Saturday, July 13, 2002

Boycott apparently losing steam


Urban League decision brings out protesters

By Kevin Aldridge, kaldridge@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Urban League's decision to bring its 2003 convention to Cincinnati is the latest in a series of events that threaten to break the year-old boycott against the city.

[photo] The Rev. Damon Lynch III protests outside Urban League headquarters Friday. At left, Helen Cullen of Westwood wears a T-shirt in favor of the boycott.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        The boycott, announced last July, is believed to have deprived the city of at least $10 million in convention and tourism revenues, according the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. It shooed away the city's largest 2002 convention and prompted comedian Bill Cosby and several other high-profile entertainers to cancel appearances.

        But since April, the boycott's momentum has been slowed by:

        Internal friction. Disputes over leadership and how negotiations with the city should be handled led the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati — the boycott group asking artists not to perform in Cincinnati — to split. This came months after the group's founder and spiritual leader, the Rev. James W. Jones, was sidelined by a heart ailment. Also, the coalition's most politically powerful ally, the Baptist Ministers Conference of Cincinnati and Vicinity, said it no longer wanted to be listed as an endorser.

        The signing of a historic collaborative agreement in April that could reform the Cincinnati Police Department.

        Solid attendance at downtown events and festivals.

        More than 200,000 people packed Paul Brown Stadium over four days in June for the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission. Another 500,000 turned out in May for the city's annual three-day summer food fest, Taste of Cincinnati. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center groundbreaking drew some 14,000 blacks and whites to the banks of the Ohio River and featured celebrity dignitaries such as first lady Laura Bush and former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

        The Urban League's snub of the boycott is perhaps the most crippling blow to date. The Urban League's 2003 convention will be held in the city, it was announced Thursday.

        “I think the boycott is still out there, but it seems to be having less and less of an impact all the time,” said Councilman Pat DeWine.

        About 25 people representing the three major boycott organizations protested the convention decision in front of Urban League offices in Avondale Friday.

        Willis Baker, a member and supporter of the Urban League for more than 40 years, carried a sign that said, “This Life Member is Ashamed of the Urban League.”

        Boycotters said they plan to contact each of the 100 Urban League affiliates across the nation and ask them to take the convention elsewhere. And if the convention does come in 2003, boycotters said Urban League officials should expect some “disruptions.”

        “These are boycott-busting tactics, plain and simple” said Victoria Straughn, spokeswoman for Concerned Citizens for Justice, a boycott supporter. “But no matter what, we are not going to get discouraged. We are going to continue the fight.”

        Hugh Price, president of the Urban League, said he believes bringing the convention to Cincinnati is consistent with the organization's mission to enable African-Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity and power and civil rights.

        However, the Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Black United Front, said, “It's a setback for the African-American struggle in Cincinnati, but it's not a setback for the boycott.”

        The Urban League's move could be considered uncommon, according to Dr. Monroe Friedman, a psychology professor and boycott researcher at Eastern Michigan University.

        Dr. Friedman said it is rare to see an African-American organization violate a boycott run by African-Americans.

        “There is a certain amount of pressure exerted, particularly once you get a couple of African-American groups to pull out,” he said. “Most simply don't want to be a black group appearing unsympathetic with a black cause.”

        Sheila Adams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, said she and boycotters are both working for change, they just have different philosophies on how to achieve it.

        “It's unfortunate that they've turned their anger back on us given our track record in the community,” Ms. Adams said. “We need to learn to respect each other's views. The fact that we don't agree doesn't make their method wrong, and it doesn't make mine wrong either.”

        “These things don't die, they just sort of decline,” Dr. Friedman said. “No boycott group wants to come out and say their effort has failed because that's an admission of defeat. So when you ask people associated with it they'll say the boycott is still going on.”

        But, he said, “what it really boils down to is how long the organizers are willing to stay with it.”
       



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