"Direct action gets the goods," says Cathie Berrey, sitting on a hill beside Polo Park in Winston-Salem. "Tonight it's going to get our voices heard and show that people in this city are demanding a real democracy."
An Asheville-based activist, she's one of about 800 protesters who came to press that demand at the gates of Wake Forest University, site of the second presidential debate on Oct. 11. The protesters assembled under the umbrella of North Carolina Citizens for a Wider Democracy, a coalition formed to contest corporate and two-party control over the debates.
"This is what democracy looks like," the group chants during the two-mile march from the park to campus, arriving right as the debate is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.
Giant puppets bob above the procession. Snare drums rattle and congas rumble. And then there are the chants, the slogans, the signs. Everybody here has a message, and the cacophony rings out for two hours as the protesters swap glares with lines of gas-masked police officers toting riot shields, batons and pepper spray.
Part carnival, part uprising, the new form of street protest forged last November in Seattle is becoming an American institution, cropping up wherever people feel shut out of the political process. A few highlights from "011," as the protesters have been calling the Winston-Salem event since planning for it got underway two months ago:
Billionaires for Bush or Gore: Waving phony money and protesting phony democracy, this faux billionaires group bragged that either candidate will do, since, after all, "We bought them both!" Main slogan: "Up with plutocracy."
Green Party Animals: Supporters of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, shut out of the presidential debates and denied ballot access in North Carolina, made a strong showing. Best sign: "This debate makes me want to Ralph."
Anarchist Golf Bloc: Clad in black and shouldering bags of clubs, the anarchist contingent ("No caddies, no masters") issued a daring, high-stakes challenge to Bush and Gore. A masked Golf Bloc spokesman invited the candidates to face off with the anarchists for 18 holes, on these terms: Should Bush and Gore win, Golf Bloc will agree to swear off property destruction and to diversify its wardrobe--"maybe we'll even start wearing pink or plaid." Should Golf Bloc win, "Bush and Gore would have to abolish the state."
Radical Cheerleaders: A crowd favorite and the peppiest faction at the protest, the Radical Cheerleaders, a squad hailing from Athens, Ga., donned mismatched skirts, sweaters and pompoms and cheered like this: "One, two, three, four, we want more than Bush or Gore; five, six, seven, eight, who's afraid of real debate?"