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New York Daily News

Sound and Fury Signifies What?

Johnette Howard
April 13, 2003

Augusta, Ga - The Klansman showed up. So did the two male radio DJs in drag. The unemployed Tampa ad man who took an admitted $35,000 bath on his unsold “The Burk Stops Here” merchandise was morosely handing out business cards that read “Todd Manza, The Anti-Burk. One forlorn golf fan who couldn’t get into Augusta National came down Washington Road carrying a sign, “Will Kiss Martha Burk for a Masters Ticket”. Then along came one man from NO MA’AM – which stands for National Organization of Men Against Amazon Masterhood.

Finally, up on the small stage set up by the National Council of Women’s Organizations, there stood Martha Burk, soon to be followed at the microphone by Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal, who talked so loudly she needed no amplification. Before long, a young man who had sneaked into Burk’s cheering crowd of supporters starting bobbing in place with a fluorescent sign held over his head that read: “Make me dinner. Iron my shirt.”

Burk, noticing him as she spoke, laughed and said, “Was my dishes.”

“Talk about shock and awe,” one dazed onlooker joked, taking in the scene.

What started weeks ago as a plan by Burk’s National Council of Women’s Organizations to hold a protest to rally against Augusta National Golf Club’s all-male membership policy had-as expected- turned into a sideshow of spinoff groups yesterday.  And Burk didn’t help herself or her cause, either. 

The parade of people for and against Burk and Augusta National escalated rapidly once Burk’s 25 or so supporters ambled off their bus from Atlanta at about 10:35 a.m., then made their way over to join assembled supporters from the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, Feminist Majority and American Civil Liberties Union.  New York City councilwoman Carolyn Maloney also spoke.

Burk claimed to have brought 138 protesters, but it seemed like no more than 90.  There definitely were 123 police cars, more than 130 cops, but no snarling German shepherds, no fire hoses trained on demonstrators and not one arrest.  Just one rendition of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” on the NCWO loudspeakers but no need for the 52-passenger police paddy wagon, which remained empty. 

As notches go on the 10-month-long flight that preceded yesterday’s supposed “shutdown,” the demonstrations were indeed the anti-climax they always figured to be.  Just down Washington Road, about a half-mile away from this field, the second and third rounds of the Masters unfolded without interruption.  And yesterday’s laughable, lamentable, oddball scene at the protest site became entirely predictable weeks ago when Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength decided that all the demonstrators would have to share the same 5.1 acre parcel of land.  Still, Burk was the undisputed headliner.  Even if you dismissed the silly, 12-foot high pink “male chauvinist CEO pig” that Burk’s group inflated behind the stage as their one-hour rally went on, Burk’s group should have done without the 7-foot cardboard carton cutout of a hooded Ku Klux Klansman with a Masters patch on his outfit.

Klan member J.J. Peters did show yesterday to support Augusta.  But contrary to what Burk has said, an Augusta National spokesman did denounce the KKK’s support weeks ago.  Even if the pig and the Klan cutout were supposed too show that even feminists have a sense of humor, the “joke” fell flat.  That portion of Burk’s rally was as dumb as Burk’s news conference Thursday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta was dignified, on message and to the point. 

“Today was nothing short of an embarrassment,” Augusta National media consultant Jim McCarthy said.  “It's been obvious from the start that the American public regarded THIS (Burk’s) group as frivolous and misguided.”

Some Americans surely do. Others think Burk has a point. And yesterday’s three-hour cacophony reflected both. But nowhere to be found yesterday were perhaps the most brilliant protesters of all: the folks from People Against Ridiculous Protests, a tongue-in-cheek group run by 30-something University of Georgia graduates and best friends whose slogan is: “We Don’t Give a PARP!”

They slipped into the protest site at about 8:30 a.m., put up their three banners before hardly anyone arrived – the biggest banner read “Look at all these ridiculous people” – then slipped out as promised, leaving their assigned swatch of ground vacant all day long.

PARP founder Deke Wiggins laughs and says he filed for a protest permit about three weeks ago on a lark. But to his and his friends’ side-splitting delight, they were actually taken seriously. Soon requests for newspaper and radio interviews poured in from Santa Barbara to Syracuse.

“Ri-diculous,” Wiggins said, laughing in amazement at a barbecue party PARP threw Friday night. “I even did a Fox national TV show.”

“That was his finest hour,” PARP board member Charles Jones chimed in. “Deke was like, ‘Don’t you think the fact that you’re even talking to me proves our point? I live in Augusta! I’m a grain broker! I sell corn! OK?”

At that, they both broke down laughing.

“Ri-dic-ulous,” Wiggins and Jones agreed.