DETROIT – A planned caravan of fuel-efficient domestic vehicles to Washington, D.C., in support of aid for Detroit automakers was too popular to be practical and will be replaced by a more focused rally at the U.S. Capitol next week.

Auto suppliers and dealers who conceived of a caravan with 50-100 fuel-efficient vehicles were flooded with so much enthusiastic support and people who wanted to join that planning the logistics became impossible.

“I’ve never seen a reaction like this in my life. We had offers of free food, discounted gas, 1,000 free box lunches – you name it,” said Timothy Leuliette, a lead organizer and president and chief executive officer of Rochester Hills, Mich.-based supplier Dura Automotive Systems Inc. “We quickly found out that there are people who wanted to start caravans from all over the country.”

Though gratifying, Leuliette said organizers became concerned about issues ranging from finding hotel rooms to getting a permit for such a large rally.

Other concerns ranged from criticism for wasting gas to political expressions that would cross the line.

“It became clear early on that the number had become way beyond what could be manageable,” Leuliette said.

So organizers who are part of a group calling itself the Engine of Democracy have instead decided on a two-part strategy that includes a rally Dec. 5 – the day of a planned Senate hearing on loans to automakers – and a Web site to solicit support.

The rally is to include representatives from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Attendees at the rally plan to wear blue jerseys with red and white stripes with the name of their state and the number of jobs in that state that are related to the automobile industry on the back.

Leuliette said people are being selected by automotive dealers and suppliers.

On Monday, the group plans to launch its Web site, theengineofdemocracy.com.

Organizers are encouraging automotive employees, retirees and the public to go the site and tell their stories about the auto industry and its impact on their lives.

Contact information for elected officials and Bush administration members also will be available on the site.

In a separate effort, Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, said Wednesday that he is urging all branches of the NAACP and the national NAACP to lobby elected officials for support of $25 billion in federal loans for the automotive industry.

Anthony said the NAACP and the UAW have had a virtual marriage for decades as organizations that both fight for civil rights, equal rights and workers rights.

Anthony was critical of the amount of attention devoted to the automotive executives’ private jet flights to Washington to ask for money. “That’s a phony issue,” he said.

Instead, Anthony argued that preventing the collapse of the U.S. automotive industry is critical to preventing widespread layoffs and an increase in unemployment, poverty and crime.

“We cannot in any way fathom how the industry would be allowed to get to this point,” Anthony said, especially in light of the $150 billion that the Treasury Department has provided to insurer AIG and Citibank.

“I think the Wall Street aid, obviously, had to occur. But very little, if any, of that has trickled down to the working class,” he said. “If you can aid the white-collar workers, certainly you can aid the blue-collar workers.”


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