ATLANTA — Though barred from the front gates of Augusta National Golf Club, Martha Burk will still protest. "In the pits," she said.
And no more debating Chairman Hootie Johnson over the issue of admitting women as members to the club that holds the Masters.
It's all about the corporations now, Burk said Thursday at the Martin Luther King Center. It's all about pressure now. It's about holding accountable the chief executives of Fortune 500 companies who belong to the male-only Augusta National. It's about encouraging her supporters to boycott those companies. It's about forcing those CEOs to make a public accounting of their position.
In response to Johnson's statement Wednesday that if he were to "drop dead today," the other members of Augusta National were still committed to its all-male membership, Burk had a suggestion.
"If those men believe Augusta National is right to continue excluding women," Burk said, "we challenge them to hold a news conference and say so publicly. If they do not agree that the sex discrimination they are a part of is right, they must resign their memberships. It's a clear choice. Either stand up and publicly support sex discrimination or stand down, leave your membership. I don't see any other choice."
There seemed to be a conscious effort to re-create a moment from the 1960s civil rights protests as a gathering of about 75 reporters and Burk supporters congregated outside in a chilling rain.
Martin Luther King III stood across the street from his father's Ebenezer Baptist Church to welcome Burk. Also speaking were Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW); Janice Mathis, vice president of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition; and C. Dolores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had indicated he might be in attendance, participated after the formal news conference via conference call. Jackson said he would not be attending Saturday's protest, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"The real issue," Jackson said, "is the PGA should not, in fact, support the Masters being held in Augusta so long as it is gender-discriminatory. Just as the PGA should not participate in apartheid South Africa, they should not participate in gender apartheid in Augusta."
And Jackson's hyperbole paled in comparison to Tucker, who has been a vocal opponent of rap lyrics she has felt were denigrating toward women.
"How dare we send troops in the struggle to face the Taliban, specifically for their callous treatment of women, but we won't invite our women to share in the facilities and benefits of better living at home?" Tucker said.
Last week, Burk had said that it was un-American that female troops are overseas while Augusta National has its no-female policy. Such statements have turned some men and women away from her cause.
"I regret that what I said was misunderstood," Burk said. "I fully support all our troops. And I support women being able to participate fully in the military and at Augusta National."
Said Gandy: "It's not about golf. The question at Augusta is whether sex segregation is acceptable. Hootie Johnson, chairman of Augusta National, tries to hide behind the private-club excuse -- but during the Masters, this club becomes the public face of golf."
Burk made the same argument, saying that because Augusta National benefits from the money spent by not only men, but women, during Masters week, that Augusta National is not a truly private club.
"The National Council of Women's Organizations will no longer debate whether Augusta National Golf Club is merely a small private club of friends getting together to socialize and enjoy each other's company," Burk said. "It is not. Augusta National Incorporated is a Georgia corporation organized and registered as a for-profit corporation.
"Augusta National Incorporated owns the brand names Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Golf Tournament and, in fact, is registered to do business under those brand names. The emphasis should be on that word -- business."
Burk said she is still unsure whether she will try to move any picketers to the front gate of Augusta National on Saturday.
On Wednesday, Burk lost her legal challenge to an Augusta city ordinance allowing Sheriff Ronald Strength to move protesters from the front gate to a site about a half-mile from the club.
Calling the five-acre site, also owned by Augusta National "a pit," Burk said she was scheduled to meet with Strength this morning in a last-ditch attempt to work out a way she could have protesters at the front gate. Burk says the way the city ordinance reads, "Groups smaller than five people don't need a permit," she said. She said it "was possible" there might be picketers at the front gate.
"We will see you in Augusta on Saturday," Burk said.
Burk hopes to bring 200 to the protest. Seven other groups, including a branch of the Ku Klux Klan, a group protesting protests and a group of women protesting against Burk have also applied for permits and are expected at the field Saturday, originally scheduled as the third day of the tournament.