Finally, Burk to make appearance, along with other demonstrators

She'll lead protest in bid to get Augusta National to admit women members

The Masters

April 12, 2003|By Ed Sherman | Ed Sherman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Martha Burk arrived yesterday.

She conducted a series of interviews at the house of a local lawyer. They weren't at her hotel because she doesn't want people to know where she is staying in Augusta.

Going out to a local restaurant also is out of the question. She will take all of her meals in.

"I'm pretty well insulated," said Burk, sipping coffee at the dining room table. "I haven't been near the club."

That will change today when the head of the National Council of Women's Organizations will make her long-awaited appearance. More than 10 months of rhetoric will culminate when she leads a protest in a bid to get Augusta National to admit women as members.

For Burk, the demonstration comes with questions about how far she should go to make her point. Is she willing to get arrested?

It also comes with claims from a consultant working for the club who says Burk has struggled to attract supporters to attend her event.

The questions will be answered this morning when the demonstrations begin on a 5.1-acre parcel of land Augusta National owns. Local officials designated the site, situated a half-mile from the course, for protests that will also include Rainbow/PUSH (Jesse Jackson won't attend) and groups opposed to Burk's campaign.

Burk's group unsuccessfully sued to get a permit to position a small number of individuals directly at Augusta National's front gate. Yesterday, she was considering whether she will walk over there herself so she could be seen by members entering the club, even if it means the risk of getting arrested.

"We have to evaluate what our goal is," Burk said. "What do you want the story to be the next morning? Our rally is not about civil liberties in Augusta. It is about the club's policies toward women."

The rally will feature a stage and sound system. Burk's group is permitted to bring 200 people.

Burk said it is "anybody's guess" as to how many people will attend.

"It's always uncertain, even with huge marches," she said.

Jim McCarthy, Augusta National's Washington-based consultant, contends Burk's group is having trouble rounding up people. He notes an event organizer was hired and notices were posted on the NCWO's Web site.

"Where are all the college students? Where are the women motorcycle gangs?" McCarthy said. "After months of bluster, it appears very few people are participating. She had to bring in someone to manufacture a demonstration."

Burk countered that McCarthy's charge is off base.

"It's a bit disingenuous for them to say we're having trouble getting people because we never planned on having a huge crowd," Burk said.

Burk is concerned about local law enforcement's ability to maintain order. Usually, she says, opposing groups don't protest in the same place. At the very least, Burk expects groups chanting in an attempt to disrupt her rally.

"We're used to that," she said.

Burk will have her own security guards. She says she has felt uneasy since McCarthy made remarks last month labeling her as "a drive-by shooter" and "bomb-thrower" because of her tactics.

"It was an intentional attempt to inject the issue of violence," Burk said. "I wrote the club and said they have to stop and repudiate this language."

Burk said the club never responded to her letters. Neither Augusta nor McCarthy would comment on her charges yesterday.

Burk said she was feeling "fine" yesterday, "but I don't know what to expect [today]."

McCarthy said he expects the protests to be insignificant and that the focus will be on the tournament. Burk hopes media attention to her cause will apply even more pressure on the club.

"A good outcome would be an orderly demonstration where people know about our message," Burk said. "We can't reach the members directly. We can only do it through the press. We want people to see this for what it is about - sex discrimination."

Ed Sherman is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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