghanistan.
About two dozen people stand outside the building on Fourth Street, holding signs reading "No War," "Truth is Replaced by Silence," and "We Support People, Not Policy." Across the street, a lone protestor stands in favor of the Bush administration. The group is an average size for the daily vigil, according to Michael Creighton, one of the founders of the event. The size fluctuates based on what's happening in Washington, D.C. "When people get angry or frustrated about what's going on," Creighton said, "they'll come down."
Most of the supporters are from Corvallis and Albany, though members of the international community have stopped by to share their support. That includes members of the Middle Eastern community, though only in passing. Susan Burke, who attends the vigils regularly, says most of them are reluctant to join in protests for fear they will suffer repercussions from the government. "They say, 'I can't stand here, but thank you,'" Burke says.
The response to the vigil on this particular evening is overwhelmingly positive. Drivers wave, honk and offer encouragement. Corvallis resident Bill Glassmire admits that it's not always like this. "One of the reasons we just spent some time in England," he says in reference to a recent 10-month stint abroad, "is that my wife couldn't stand hearing children shout 'kill them all.' It was eating at her soul."
Members of the vigil see their share of middle fingers from angry hawks, but it is one comment Creighton sometimes hears that provides evidence that Corvallis has not completely shed its conservative tag. Some drivers shout, "Go back to Eugene!"
CANVASSING THE OVERPASSES
Three weeks later, a dozen Dean supporters from Corvallis are huddled along the Albany overpass waving campaign signs at southbound traffic. This is an idea they had discussed at the Nov. 5 meetup. Dean groups throughout the state coordinated an "I-5 visibility day" in the hours before the Civil War game. The groups decided to canvas the overpasses from Portland to Ashland with campaign signs and supporters. It seemed like a great idea from the cozy confines of the Tunnison Community Center. That was before anyone knew Nov. 22 would be one of the most frigid days of the year.
Nonetheless, drivers headed southbound toward Eugene are greeted by a red, white and blue banner reading "Dean Not Deception" when they pass through Albany. Bob Hughes and Sandy Bryce had the sign printed just for the occasion, and are among the first to show up on the overpass. Swartley and others follow in parkas and knit caps, sporting Dean signs and jugs of coffee and chai. They are greeted by a mixed response from passers-by that comes in three common gestures; the thumbs up, thumbs down and middle finger.
As John Wolcott grips a sign that reads "the doctor is in" between his gloved hands, he remarks that the effort might not be such a statement if it were a sunny afternoon, but standing on a narrow sidewalk 30 feet above the highway in freezing temperatures "says something." Wolcott is on to something. Hanging out on overpasses guzzling chai tea and being flipped off by motorists, organizing statewide events over the Internet without the help of a central campaign, organizing bus trips to Iowa to canvas the streets in support of their candidate — this doesn't seem like a typical presidential campaign.
Perhaps it's because the people here don't seem like typical volunteers. There are those who have never campaigned before, some who are former Republicans, and the head of the Oregon State College Libertarians, to name a few. Interesting characters like Swartley are the norm in this campaign. If these meetup groups weren't lead by a band of determined, independent individuals, they wouldn't work.
Each meetup begins with a pre-taped message from the candidate. While few in the room have heard him speak live, Dean's no-nonsense style is largely what has persuaded his backers in Corvallis to donate their time to helping the campaign. The direct style is not unlike many of those in the local effort, who pepper each meeting with a healthy dose of debate about the direction of the local campaign. Swartley sums it up well. "Dean delivers a common sense message," he says, "and he's talking to people who are really sick of all the B.S."
Anthony Roberts is a graduate student in the professional masters program at the UO School of Journalism and Communication.
TIME FOR TRUTH
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael Carrigan is a local peace activist and event organizer.
Tens of thousands of people from around America gathered Sunday, Dec. 7 at more than 2,650 "house parties" to watch and discuss the new documentary, Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War. The grassroots Internet network MoveOn.org sponsored the events. In Oregon there were 81 house parties in 26 communities.
In the Eugene/Springfield area there were six showings of the documentary. Both of the public showings were filled to overflowing. At the afternoon event organized by Friendly Neighbors for Peace at Amazon Community Center, people had to be turned away.
Seventy-seven people had signed up online to attend Justice Not War's evening event at Cozmic Pizza, yet more than 200 showed up.
"These big turnouts indicate a renewed interest in issues of war and peace. I'm greatly encouraged by this," says event organizer Rich Klopfer.
It was estimated that half the crowd was under the age of 35. This was a big change from the age 40 and up demographics that have characterized most recent peace events. MoveOn's electronic organizing clearly reaches the young.
