- Leanne Rios
It's easy to challenge America's crony-rich elected establishment from your couch. Last Friday at St. Mike's, Vermonters learned how to do it at political events.
For more than two hours, a 20-person crowd of college students and community members received lessons in the art of "bird dogging" - i.e., asking aggressive questions of impressionable political candidates. Topic of the day? Global health, or the lack thereof.
First to speak was Leanne Rios, a New Mexico organizer from the White River Junction-and-Washington, D.C.-based Global Health Council. According to Rios, who wore dress pants and a sash, average Joes and Janes still hold sway over their congressional representatives. Her Power Point presentation featured a procession of faceless digital stick figures. Congressional folk "welcome hearing from their constituents, no matter whether you're old or young," she said at one point. "Wait - do you guys know what a constituent is?"
The next presentation, by Jennifer Flynn of the New York-based Health Global Access Project, offered some actual bird-dogging tips. "When are people weak?" she asked rhetorically. "When they're vulnerable. And when are they vulnerable? When they're running for office."
After relaying some anecdotes from the 2004 election, Flynn moved behind a podium and pretended to be Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. "Come on, everyone loves me, I'm America's mayor, ask me some questions!" yelled the radical activist.
Siham Elhamoumi, a 22-year-old organizer with the Vermont Global Health Coalition, stood up. "Eight thousand people die every day of AIDS worldwide," she began. "Would you support $50 billion in funding for HIV/AIDS over five years?"
"Giuliani" scratched his head. "Actually," the faux contender confessed, "I'm here to discuss security issues."