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Protesters gather near Augusta

4/12/2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Backed by about 50 supporters with a giant
inflatable pig and a cardboard Klansman for props, Martha Burk
bashed the all-male Augusta National Golf Club with a tepid protest
that was more circus than showdown.

The combined picketing Saturday by Burk's National Council of
Women's Organizations and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
turned out to be much smaller and shorter than expected. Still,
Burk said the corporate executives in the club that holds the
Masters were terrified that the activists would force them to admit
a woman member.

''You've got to make a choice -- is it discrimination or is it
dollars,'' Burk said, threatening to boycott companies whose
executives belong to the club. ''Today we are protesters with
placards. Tomorrow, women will protest with their pocketbooks.''

But Burk's target audience -- Augusta National's green-jacketed
members -- was nowhere close. While she spoke in a vacant lot with a
pink pig to represent the millionaires in the elite club, the
members were on the course watching the third round of The Masters.

Burk still drew a crowd, even without the 224 protesters she
initially planned to bring. Her anti-discrimination speech was
heard by a small army of reporters and a handful of booing
hecklers.

''I think she's pretty much just shot herself in the foot,''
said Ron Pontiff of Newbern, N.C., who has opposed Burk under the
monicker Golfers for a Real Cause. ''I'm glad it's over.''

But Burk, whose organization claims to have 7 million members,
said she wasn't flustered by the low turnout.

''I don't think we're hurt by that at all,'' she said. ''We
already know the women of America support us.''

The 5.1-acre field hand-picked by Sheriff Ronald Strength for
Burk and her opponents to protest resembled a policemen's picnic.

Strength chose the lot after receiving requests for more than
900 protesters. But it turned out to be mostly empty, save for 100
deputies and state troopers who leaned against patrol cars parked
bumper-to-bumper on the grass to separate protesters who never
arrived.

Sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry said it was too hard to differentiate
journalists from protesters to get a headcount.

A single bus pulled up to drop off Burk supporters -- and 17
people got off. A handful more, mostly college-age women, were
already setting up their small stage. And 20 Rainbow/PUSH
protesters joined them.

Jackson himself was a no-show. The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a
black minister who heads the Brotherhood Organization of a New
Destiny, flew in from Los Angeles with five members to ridicule
Jackson for siding with Burk.

The Ku Klux Klan also turned up -- make that one Klansman, Joseph
J. Harper of Cordele, Ga. He eschewed white robes for a plaid shirt
and blue jeans. Sitting under a tent and showing off photos of his
prized poodles, Harper said Augusta National has the right to
exclude women.

Burk sought to embarrass the club by linking it to Harper. At
one point, she ceded the stage to a 7-foot cardboard figure of a
hooded Klansman wearing a Masters button.

''We're not all white trailer trash,'' Harper muttered into a
bullhorn, his voice drowned out by passing cars.

The free-speech freak show didn't stop there.

A man calling himself Georgina Z. Bush dressed in circus drag --
clown makeup, black garter belt and an American flag as a shawl --
and denounced the war. An Elvis impersonator struck karate poses in
his rhinestone jumpsuit in hopes of sponging a Masters ticket.

Frank Mizell, a banker from Aiken, S.C., had a similar idea. He
wore a sign saying: ''I Will Kiss Martha Burk For a Ticket.''

Burk's opponents seized on the sideshow atmosphere and low
turnout to declare the protest a flop.

''It says to me Jesse Jackson knew this was going to happen and
pulled out,'' said Todd Manzi of Tampa, Fla., Burk's self-appointed
nemesis. ''This issue was never an issue. It's all about Martha
Burk's self-promotion.''

Not that Manzi's fared much better. He says he's $35,000 in debt
after trying to turn anti-Burk sentiment into a cottage industry.
His T-shirts, buttons and bottled water bearing Burk-bashing
slogans haven't been hot sellers.

Burk had initially wanted to protest outside the wrought iron
gate where golfers and members enter Augusta National, but the
sheriff denied her a permit citing safety concerns because of heavy
traffic.

Burk, who had permission to protest for seven hours, left the
site within an hour. She also opted not to risk arrest by
approaching the gate against the sheriff's orders.

Reaction at the course to Burk's presence was ho-hum.

''None of these people really care about what's going on outside
the gates of this club,'' six-time Masters champion and Augusta
National member Jack Nicklaus said. ''Come on, it's a golf
tournament.''

At a house across from the protest site, Dutchess Smith, her
husband and a few friends arranged lawn chairs where they could
watch the protests while sipping beer from foam cups.

''I thought there would be a whole lot more protesters,'' Ms.
Smith said. ''It's just a joke.''

Her friend Jim Campbell, watching the first patrol cars roll off
the lot, had another thought.

''Be a good time to rob a bank,'' he said.