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Protesters oink about government pork

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

By Tony Norman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A caravan of pink pigs made its way down the exit ramp from the Fort Pitt Bridge into the city shortly before 10 a.m. yesterday. Friends of animals needn't panic, though. It wasn't a herd of actual swine oinking its way through lighter-than-usual traffic. It was a pink Chevrolet van outfitted with a pig's snout hauling two smaller pigs behind it on a trailer rig.

Pitt freshman Christine Waller laughs yesterday after catching fortune cookies thrown from the "Pink Pig," a rotund vehicle created by the True Majority and representing what the group contends is excessive government spending on defense. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

The three pigs were visiting the city as part of a 10-month nationwide tour sponsored by True Majority, a 3-month-old grassroots lobbying group, to raise awareness of its new e-service.

The artfully scribbled messages on the sides of the pigs weren't inducements to eat less pork, though. They were protests over the pork in the U.S. military budget as an overwhelming percentage of our government's discretionary spending.

Two large transparent bubbles protruding from the sides of the pink Chevy van symbolized the lead pig's innards stuffed with hundreds of millions of fake dollars. The pigs on the trailer rig represent $34 billion spent on education and $10 billion on world hunger. It was a less-than-subtle illustration of the billions wasted by the military every year, according to representatives of True Majority.

The caravan, which included a large recreational vehicle and a Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric/gasoline-powered car with an inflatable tree on top, parked on Commonwealth Place across from the Pittsburgh Hilton and Towers. The sound of Manu Chau's "King of Bongos" on the sound system added to the festive spirit of the protest, which attracted the stares of hotel guests and passersby.

"We're not anti-military in anyway," said Susan Brown, 26, a graphic designer from Burlington, N.C., who has been with the tour since it began in New England. "We have several high-ranking, retired military men on our board of directors."

According to Brown, True Majority is concerned with the $396 billion the United States devotes to military spending annually compared with the relatively paltry sums set aside for other sectors dependent on government spending.

"We want to take 15 percent from the Pentagon budget and double aid to education and poverty," Brown said, pointing to a large pie chart painted on the side of the yellow recreational vehicle she drove as part of the caravan.

The organization, which is funded by Ben and Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen, considers itself nonpartisan. True Majority monitors Congress on issues ranging from poverty to renewable energy to globalization and the militarization of space. Still, the volunteers who drove into Pittsburgh concede the organization is closely identified with liberal causes, though they were shy about identifying their own affiliations.

"With all of our technology, we have the ability to update computers every three months," said Joel Baier, 25, of Somerset County, N.J. "So, why do our cars still run on 100-year-old technology?"

Baier, the driver of the Toyota, got into a discussion with Harley Felton, an engineer visiting from Airville, York County, about his claim that the Prius gets 48 miles to the gallon.

"It's kinda' cool," Felton said of the protest. "I saw the pigs from the [Hilton restaurant]. My wife's into pigs."

Pointing to the pigs, Felton laughed.

"It's a nice contrast to the [sport utility vehicle] gas guzzler parked next to it," he said.

"We get a lot of good reaction from beeps to peace signs to middle fingers," said Jeff Galusha, 31, a San Diego native and the leader of the protest. "That's what's good about it. It's about awareness."

"We try to make it easy for people to get involved in activism," he said. "Just hit the reply button at [our Web site] and information will be on the way. Your voice can be added to the voices of 30,000 other people."

The caravan is making its way to Chicago and points west.

For more information about True Majority and its itinerary, visit www.truemajority.com.

Tony Norman can be reached at tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.

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