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Turnout Is Sparse for Clinton Rally Promoted on Internet

By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 25, 1998; Page A02

It was not a good day for the information superhighway.

A rally held yesterday at the Ellipse to support President Clinton, billed as the first national assembly advertised over the Internet, drew a crowd of just over 100 people.

And that's if you count the dog walkers, joggers, baby strollers and journalists stopping by.

The rally was organized by Darrell Hampton, a Dayton, Ohio, advertising man who said he had had enough of the beating Clinton has taken at the hands of his political enemies. Hampton announced yesterday's "We the People" rally in bulk messages sent over the Internet and recruited a dozen speakers, many of whom traveled halfway across the country to denounce special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr.

"We have to fight back!" Hampton told the scant but cheering crowd. "We have to take our government back. This could be the beginning of something great!"

At noon, minutes after the rally kicked off, the group of placard-waving demonstrators was dwarfed by the number of players in a nearby flag-football game. Undaunted, Hampton and his crew turned up their microphone and pushed forward with the program. The speeches slowed only once, when a helicopter carrying Clinton, who was heading to California, lifted off from the South Lawn and cheers erupted.

The volume level and the banners, such as one reading, "You Can Entrap the Pope with $40,000,000," attracted the attention of dozens of passersby. Many dropped cash in a small garbage can to help cover the two-hour event's cost, which Hampton estimated to be $11,000.

But attendance fell considerably short of the 1,000 participants Hampton had hoped for. He said that was partly because he didn't start sending out the Internet announcements until a month ago.

Geri Viani, 58, a tourist from New York, was out sightseeing with a companion when she stumbled on the rally and stopped to listen, hoping it might rekindle memories of anti-war demonstrations she participated in during the 1960s.

"There's no one here," Viani said, looking puzzled. "The grass roots are sparse today."

Nancy Cahill, of Woodbridge, was one of several dozen people who learned about the rally on the Internet, and she attended with her 77-year-old mother. Swaying to folksy political songs and waving her placard, she said she couldn't understand why the crowd was so thin.

"In the '60s, when something disgusted us, we got out in the street and let it be known," Cahill said. "It's astonishing people aren't terrified by their own apathy and what's going on" in government.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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