Radical Agenda | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Radical Agenda 

A political operative hits the bricks on Inauguration Day looking for malcontents to lure into the Democratic Party.

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

On Inauguration Day, Stan Hollenbeck wore black. In a sports shirt, blazer, and boots, the bearded Hollenbeck looked like a funky priest about to preside over a funeral.

At eight o'clock on Saturday morning, he was sitting in the office of his Uptown apartment, printing out name tags for speakers at the "Alternative Inaugural" he was throwing that afternoon. His television set was tuned to CBS's coverage of the real inaugural in Washington. When the camera caught a gang of demonstrators waving a "Free Mumia" sign, he snorted.

"That's a sweep-the-kitchen protest, where you get every cause and you can't get anything done," said Hollenbeck, a consultant to 33rd Ward alderman Richard Mell. "I agree with Tip O'Neill that politics is really the art of negotiation and compromise. I worry that some people who are on the extreme element of the left, they have a two-pronged agenda. One thing is to promote their cause. The other is to make compromise impossible, to dilute the effectiveness of the left of center."

No radical can resist a good demonstration, especially one with the word "alternative" in the title, so Hollenbeck was hoping to lure leftists to his antiinaugural. His main attraction: Angela Shelton, host of WTTW's The Cheap Show.

"I want these people to see the mainstream, and I want the mainstream to see them," Hollenbeck said. "It doesn't make any sense to have them out of the Democratic Party. I think Nader showed that. We've evolved a two-party system over the years. It doesn't have to be the same parties, but it's developed that way. The conservatives and liberals have coalesced into one party or another."

Hollenbeck's affair didn't start until three, so before then he planned to hit every anti-Bush event in town. First he took a minivan down to Hyde Park to eat breakfast at the Salonica Restaurant. His table companions included two women running for village trustee in Fox River Grove, a Young Democrat from the University of Chicago, and a former stripper from Ohio who was making her "first foray into political activism in this part of the country."

"We're all part of Trust the People," Hollenbeck explained, between phone calls to TV stations, trying to drum up coverage for the Alternative Inaugural. "It's a national group that just sprang up after the election. We're thinking of changing the name to Truss the People, because that's what Bush has done. Actually, the national has been talking about Bush bashing. We don't want any Bush bashing. I feel the same way that they do, but we've got to take the good with the puke."

After breakfast, Hollenbeck took his group to the former synagogue on 50th Street that serves as the headquarters of Rainbow/PUSH. Jesse Jackson's organization was supposed to have led a demonstration outside the Federal Building, but its members had been distracted by revelations that Jackson had a love child.

Outside a ring of Lyndon LaRouche supporters were marching against John Ashcroft. They sang old spirituals and carried signs that said "Tell Durbin Filibuster Nazi Ashcroft" and "Kick Bush's Klansman in the Ashcroft--Join LaRouche." A black minister shouted at them through a megaphone: "We support George Bush. We support John Ashcroft. We're against baby killing."

In the vast sanctuary of the temple, Reverend James Meeks was comparing Jesse Jackson to King David, the Biblical sovereign who "defeated a right-wing giant named Goliath," then fathered a baby out of wedlock, but remained a leader of his people.

"We cannot decide another person's punishment," Meeks thundered. "God said, 'David, I'm gonna deal with you.' He did not say, 'The talk show hosts are gonna deal with you.' He did not say, 'The right wing is gonna deal with you.'"

An amateurish portrait of Jackson drooped from the balcony, next to a clock that was grinding toward 11, the hour that George W. Bush would take the oath of office. Congressmen Danny Davis and Bobby Rush had sacrificed their tickets to that ceremony in order to stand on the dais with Meeks.

"If God could still use David, God is still going to use Jesse Jackson," Meeks shouted as the congregation roared and rocked. Exhausted, he stepped away from the pulpit and mopped himself with a handkerchief. Jackson's daughter Santita took over and sang a soft hymn as, 800 miles away, Bush placed his hand on the Bible. Jackson's son Jonathan then stood up to deliver the first defiant message to the new administration:

"On this eve of the inauguration, on this eve of Ashcroft's confirmation, we have taken on personal attacks. But I want you to know, Bush, that the marriage of Reverend and Mrs. Jackson of 38 years is still strong."

Hollenbeck slipped out and bought a "Hail to the Thief" button from a sidewalk vendor. He pinned it on as he led his group to Daley Plaza. "This is a Bush-bashing event," he explained. "I'll take it off later."

