Going for the Green
Shakespeare did not have Tom Good in mind, of course, when he wrote, "What's in a name?" But the Bard probably would have enjoyed the contrasting monikers of the Montpelier resident and his fictitious alter-ego: Rob Moore.
Tall and bearded, Good is a 41-year-old, single, self-employed architect who specializes in environmentally responsible projects. The identical-looking Rob Moore heads the Vermont chapter of Billionaires for Bush, a protest group that uses satirical street theater to skewer greedy, right-wing capitalists. Although "B4B" has some adherents in France, Germany, Australia and South Korea, it is primarily a homegrown phenomenon with about 64 branches in 27 states. They strike out with an array of clever battle cries, such as "Hands Off Halliburton" and "Leave No Billionaire Behind."
Members of this grassroots political action campaign, who dress to the nines for public demonstrations, tend to choose whimsical noms de guerre. In New York City, the B4B director of operations and chapter development is Iona Bigga Yacht. Others around the world go by pseudonyms such as Maya Countsoffshore, Anita Kickback, Phil Meewollet and Mo Bludfer-Oyle.
On a recent stuffy afternoon, Rob Moore is sporting a dark suit accessorized by a top hat and a cane, with a fake cigar in his mouth and real $20 bills -- rather than a monogrammed hankie -- tucked in his breast pocket. Fully costumed, he stands beside the environment-friendly apartment building under construction on Burlington's waterfront that Tom Good has helped design. The two activists sharing one body have just returned from the Democratic National Convention, where about 175 members of B4B expressed their faux support for the current president. Moore/Good is counting the days till he and his fellow billionaires bring their ironic ire to the Republican gathering in New York City.
SEVEN DAYS: This is like interviewing someone with multiple personality disorder. Speaking to Tom now, how did you hook up with Billionaires for Bush? Tom Good: I heard about them in February from an acquaintance who's with the New Hampshire chapter. They had infiltrated a Republican fundraising event. I found about 15 like-minded people here and we met with the national organizer, Iona Bigga Yacht, when she came to Vermont in March. Our first action was on Tax Day in April.
SD: What did you do?
TG: We spent about 45 minutes marching around Montpelier, praising Bush for doing such a great job with the economy and thanking the working class for paying our taxes. Six of us were outfitted as wealthy people, in tuxedos or evening gowns and furs. We were towing a few others -- dressed as waitresses, mechanics and farmers -- with a rope. Our signs were make-believe tax refund checks with many zeroes.
SD: What was the reaction?
TG: Mostly positive. People laughed. It usually takes a few minutes to understand we're doing satire. When Fahrenheit 9/11 opened at the Savoy in June, we walked along the ticket line trying to dissuade them from seeing the movie. We tell peaceniks that war is good for the economy. We said, "Corporate media is getting a bad rap." After all, we own the media.
SD: That sounds like Rob Moore speaking. How many Vermont billionaires went to Boston last week?
TG: Just me. The action was on a Tuesday, so most people here couldn't get away.
SD: Were you penned inside the so-called Free Speech Zone?
TG: No. First we marched from Rowe's Wharf to the Republican National Committee headquarters for a half-hour rally. We had an escort of 20 policemen on bicycles. We had been chanting, "Whose oil? Our oil! Whose president? Our president!" But as we passed by North Station, there were MPs with Humvees and AK-47s. So we switched to, "Whose Humvees? Our Humvees! Whose AK-47s? Our AK-47s! Privatize the military!"
SD: Did you run into any proverbial Proper Bostonians?
TG: One woman said to me, "Oh, you're a Bush supporter. I'm a die-hard Republi-can." I asked, "How big was your tax cut last year?" ... It started to dawn on her that this wasn't for real, and she walked away. That's our purpose: to make people think.
SD: What's B4B doing next?
TG: Some people took a limo from Boston to join the Million Billionaire March, which starts in the Midwestern swing states and comes back East in time for the Republican convention in late August.
SD: You didn't want to go along?
TG: I couldn't. It's a five-week commitment.
SD: You've got job responsibilities, unlike a true billionaire. What's your life story?
TG: I'm from Ashtabula, Ohio. I moved here in 1988, after graduating from the University of Cincinnati, and worked for Black River Design in Montpelier. I got my license in 1993 and became a consultant in 1997. I work on "green" buildings.
SD: What makes the Waterfront project green?
TG: It's energy-efficient, water-saving, built from durable materials and close to transportation, which makes the Waterfront an affordable place to live. There's also an on-site storm-water treatment system. My role is as an architectural-specifications consultant with Gossens Bachman Architects in Montpelier ... This is my Tom Good persona talking. The [genuine] billionaires live up the street in those condos.
SD: What's your own home like?
TG: I rent a solar-heated structure that's super-insulated and stays warm with only a wood stove.
SD: Not a rich man's lair, I guess. What are your plans for New York?
TG: About eight of us from Vermont will probably go down for the Sunday, August 29, protest. We're rehearsing some street performances. Maybe we'll auction off ordinary Vermonters -- domestic help, gardeners, chauffeurs, pool boys. Our theme is, "Why work at Wal-Mart when you can be a slave for a billionaire?"
SD: I wonder if you'll bump into Bread and Puppet. They've been spoofing capitalist fat cats for decades.
TG: Their tycoons are malevolent. Ours are benevolent: "Let us take over the country and it'll all be OK." Actually, I found out that Bread and Puppet is not going to the Republican convention.
SD: What do you anticipate there?
TG: We're anticipating the worst: They could call out the National Guard, declare martial law, arrest thousands for no reason, and lock down the city. Maybe the billionaires will get a cushier jail cell, though.
SD: That's a rather chilling scenario. Assuming you make bail, what does the future hold for this Tom Good/ Rob Moore incarnation?
TG: Hopefully, my split personality will end November 2. m
For more information about Billionaires for Bush, email RobMooreB4B@aol.com.