- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — They fight bombs with pompoms and kick high for consciousness.

The Radical Cheerleaders, a loose network of young, mostly female activists, have put a new face on protest. Using the same moves performed by a high school pep squad, they’ve heckled for livable wages at an Alabama Taco Bell, chanted antiwar rhymes on Boston Common and marched in the Saskatchewan Pride Parade.

“We do for our fellow activists what cheerleaders do for sports players: we get people going,” said Betsy Housten, 24, of the New York City Radical Cheerleaders.

Miss Housten has cheered at the mayor’s doorstep to demand citywide recycling and at a burlesque club to raise money for a feminist bookstore. Now her group is collecting antiglobalization cheers for a trip to Miami, where large demonstrations are planned for Nov. 19-21, when Pan-American leaders meet to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

“It’s not just the same ‘1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your racist war’ stuff that’s been around since the sixties,” Miss Housten said.

There are squads in Phoenix, San Diego and Ottawa and on several college campuses, with names like the Rocky Mountain Rebels and the Memphis Dirty Southern Belles. Many have their own Web sites, featuring cheers and links to other activist groups. Some, like the New York cheerleaders, use Internet newsgroups and telephone hot lines to organize practices and rallies.

It’s hard to estimate the number of radical cheerleading groups in the country, since nobody’s keeping track. Their largest gathering to date was in 2001, when squads from all over North America attended a convention in Ottawa. Organizers expect about 1,000 cheerleaders to protest in Miami.

Though all seem to share a decidedly liberal bent, each cheerleading squad has a different approach. Some sport coordinated uniforms (often in red and black, the unofficial anarchist team colors) and shake pompoms fashioned from garbage bags. Others are less organized.

The New York squad numbers about 25, ranging in age from 7-year-old Arielle to her mother, Toby Willner, 42. Most are twenty-somethings. There’s even a man, though squads are generally female.

“Now there are squads in Sweden, London, Warsaw and Ireland,” said 26-year-old Emily O’Hara, a founder of the New York squad who is known on the protest circuit as Mary Christmas. “It’s becoming this new crazy thing there.”


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