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THE SIMPSON TRIAL AFTERMATH : Anger Over Verdicts Sparks Wave of Grass-Roots Protest : Activism: President of local NOW chapter says vigils, boycotts and rallies are practically organizing themselves.

October 12, 1995|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After years of trying to move the mountain on issues of feminism, abortion rights and domestic violence, Tammy Bruce says the mountain has suddenly come to her.

In the nine days since a jury delivered not guilty verdicts in the double-murder trial of O.J. Simpson, Bruce, the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, has lived an activist's dream come true, with vigils, boycotts and telephone protest campaigns practically organizing themselves.

Instead of spending hours on the phone begging people to attend NOW events, Bruce and her cohorts have been besieged by incoming calls with protesters ready to march. The troops are literally in formation, weapons loaded, and simply need to be told where and how to fight the battle.

"I've never seen it before, ever," said Bruce, a publicist who has been NOW's local leader since 1990. "We did not have to generate it. We did not phone-bank it. We did not do anything that grass-roots organizations normally have to do. It was just there."

An estimated 10,000 protest calls clogged NBC's telephone lines this week after the network announced plans for an interview with Simpson--plans that unraveled Wednesday when Simpson canceled.

The movement's largest event yet also fell short when the interview died. Organizers had expected 5,000 people at NBC's studios in Burbank on Wednesday night for an angry rally. When they changed it to a victory celebration, only about 200 people showed up, but scores of cars honked in support as they passed.

"Hey, Hey, O.J., how many people did you kill today," the crowd chanted as they paced the sidewalks. "Shame on the jury," they said. "Shame on NBC."

The wave of activism started when NOW was flooded with calls in the hours after the verdicts were announced and an impromptu candlelight vigil was planned for that evening outside Simpson's Brentwood mansion. About 1,500 people showed up, and double that number returned for a vigil last weekend, promoted in part on Bruce's KFI radio talk show.

NOW also encouraged people to call their local cable companies to complain about the possibility of Simpson profiting from a pay-per-view appearance; the prospects for such a special now appear dead, in part because industry leaders say it would offend many of their customers.

In between, other groups have spontaneously organized marches outside the offices of International Creative Management, leading the agency to formally drop Simpson as a client after 20 years, and boycotts of local supermarkets selling tabloids with gruesome pictures of the murder scene.

The protest movement centers on Simpson's history of domestic violence against his ex-wife, murder victim Nicole Brown Simpson, and declarations by jurors that evidence related to the battering did not affect their decision.

"I think that right now we are having an emotional riot in L.A.," said Patty Giggans, executive director of the Los Angeles Commission on Assault Against Women. "It kind of has a little bit of that feeling of '60s protest to me. People want to get out and do something."

Gloria Allred, a feminist attorney who has represented Nicole Brown's family, said people are self-mobilizing.

"I've had just a tidal wave of calls into my office, without any solicitation whatsoever," Allred said. "People are saying, 'Tell me when to march and where.' They're looking for a way to plug into an action or event."

Faxes and phone lines have hummed in the close-knit community of domestic violence workers with the latest NOW bulletins.

"This has been a long fight," said Sylvia Hines of the Glendale YMCA, which runs a shelter for abused women. "It's just come to the spotlight because of the Simpson case, but actually folks have been working quietly for years--maybe too quietly."

While NOW has been the lead organizer on the vigils and NBC phone campaign, Bruce said she has no idea who started the Internet "home page" that is serving as an "unofficial O.J. boycott newsletter," and no clue how word of the vigils and phone campaigns have spread so far and wide.

All NOW has done, Bruce, said, is offered angry callers some tools of its trade.

"Something everyone can do is dial a phone," Bruce pointed out. "But people don't think that way sometimes. If you're not involved in activism, you don't know what you can and cannot do."

NOW's campaign organizers started with the public phone number for NBC in New York. Then they focused on the personal telephone and fax numbers of Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC West Coast and a longtime friend of Simpson. "I left a message for Don Ohlmeyer. He didn't return my call," Bruce said. "We then put his number on our hot line. He called me back two hours later."

Eventually, some NBC employees called NOW offices and offered some inside lines to executives. Once in the phone mail system, Bruce and others figured out how to transfer from voice mail box to voice mail box. Telephone company officials at one point reported that the system had shut down from overload.

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