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Gimme an A!

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When they taught three cheers at an impromptu "radical cheerleading" workshop, 25 people showed up, some of whom the sisters vigorously recruited. "We're obnoxious," says Aimee. "That's the hidden secret. We were like, "So, are you coming to our workshop?'"

The next summer they performed at a talent show at Sister Subverter in Arkansas. Seemingly all of a sudden, radical cheerleading went from being "really dorky" to universally embraced. "We got an encore to do [the cheer] "Shoot the Rapist' again," Cara says, smiling wistfully. "Still a favorite."

After that conference, a number of attendees went home and started their own squads. "That's where radical cheerleading broke," Aimee says. Though there is no formal organization of members, squads now exist all over North America, plus a few in Europe.

At the time, late 1997, the Jennings sisters had no idea how far radical cheerleading had spread. It wasn't until nearly two years later, in the summer of 1999, that Aimee got a glimpse of the concept's contagion. When activists were being arrested at a land struggle for the Minnehaha Free State in Minneapolis, protesters broke into the Jennings' "Pigs" cheer. They called out "Give me a P," and so forth, and when they got to the end, the crowd spontaneously did the whole cheer.

Aimee was amazed at the sight -- "I had to keep my jaw from dropping," she says -- but the scope of radical cheerleading did not hit Cara until several months later, when friends returned from World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in December with mini cheer handbooks protesters had made and circulated among themselves: "I was really shocked. Then at the IMF/ World Bank protests in Québec City last April, we were on the street and someone says, "You should do a cheer.'" She did, and 50 people called out the response.

"I was floored," Cara remembers. "I was like, We didn't even know them!"

Radical cheerleading had by then seeped into Canadian activism. Kate MacLean, who works at the Womyn's Center at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, first learned about radical cheerleading from an out-of-town friend of a friend. Enamored of the idea, the 23-year-old helped form an 18-member community squad for Access 2000, a Canadian national students' strike in protest of high tuition fees. After another action, at the fall 2000 March of Women in Ottawa, MacLean was invigorated. "I was like, "I want to meet everyone who does this. Let's have a conference!'"

Her Web-posted conference notice garnered responses from all over the world, including queries from would-be radical cheerleaders in Germany and the Philippines, who, MacLean notes, have since started squads. She invited the New York City radical cheerleaders, a close-knit and active troop, but one of them said she wouldn't feel comfortable attending unless the Jennings sisters were there.

MacLean agreed, obtained the sisters' e-mail address, and offered to fly them to Ottawa.

"They said, "We're tickled pink!'" MacLean recalls with a chuckle. "You know how cute they are."

About 100 people attended the conference in March 2001 at Carleton University. Meanwhile in Florida, many activists were still oblivious to radical cheerleading's origins. When the Eve Chapter, a newly formed women's group based in Boca Raton, was setting up Femme Fest, its first annual women's celebration held at Florida Atlantic University in March, organizers were hoping to find some radical cheerleaders to perform.

"We were hoping to fly some in," says Justina Hook, one of the event's coordinators. Hook says she was surprised when an out-of-state radical cheerleader informed her that the movement had started just a few miles away.

The disconnect is far from arbitrary. Though the Jennings sisters see radical cheerleading as a collective phenomenon and assert no ownership of the concept, the success of radical cheerleading is due in part to the sisters' charisma. They know a lot of activists, and they make sure the activists know the cheers, which speak for themselves.

"It's genius," says Hollywood activist Ali Bateretz. "Not many people these days pay attention to protesters, but with radical cheerleading it's performance."

Bateretz, who is 30 years old and uses a wheelchair because of a nervous-system disorder, is hoping to start a Miami-Dade/Broward county squad including cheerleaders who, like herself, have disabilities.

Bateretz also admires the way radical cheerleading inverts gender stereotypes. Many radical cheerleaders would not be found on a traditional cheer squad. Some are fat, some have hairy legs and armpits, some are male, some are transgender: "You're taking something that's not exactly a feminist thing, and you're making it into something so powerful and feminist and nonhierarchical."

But it's not wholly or intentionally satire, though some squads, much to the Jennings sisters' chagrin, read it that way. When they see such ironists, Cara and Aimee give them dirty looks. While the protests are supposed to be fun, the cheerleading is no joke.

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Amy Roe

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