Saturday, April 17, 2004
Ithaca, New York - Yesterday, the first it-finally-feels-like-spring Saturday morning on the walking mall in downtown Ithaca, New York, was welcomed by local organizers of and participants in the nation-wide MoveOn.org bake sale. The theme and purpose of the sale was to "Bake Back the White House" by raising money for Move On programs and advertising to target Bush administration policies in an effort to oust the current president from office this November. On the walking mall (known as "The Commons") in Ithaca, such political sweetness tempted local groups such as Bush Must Go, and the local John Kerry campaign to get out their own messages by talking politics with munching passers-by.
Like past campaigns designed by MoveOn, support materials for organizing the bake sale were accessible via their website to anyone interested in implementing their own local event. Sean O'Donoghue Morgan, 19, a recent member of MoveOn, took it upon himself to put together Ithaca's contribution to the national effort of firing our current president.
"That's what the bake sale is all about. There are a thousand bake sales across the country today to raise money for Move On to do anti-Bush ads in swing states and to support more liberal people like Kerry," he said.
There is overwhelming support...(MoveOn) made it very easy for me to get started. They sent me lots of information, and they had a managing website for me to email everyone. We have sixty-six volunteers either to bake or to be at the bake sale. Most of them are bakers." O'Donoghue Morgan says that edibles offered included the usual suspects: cookies, brownies, and muffins. But also included on the menu were vegan baked goods, as well as chocolate-covered strawberries. Among the sale's most popular items were home-made dog treats, (perhaps purchased by canines supporting Kerry, or Dogs for Better Democracy.)
"People are (saying things like) getting Bush out of the White House is a charitable cause. They need to give their money and time and their baked goods to make this happen...(Politics) is a hard thing for people to talk about, but the reason we're coming together is because were members of MoveOn, and there are a lot of things that (we) don't like about Bush." But O'Donoghue's interest in organizing the local bake sale was even more personal than his feelings about who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
"The biggest reason why I wanted to do this was for community solidarity. Getting together with people in the local area." It seems he and other Move On supporters have provoked people to alter their usual routines and pay attention.
"Normally I'm on the South Beach diet," one indulger, who didn't want to be identified, admitted. "But today, well, I'm doing this for my country." Indulger bit into a brownie, and continued: "Democracy is more important than the size of my thighs (daintily wiped crumbs from corners of mouth.) The weight on my scale at home is paltry to the weight of consequence in this next presidential election." The indulger paused, and smiled at the bags in her hand. "I'm going to give the rest to my skinny Republican friends."
Nearby, the pavilion where people lined up to swap cash for confections, local Bush Must Go representative, Rebecca Elgie, displayed bumper stickers and yard signs. Bush Must Go is a local group in Ithaca that has mobilized anti-Bush sentiment.
Elgie, a former teacher, explained that besides the war in Iraq and the economy, the issue that is most important to her is national health care. "I feel that health care for all is a crucial issue, and (president Bush) is not moving in that direction at all. In fact, he's privatizing Medicare...making a good program weak as a result of the new Medicare prescription bill."
Bush Must Go funds itself through donations for lawn signs and bumper stickers which convey anti-Bush slogans.
"People can order them online, and that's starting to happen more and more. As I drive out and around the community, people are honking and giving the thumbs up sign, so I feel that the message is getting out." Issues for the lawn signs include: "Support Our Troops. Bring Them Home", "Fair Trade, Not Free Trade", "Read Between the Pipelines", "Health Care For All", "Save The Environment," and "Repeal the Patriot Act," and some others.
"We have a number of committees that are working on outreach into other communities, working on voter registration in battle ground states, and they're going to be sponsoring speakers and talks throughout the summer, closer to the election...(Bush Must Go) is also going to keep track of those who register to vote, to make sure that they do actually vote and stay involved in the process. That's been one of the problems, so few people do vote. We really need to hear their voices, especially the people being hurt by the present administration."
A challenge to the Bush Must Go organization, Elgie admits, is to push beyond the supportive area of Ithaca out into areas that she describes as "more apathetic." Another challenge is with mainstream media, which Elgie charges with slanting news coverage in Bush's favor.
Of the Bush Must Go presence at the bake sale event, she says, "These groups are all trying to work together to support each other, and provide a stronger force (for change.) Hopefully, instead of being divisive like Democrats have sometimes been in the past, there is a real effort to bring all the groups together...so we can succeed. That's just the first step in the battle. Beyond that, we can continue to push for more progressive legislation...To have (whomever is in the White House) look at these issues and be more in tune with the general population. It doesn't end on November second."
Also near by was a booth devoted to John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and unofficial Democratic opponent of George W. Bush. Local resident Chris McGuire, sported a "John Kerry: the Real Deal" t-shirt, and explained his presence on the Commons this morning."I fully support (Bush Must Go)," McGuire said. "But that's only half the equation...I'm tired of people holding their noses and pushing levers when they vote, so I'm out here trying to match up people's concerns with John Kerry's positions. I'm trying to get people enthusiastic about voting for John Kerry. This is a very liberal community, and I'm trying to show people that while John Kerry may not be as far left as, perhaps, Dennis Kucinich (the Representative from Ohio vying for the Democratic nomination), that (Kerry) is going to open up a space for dialogue on a national level, when he takes office."
McGuire, a Massachusetts native and Ithaca College graduate, remembers John Kerry from back during the Iran-Contra scandal, during the second Reagan administration.
"(Kerry) was the one who kept pushing and pushing and digging and digging until we had televised hearings of Iran Contra. He followed that up with an investigation of (a banking scandal), despite opposition in his party, because it would have implicated a major Democratic fundraiser. (Kerry) went ahead with the investigation. That's when I realized that Massachusetts was lucky to have someone who had integrity representing them. I would love to see that level of integrity and determination taken to a national level."
The Kerry booth is thick with information about Kerry's stance on a variety of issues including security, foreign policy, the economy, and health care. What have people been talking to McGuire about this morning when they stop by the booth?
"The war in Iraq is a major concern here. People here are concerned with what John Kerry is going to do when he takes office. People are concerned that he is just going to continue along with the Bush administration's plan. That's not the case. John Kerry is in favor of repairing relations with the UN and former allies to see if there is something we can do on an international level."
And what about at home in Ithaca, New York? When asked how Ithaca, an upstate New York university town, fits into current national concern about manufacturing jobs and outsourcing overseas, McGuire replies,
"It's all inter-related. If I'm a seventeen-year-old student, and all of a sudden, my father is laid off, what are the chances I'm going to be able to attend Cornell, or Ithaca College, at thirty thousand dollars per year? Pretty slim. So, without a healthy economy surrounding us, even though we're a service-based economy, nobody is going to want our services, and this beautiful (shop-lined) Commons here is gone. I could take you to places on the west side (that have "for rent" signs in them) because the economy is not supporting local business as it should."
"I know it sounds trite, but (John Kerry's campaign) is about re-energizing America. America seems very disheartened right now...People are confused, uncertain. We're in this war that seems to have no end and it seems to get worse. This administration is being run from the top down, like a corporate model. John Kerry is interested in rebuilding a sense of grass roots commitment by all Americans, and getting people to feel like they really have a way to participate in the running of their country. He will create a space where different ideas can be heard."
In the race for the white house this year, Progressives are streaming into the political kitchen where the heat of partisanship will only continue getting hotter and hotter. In Ithaca, at least, activists, baking enthusiasts, and supporters on the Commons can stand the heat.
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