Monday, March 10, 2003

Speaker will observe boycott

Woman's City Club agrees to move venue for Ehrenreich's $10K speech

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Cincinnati civic group is changing the venue of its 10th annual fund raiser after boycott supporters urged its key speaker - a nationally-known book author and magazine freelancer - not to come.

The Woman's City Club of Greater Cincinnati announced Sunday that the March 18 event will be moved from downtown's Plum Street Temple to a yet-to-be-determined location outside the city limits.

The decision came after Coalition for a Just Cincinnati approached the featured speaker, Barbara Ehrenreich, last month and asked her not to come. The boycott group has said it would picket the event if it took place, said Ruth Cronenberg, Woman's City Club president.

"It's hard to uproot this many people, but (Ehrenreich) said she will not cross a picket line," Cronenberg said. "It's hard for us to do this. But this message needs to be heard."

The Woman's City Club, founded in 1915, provides programs and education in areas such as social justice, affordable housing, environment and effective government.

Close to 600 tickets have already been sold for next week's event, and organizers expect up to 1,000 people to attend. Advance tickets are $15, or $20 at the door, but premium group tickets run up to $1,000 for six people to attend the lecture and a private reception.

Ehrenreich, who is being paid $10,000 plus expenses for her appearance, told the Woman's City Club Feb. 20 that she would not attend a picketed event.

"If some people of conscience take it seriously, so do I," she said in a statement about the boycott. "When we ignore a picket line or boycott, we not only slight the cause it represents, we also make it just a little bit harder for any group of ordinary people to advance their cause."

The 20-month-old boycott of the city's downtown was prompted by perceived racial and economic inequalities. It has led entertainment personalities including Spike Lee, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg and Wynton Marsalis - as well as one large convention - to cancel.

A coalition co-chair, Amanda Mayes, confirmed Sunday that the group had contacted the speaker, but declined to comment further.

After many discussions with the author and boycott groups, the Woman's City Club decided Saturday to change the event's venue.

But Cronenberg did question why their event was targeted, especially since it has little economic impact on downtown. The speaker is not staying in a downtown hotel, most of the food was donated, and proceeds are going to programming from their Mount Auburn office.

This is the major fund-raiser for the group, which does not oppose the boycott's original social goals. In previous years, the events averaged 800-person crowds, and have raised upward of $20,000, Cronenberg said.

Councilman John Cranley said Sunday he was disappointed that the club did not fight for the downtown location.

"It is shameful and embarrassing for the Woman's City Club to give into a group led by anti-Semites," Cranley said referring to the coalition's marches on Fountain Square during the holiday season. "It hurts low-income people in the city. ... I think it's extremely unfortunate. We need to have the courage not to give into this blackmail and get the truth out."

Ehrenreich has written more than a dozen books, including Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, and has been published in Time, New York Magazine, and Ms, according to various Web sites. She's scheduled to discuss economic injustice and the struggles of poor women.

She could not be reached Sunday evening for comment.

The Woman's City Club is still searching for a new location to have the event. It plans on providing transportation from the downtown area to the new site.


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