Augusta protest is a short shot

Fewer than 50 activists take an hour to back Burk

The Masters


April 13, 2003|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUGUSTA, Ga. - A protest almost nine months in the making took little more than an hour to play out yesterday.

Martha Burk and her National Council of Women's Organizations spent more time inflating and deflating a giant pink pig - "Augusta National Corporate Pigs' Club" was the porker's message - than it took for four speakers to earn scattered applause for a series of speeches against Augusta National Golf Course and its all-male membership.

As tournament play continued half a mile up Washington Road, fewer than 50 protesters scrambled out of buses to support Burk in her campaign to force Augusta National to accept its first female member.

Burk's serious protesters were joined by a motley crew of fringe screamers.

There were giant puppets and a couple of dogs wearing "anti-Burk" buttons.

There was J.J. Harper of Cordele, Ga., the self-proclaimed "One Man Klan Group."

Harper, a 40-year-old Army veteran who said he was representing a "whole, invisible empire," said he was advocating that "people need to start standing up for their rights. Get off your couch because our rights are being taken away."

He was not, however, saying women had the right to join Augusta National. Neither was Todd Manzi, an earnest father of two young daughters and husband of a wife who wished, he said, "that I'd get a job." Manzi, from Tampa, Fla., said he's spent $35,000 of his own money to make/sell anti-Burk buttons.

And there was the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, an African-American minister and radio talk show host from Los Angeles, who wanted to protest Jesse Jackson's using his Rainbow Coalition/PUSH organization to back Burk. "We don't need to be backing the agenda of a rich, white woman trying to get another rich, white woman into a country club," Peterson said.

The afternoon seemed more like the worst picnic ever. No food, no drink, no badminton net, some fire ants and a lot of strangers milling around surrounded by 123 police officers.

There were no arrests, no injuries and not even much rhetoric.

Burk made the points she has been making for almost a year - Augusta National, while legally in the right, is morally wrong to keep women from a place where high-powered CEOs can gather to make deals, entertain clients and conduct business.

After 65 minutes of speeches by feminist activists, Burk climbed into a black Chevrolet Trailblazer. While her driver stood at the door, Burk said through an open window that "I think it went great. I'm very very pleased considering the local law enforcement tried to totally sabotage us."

Burk said: "We turned out what we said we'd turn out. We showed up when we said we'd show up."

Burk said she found the row after row of police cars parked in the field, "threatening," though she did credit the police with keeping counter-protesters away from her group.

Just before Burk shut her window, she also gave a small opening to Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson.

"I'll back off," Burk said. "If he will announce a reasonable plan to accommodate women - in months, not years."

Diane Pucin is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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