Margaret Thrasher, looking like the great-grandmother she is, approached the man in front of the Fedco store in Cerritos, held out her pen and petition, and smiled.
"Are you a registered voter?" she asked kindly.
The man paused, glanced at the document she proffered, then scowled. "What are you gonna do, put little babies (with AIDS) in concentration camps?" he fired over his shoulder as he stomped off.
Thrasher, 70, was unfazed. Though she has 18 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, the Long Beach resident has recently found time for a new career. On this particular day she was collecting signatures for a California ballot initiative that would make carriers of the deadly AIDS virus subject to quarantine. And on June 3, her name will appear on the Democratic ballot in the 32nd Congressional District as the Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.-supported challenger to eight-term incumbent Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City).
"The country is in such a mess and our congressmen aren't doing anything," charged Thrasher, one of three challengers in the Democratic race.
Her mentor--1980 presidential candidate LaRouche--made headlines recently when two candidates supported by his National Democratic Policy Committee (which is not an official unit of the Democratic Party) won nomination to top state offices in Illinois.
LaRouche, 64, says he favors an expanded military buildup, return to the gold standard, mandatory testing for AIDS and the quarantining of AIDS virus carriers. In a recent Washington press conference, he characterized his critics as insane, pro-Soviet or linked to an international drug lobby; accused White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan of being involved in drug money laundering, and called some reporters a "bunch of liars."
Thrasher, one of about 1,000 candidates for state and national offices that the LaRouche organization says it plans to field throughout the country this year, said she believes in LaRouche because "he is telling the truth (despite the fact that) the news media is cutting him down."
In her own campaign, she said, she plans to emphasize the wide proliferation of "dope" being promoted by bankers who should "all be jailed" and to push for passage of the initiative making carriers of the acquired immune deficiency virus reportable to the state, just like those who have syphilis or hepatitis. She also said she supports a variety of other positions--on subjects ranging from Nicaragua to Libya-- advocated by LaRouche candidates around the country.
Though never involved in a political campaign before, Thrasher said, she became a LaRouche follower two years ago after reading some of his literature. "I don't remember whether it was something about Kissinger or Mondale," she said of the material that wrought her conversion. More recently, she said, representatives of the LaRouche organization asked her to run for Congress. And today, she said, she defers to them on most matters pertaining to her self-financed campaign. She has not determined how much she will spend though it will be kept to a minimum, she said, because she does not plan to buy television time.
Even as she collected signatures in front of Fedco, in fact, she was under the watchful eye of a LaRouche staffer who at one point ordered a reporter to stop "bothering" her and three other petitioners with questions.
Standing just outside the exit, the petitioners were doing a brisk business as shoppers paused to read, and sometimes endorse, their petition.
Not everyone knew exactly what they were signing.
Danny Flores, 35, of Norwalk said he signed the petition because he understood that it would provide money for AIDS research, an issue the document does not directly address. "It's a disease and it must be dealt with," Flores said. "(You can't) close your eyes to it."
Phyllis Wilson, 47, of Cerritos admitted that she didn't know what the petition would do, but said she signed it because "I figure that anything we can do to combat AIDS is OK."
Others, though, were fully cognizant of what the petition advocated; some signed, some didn't.
"People who have AIDS are unfortunate," explained Jules Roth, 64, of Cerritos, the man who had earlier expressed concern that babies infected with the disease might be put in concentration camps. Later he admitted a more political concern. "Those people are LaRouchers, aren't they?" asked Roth, a Democrat. "The Democratic Party is being infected by a parasite that must be stamped out. The Democratic Party should wake up before there is no more Democratic Party."