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Billionaires for Bush
by Rebecca Fox

On a breezy Saturday night in late May, New York’s youngest Billionaires were six-week-old twins dubbed “Cash” and “Carry.” They were proudly toted around by their mother and father, both in evening gowns, while other Billionaires, bedecked in their own ballroom finery, cooed over the infants in elevator lines on the three floors of Chelsea’s City Stage.

The occasion for the duo’s arrival — about 15 years ahead of schedule — was the Billionaires’ Ball: a Spring Bling K’Ching Thing, a night-long party put on by the street theater-cum-protest group, Billionaires for Bush. “Founded during the 2000 Presidential election, Billionaires for Bush (B4B) was designed to be a strategic, grassroots media campaign that spreads like a virus” to denounce the negative effects of wealth on politics, according to the Billionaires’ online DIY guide to becoming a Billionaire, available at their Web site (

Newly mobilized, strategically planned, and garnering more media attention than many of their more official and better-funded counterparts on the (anti-)campaign trail, “Billionaires for Bush is a do-it-yourself street theater and media campaign,” according to Pam Perd, the group’s National Director for Public Relations (who provided only her Billionaire identity, “for separation reasons”). Perd’s effort at separation seems to be in name alone, as she typically devotes 40 hours per week to the Billionaires on top of working full-time.

The creation of a Billionaire identity is but a preliminary step in casting oneself as a Billionaire. Billionaires for Bush’s Web site lists snarky names for acolytes to assume, and encourages them to emerge from “behind closed limo doors” to engage in an intensely media-savvy combination of protest, street theater, organization, and activism. Role-playing generalities may pepper the web site, but the DIY guide to becoming a Billionaire is 45 pages long and provides instructions for everything from developing a Billionaire personality (encouraging newbies to create “Your Persona & Portfolio”) to planning one’s own Billionaire actions (including the inside-out approach of “Counter-Demonstrating at Anti-Bush Events”).

The Billionaires bank upon the creativity of their membership to embrace their story-within-a-story approach to ousting Bush, inverting typical models of protest and demonstration by subversively appearing to support that which they wish to alter. Billionaire street actions are typically peaceable ones in which it’s not uncommon for actual Bush supporters, confused about the Billionaires’ real intentions, to append themselves to the group in a show of mistaken solidarity. According to Perd, the Billionaires’ collective straight face and singularity of focus is what keeps it so effective in “using a heaping spoonful of humor, savvy political messaging, grassroots participation, and the Internet to flush out the truth about how the Bush administration’s economic policies have been a disaster for most Americans.”

May’s Billionaires Ball raised money for the group’s summer “Swing State Limo Tour” and its upcoming actions, currently in the planning stage, in conjunction with the Republican National Convention’s arrival in New York City at the end of August.

At press time, it’s too soon to speculate on how many members will represent the group in New York City. If those numbers mirror B4B’s exponential growth since the first of the year, it seems unlikely that convention-goers will avoid the lavishly-clad impostors. Back in January, at B4B’s inaugural event — which was to kick off the presidential election year of actions, fundraising, and demonstrations — B4B had only two chapters and a Ball with 450 attendees; May’s event boasted approximately 1,100 guests while 50 new chapters have sprung up nationwide, according to Emily Wynns (a.k.a. “Lucinda Regulations”), Deputy Director of Public Relations.

Given the rapidly devolving situation in Iraq, when every passing day seems to provide anti-Bush activists with a new reason to rally to unseat him, and in an increasingly charged election season, the Billionaires’ success in building membership and popularity stems from the fact that “people are looking for change,” according to Perd. “People are very unhappy with the administration at this time and they’re looking for a way to lend their hand to changing that.” As Perd sees it, the Billionaires provide a droll, creative roadmap to effecting such change. “Billionaires for Bush works because of our tight messaging and savvy delivery,” she said. “We know our facts, and we are witty. Plus, it’s fun to be a Billionaire!”

At the spring fundraiser, Billionaires of all ages appeared to agree. Throughout the night, party-goers in tuxedos, opera gloves, and evening gowns streamed into City Stage to watch Billionaire performers convey the group’s message through singalongs, brief speeches defending the rich, and skits in which mock corporation heads and moneyed old-boy networks fought to protect their sizeable political interests.

One of its major successes is that, unlike many other protest groups, the Billionaires have been able to attract participants of all ages and backgrounds with their grandeur. Though Cash and Carry were the youngest Billionaires at the Ball, others ranged in age from seven to seventy. Ariel Willner, aged seven, was wearing a white wedding dress, and answering to “Mary Rich.” According to her mother, Toby Willner, a petite dark-haired woman only slightly less bedecked than her offspring in nuptial attire, their involvement in the Billionaires arose from their participation in the Radical Cheerleaders (defined on its Web site as “activism with pom-poms and middle fingers extended”). “I’m divorced, so when Bush got elected, I would bring Ariel with me to the Radical Cheerleaders practice because I didn’t have a babysitter. She wound up learning the cheers better than me,” said Willner.

Dark-haired Ariel streamed layers of tulle as she shyly circled her mother, who said “I think it’s really rubbed off on [Ariel]. At school they had the students draw pictures of the flag and she wound up drawing two — one was an American flag and the other was a peace flag. It was a golden mothering moment for me,” Willner said with a laugh.

Of her own political involvement, Willner said, “I’ve been doing activist stuff my whole life. Back when I started, you did it because it was the right thing to do, not because it was fun. I think Billionaires for Bush is a great concept — it’s really fun,” she said, gesturing to the throngs of people in their finery. “A lot of people who have progressive sentiments don’t end up getting involved, because they think this is drudgery. If it’s more fun, like this, people want to get involved.”

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