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Code Pink group Pushes Ahead With Protests

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DENVER -- Code Pink, which has built its reputation protesting the Iraq war, is planning a handful of events around the DNC this week, but organizers fear that those inclined toward their cause might not participate because they don't want to jeopardize Barack Obama's chances of winning the election.

"It's not an either/or choice," said Anne Toepel, a 41-year-old elementary school teacher who founded Code Pink's Denver-Boulder chapter. "I like to think of it as 'pushing' Obama to adopt a peace platform. Protesting at the convention is a chance to do something positive."

Toepel and her fellow volunteers--a pair of sisters in their mid-forties and fifties, a law student at NYU in her early twenties, a fortysomething woman who has never participated in anything like this before--had gathered this morning at the Mercury Cafe, a few miles from the convention center, to discuss strategy and logistics. Instead, over organic, fair trade coffee and breakfast specials like the Impeach Omelet, they ruminated on the larger issues they believe are undermining the country's democracy.

In short, the women connect the war in Iraq to an overall failing in providing for human needs. The more than $600 billion spent in Iraq could have been devoted to health care, education, and the environment, they said. And, although they believed many people don't like the war or rising gas prices, the women suggested that the overall public is not willing to forgo the comfort, ease, and convenience of America's consumer culture to take political action.

"I was surprised by Boulder," said Toepel. "A lot of people there talk about not liking what's going on politically, but when I started this chapter only six or eight people actually showed up."

Sally Newman, who was active in the Boston chapter of Code Pink, confirmed that in her city, too, fewer people participated in protests than one might expect, and as in Denver-Boulder, most members were under 25 or over 50. "The missing middle," Toepel hypothesized, could be attributed in part to the demands of raising kids and working full-time jobs, as well to social mores. "Our culture just doesn't make political activism a priority," she said. "It's seen as a luxury activity."

Toepel herself is a single mother, and her salary as a public school teacher affords her only a rented basement apartment; however, she is taking the first week off work both to help at the convention and to protest what she sees as Obama's less-than-aggressive stance on withdrawing troops from the Middle East.

"I worry a little about what I see as Obama fever in Boulder," Toepel said.

"Obama-mojo," said one of the other volunteers.

"There's a feeling that you have to get on the bandwagon, you have to beat McCain. That's thing one," said Newman.

The fear of creating a spectacle and hurting Obama's chances may very well keep some people home in the next few days. Code Pink, however, with their Pepto-Bismol-colored outfits and their determination to work "tirelessly," are not having it.

"The highest praise I can offer is that he's the best we could get under the current system," said Newman.

As for the presumptive nominee's choice of running mate, the women exchanged a look and gave a collective sigh. Said Deirdre Johnston, "All I can say is that it's very forgiving of Obama."

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