Activists prepare for counter-Bohemian Grove ritual
July 11, 2003
By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Activists are gearing up to protest the annual summer retreat of San Francisco's Bohemian Club, saying what happens in secret amid the 2,700 acres of privately owned redwoods in Monte Rio influences policies that shape people's lives around the world.
The first campers are expected to arrive today and the first protests are set for Saturday.
The protests are intended to draw attention to the "ways in which the members of the Bohemian Grove use their power to negatively affect the lives of people locally and globally," said Susan Lamont, one of the organizers.
Bohemian Club members have long maintained that the three-week encampment is a chance for men from varied social, economic and cultural backgrounds to simply relax and enjoy a schedule of thought-provoking lectures, theater and musical performances.
Activists call that a naive assessment of what goes on in the Bohemian Grove, where club members and summer guests have included presidents and cabinet secretaries, senators and corporate chieftains, as well as journalists, academics and musicians.
Combine that roster of heavyweights with the topics raised in the twice-daily Lakeside Talks, and, in effect, said longtime activist Mary Moore, the encampment is a "way to float public policy ideas without public discussion."
Furnishing a partial list of Lakeside Talks dating to 1980 -- speakers have included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former CIA Director James Woolsey and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia -- Moore notes a July 17, 1981, speech by then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger titled "Rearming America."
"If you look at your history," she said, "that's exactly what happened in the following years."
Moore is stepping aside from organizing the protests -- "Fresh blood needs to come in," she said -- but will speak on the history of the anti-Bohemian Grove movement at a community forum Saturday.
The 2 p.m. event at the Monte Rio Union Elementary School also will include discussions on globalization and corporate misconduct. Hours of protest theater and a march to the grove's entrance are set for July 19 to coincide with the retreat's highest attendance.
Organizers also have asked people who oppose the protests to speak, hoping to alleviate the concerns, especially of local business owners, that the activism disrupts the small resort town when it is ever more dependent on visitor good will and dollars.
"The grove supports this community wholeheartedly, and they employ about 800 people who then spend their money in this town," said Greg Haas, owner of the Pink Elephant, a Monte Rio saloon.
"What we get recognized for is these protests," he said. "What we should get recognized as is 'Monte Rio, Vacation Wonderland.'"
Haas said he will deliver that message at the Saturday forum -- "I was very pleased, very taken aback to be asked," he said -- and will urge the protesters to take their fight instead to the Bohemian Club's imposing San Francisco headquarters.
"They could get a whole lot more attention there for their cause, if that's what they want," he said.
Lamont said she hopes that Haas will instead find himself swayed by activists' arguments that policies advanced by the Bush administration -- members of whom have attended the summer retreat -- are, in fact, the cause of some of Sonoma County's economic woes.
"We're trying to explain that those policies are taking more away from the county than they could ever get back from the grove," she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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