It was a tiny demonstration, about 50 people huddled around a concrete bench. Fifty thousand people stood on this spot to see Al Gore in November, and 750,000 Chicagoans voted for him. Maybe everyone was in Washington for the big demonstrations. Or maybe they'd read Thursday's Tribune editorial, which claimed that "sane Americans will be thinking about the Super Bowl" instead of how their president was selected. Or maybe 20 degrees was too cold for a demonstration.

At first, Hollenbeck thought the demonstrators were people waiting in line for the post office to open. Though they were a small group, they were as earnest and spirited as Christmas carolers. Their leader, Tim Yeager, the recording secretary for a UAW local, stood on the bench and declared, "We're here to recognize the inauguration of a thief as president. So let's give him our best 'Hail to the Thief.'"

"Hail to the Thief!" the crowd jeered. "Hail to the Thief!"

"We don't believe a word he says. We're going to oppose him until we get him out of the White House. One-time Bush!"

"One-time Bush! One-time Bush!"

Yeager passed around copies of a song his daughter, Ayshe, had written to commemorate the inauguration. A man in a beret played the tune "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," and everyone sang Ayshe's words.

No son of a Bush in the White House.

No son of a Bush in the sea.

No son of a Bush in the ocean.

So get Bush a-wa-ay from me.

Ayshe wrote the song with Rachel Patterson, her best friend at Irving School in Oak Park. She handed me a sheet that outlined her "Rules" for the Bush Administration.

"No more littering!" it read. "Help the poor! No more pollution in the air! Help clean Mother Earth!"

Hollenbeck and his band rushed off to DePaul to set up their Alternative Inaugural in the auditorium of the Schmidt Academic Center. Three television stations showed up, along with 35 people, including a ponytailed man in a "Nader/LaDuke" T-shirt who sat alone in a middle row.

Angela Shelton started off with a monologue in the Dick Gregory tradition. Maybe the Bush presidency will bring back the angry political satire that disappeared when Richard Nixon boarded that helicopter for San Clemente. Shelton called Bush "Son of Frankenstein," placed air quotes around the word "winner," and talked about the clause in the Constitution that counted each slave as three-fifths of a person. "Apparently, they still do that now," she said. "They thought they could count three-fifths of black people's votes."

The lesson Shelton took away from this election: "It's a waste of time to count votes. Our time is very valuable in this country. It's more important to do things quickly than to do them well." But she discovered that "it's very American to hold a grudge. Don't stop yelling. Don't stop bitching and moaning and complaining. It's more important to name call, and to work with all your earnest efforts to stop anything this administration wants to do."

Hollenbeck had promised "no Bush bashing," so the rest of the afternoon was devoted to a discussion of the future.

"Could Florida have happened here?" asked Jan Flapan, president of the League of Women Voters of Illinois. "Yes. Illinois has 110 election authorities. Each of them has its own procedures. We are totally nonuniform. There is no statewide computerization system. You could register in every jurisdiction." To improve voting, Flapan suggested hiring "younger election judges so they don't fall asleep" and counting "any mark that shows the intent of the voter. Period."

The biggest cheers went to a panelist named Stuart Acuff, the Midwest Regional Coordinator for the AFL-CIO. Acuff had worked on the recount effort in Palm Beach County.

"You cannot lay claim legitimately to be a representative democracy if there is a correlation between your race, your ethnicity, or your income and whether your vote gets counted," Acuff said. "It's time to stop this foolishness about closure in this election. There was a systematic and a thorough effort to disenfranchise African-American voters. After the election, there was ridiculous, shameful intimidation by these young thugs from the Republican National Committee. I saw elderly people trying to walk a picket line being told that they were too stupid to vote, their vote shouldn't count, and they should go home and die."

At no point did he bash George W. Bush by name, though he did call the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore "an affront to 225 years of progress." He finished by asking the audience to commit itself to voter registration and an extension of the Voting Rights Act. "If there was ever an argument for extending the Voting Rights Act, it occured in the South this year."

After the forum was over, Hollenbeck took his group to Stefani's--Bill Clinton's favorite restaurant--then went home to watch the inauguration on the ten o'clock news. He was gratified to see many demonstrators, even if some were out there to free Mumia, but he was startled to see Bush taking the oath behind a sheet of bulletproof glass.

"The events in Washington on that day really played out," he said. "I think there's an anger out there."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Nathan Mandell.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ted Kleine

  • How Much Benefit for Your Buck?

    • Mar 11, 2004
  • 15 Candidates!

    We Can Help--The Reader's Guide to the Big Showdown
    • Mar 11, 2004
  • Where the Boys Are

    Skokie still has one smoker's paradise.
    • Feb 5, 2004
  • More »

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Manic Mondays Frances Cocktail Lounge
November 20
Music
J@K@L Experimental Sound Studio
July 16

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories