Wednesday, May 30, 2001

A true taste

Protests marked by manners

        Cincinnati — a reputed conservative burg — became a rebel stronghold over the Memorial Day weekend.

        An estimated 400,000-plus protesters showed up for Taste of Cincinnati. They were rebelling against restrictions on their freedom.

        Up to 200 protesters marched around and called for a boycott of the three-day food fest. Their chanted message: No racial justice. No parties.

        The rest of the rebels masqueraded as festivalgoers, eating and drinking in a de facto protest of the other protesters. Their unstated message: Don't tell us not to come downtown.

        Both sides met on Central Parkway. Messages were exchanged. In peace.

        No one rioted.

        Both sides showed respect and good sense.

        Glad to see people taking a stand on both sides. Making a statement stands Cincinnati's staid, closed-mouth image on its head.

        The protesters proved Cincinnatians with different viewpoints can mingle peacefully. There's still hope for unity in this community.

Of two minds

        Taste of Cincinnati's 2001 edition showed that this town is a contradiction wrapped in a denial.

        Only in law-and-order Cincinnati, at an event under fire for taking place after an outbreak of lawlessness, would the star of the show turn out to be a convicted felon. James Brown — whose all-expenses-paid Taste of Cincinnati appearance lasted all of six minutes and cost the city $15,000 — spent two years-plus in prison. Paroled a decade ago, he served time for aggravated assault, failure to stop for police and weapons violations.

        Only in Cincinnati would the group of 200 boo the mere mention of James Brown's name while the other protesters cheered for him to appear.

        As the group of 200 snaked through the crowd and called out — “What do we want? Boycott! When do we want it? Now!” — other protesters counter-chanted.

        “What do we want? James Brown!

        “When do we want him? Now!”

        After six minutes of Soul Brother No. 1, the larger group of protesters dispersed. Time to eat.

        The smaller group spent the three days making periodic appearances. As the marchers waded into the festival crowd, a man at the head of their line shouted: “Excuse us! Pardon us! Coming through!”

        Marchers behind him passed out leaflets. Every one I took came with a spoken “thank you.”

        Every time the marchers came through to protest, the crowd parted. Diners paused for the marchers to pass. Then they went back to their food.

        Cincinnatians are so well-mannered.

Positive party

        The bulk of the 400,000-plus protesters were not counterrevolutionaries.

        To my mind, they were fighting the status quo. They were rebelling against an image some promote of Cincinnati as an uncaring place.

        This year's Taste of Cincinnati proved that image to be a lie.

        Food is the great equalizer. Dining cuts across demographics of race and place, income and creed, age and education, gender and attire. Everybody has to eat.

        Rebels in the larger group of protesters stood close to each other, ate together, exchanged greetings. And opinions. Strangers shared laughter along with samples of food.

        Diverse but still united, they served a true taste of what Cincinnati can be.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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