The documentary provided an in-depth look at how the Bush administration systematically distorted intelligence evidence and misled the public in order to turn public opinion in favor of fighting a pre-emptive war in Iraq. The film presented interviews with more than 20 experts, many of whom used to work in the Foreign Service, the military and the CIA. They effectively deconstructed the case for war with Iraq, pointing out the lies and flimsy evidence the Bush administration used to justify the war.
After the afternoon showings of the film, 740 house party attendees from around the country took part in a conference call with movie producer Robert Greenwald. Greenwald says he produced the movie to "reach Republicans, Independents and those in favor of the war." He strongly urged those on the conference call to show the film to these groups.
Group discussions followed the viewings. Most people thought the film was well done, that it would be effective in convincing "swing" voters that the Bush administration has lied, and that it would make them think twice about supporting Bush.
Discussion also centered around showing the film in outlying areas, as well as the need to mobilize young people by showing them this film, offering more "youth oriented" information and registering them to vote.
People agreed that it's important to connect with people personally and a good way to do this would be to share the film with workmates, family, neighbors and friends who would not otherwise question the Bush administrations policies. Suggestions included showing the film to neighborhood groups, churches, and the City Club, donating copies to libraries, and having showings at the Bijou and on cable TV.
Progressive Responses plans to show the film in January, followed by a panel discussion.
Penny Sabin of Halfway, one of the attendees at a Eugene house party, said, "I'm very encouraged by being here watching this film and that people all over the country are doing the same. I'm optimistic for the first time in a long time."
BILL OF RIGHTS EXAMINED
On Dec. 15th, national Bill of Rights Day, the Lane County Bill of Rights Defense Committee (LCBORDC) will engage in a public education campaign on the Bill of Rights and how it has been affected by the USA PATRIOT Act (UPA) and certain executive orders issued by the Bush administration.
Dec. 15 was originally designated as Bill of Rights Day by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 and was reaffirmed by George W. Bush in 2001.
"The Bill of Rights is the foundation on which this country was built and we need to do everything in our power to defend it," says LCBORDC's Brooke Robertshaw.
Members of the LCBORDC will be at the Eugene Public Library from noon to 2 pm to hand out Bill of Rights bookmarks. They will also have other literature on hand about how the Bill of Rights in the post 9/11 era.
Later that evening, a forum at Mother Kali's Books will focus on what the Bill of Rights means to us today as well as the importance of defending it. Discussion will also center on the effects the UPA and Bush executive orders have had on the daily lives of citizens, and how Bill of Rights defense work can be applied to all areas of activism. Speakers include attorney Brian Michaels, Dawn Balzano-Peebles, and Patricia Adi. The forum begins at 7 pm.
For more information on these events or about the Lane County Bill of Rights Defense Committee, contact Robertshaw at 520-5967 or email@example.com or go to the Lane County Bill of Rights Defense Committee website at www.lanerights.org — Aria Seligmann
BUST BUSH BOUTIQUE
"Some of these fashions are really blunt, and with John Ashcroft cracking down on peace activist organizations, it takes guts to wear them," says local activist Carol Berg.
Berg and a collection of "Peace Elves" have been busily gathering up high quality used clothing from St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill and garage sales and recreating them into peacewear. Hats, jackets, scarves, purses, dresses and T-shirts sport logos from the more benign "Imagine" to more in-your-face slogans on Army and Marine shirts that have been redesigned to show the connection between the military and corporate oilfare.
The fashions will be for sale at the "Bust Bush Boutique and Peace Fashion Show" this Saturday and Sunday at 1970 W. 13th. Mistletoe, transformed into "Peace-L-Toe" will also be for sale, "to get and give the kiss of peace," says Berg.
The event, a coordinated effort of Eugene PeaceWorks and CALC, is designed to be fun, lively and creative — and to benefit a good cause. Proceeds will go to the Committee for Countering Military Recruitment (CCMR), a subcommittee of Eugene PeaceWorks that works to educate lower-income high school students who are being targeted for recruitment by the U.S. military.
Different branches of the military have been calling some students seven or eight times, promising them tempting amounts of college tuition money and student loan forgiveness programs if they sign up.
"There will be no college for those who come home in body bags," says Berg.
Many of those working on this project have been under a cloud of despair since the Iraq war began, but as they have transformed the materials into art, so, too, have they become transformed and uplifted by the art "that speaks out for peace," says Berg.
As to the logos emblazoned on the attire, from peaceful to more outspoken, Berg says, "Even Christ upturned the tables of the moneychangers because they polluted his temple. The current regime is polluting our world. Even peaceful people reach a point where they have to take a stand." — Aria Seligmann