Friday, March 14, 2003

Boycott or not

It's time we all start listening to one another


After the massive downtown demonstration supporting our troops Wednesday, a couple dozen demonstrators encountered a few anti-war protesters on Fountain Square.

At first, they yelled and argued. People got in each other's faces. A woman threw coins at the peaceniks.

But after 15 minutes of yelling, the yellers began talking.

It could have been that they got hoarse.

Or, maybe after staring angrily into each other's eyes and spouting off, they grew tired of conflict and began listening.

Who knows whether anyone changed his or her mind, but the participants certainly changed their way of communicating.

There was progress in that.

I hope something similar happens Tuesday at the annual fund-raiser for the Woman's City Club at Plum Street Temple.

The Woman's City Club, an 88-year-old philanthropic group, had planned an appearance by best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich . Her book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, describes the plight of single mothers working in minimum-wage jobs, just the people the women's club seeks to help.

But members of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, one of the three main boycott groups, told Ehrenreich they planned to picket her event. She urged the club to move the fund-raiser.

At first, the club said it would. But vociferous criticism from city leaders and its own membership dissuaded club leaders, who announced Thursday the show would go on at Plum Street Temple.

But without its star. Ehrenreich has decided to stay out of Cincinnati's boycott battles.

People of conscience

"If some people of conscience take (the boycott) seriously, so do I," she has said.

"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 Woman's City Club isn't dodging its obligation; it's trying to meet it by facing the boycott issue head-on.

Instead of Ehrenreich, club members say, city leaders, businesspeople and boycott leaders will lead a panel discussion about the issues that gave rise to the boycott.

That would be welcome.

For 20 months, many in the Tristate have been torn about the boycott. Factions on all sides have shouted and insulted each other but have done very little listening.

It's gotten ridiculous. Now it's time to bury hatchets.

Amanda Mayes, leader of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, has ditched that protest sign she carried last December that said "The Jews killed Jesus." She should apologize.

Now City Council member John Cranley should stop his noise, too.

This week he went on a tear of talk shows and gave news interviews in which he called boycotters extortionists, hate mongers and pimps. He even vowed to picket Ehrenreich.

In a scathing e-mail to the Woman's City Club leaders, Cranley urged them to choose a side: for or against the boycott.

No wonder the women's group balked. Many of us are balking.

There are plenty of unreasonably loud, obnoxious, unproductive voices on both sides of this dissent. It's hard to ally with any of them.

There also are reasonable, concerned, well-meaning people on both sides of the boycott. Ignoring them will get us nowhere.

In fact, it's better if we get the reasonable voices together, talking, in one room.

The Woman's City Club somehow has found this high road amidst this boycott morass.

Let's see if others can follow their lead.

Email or phone 768-8395.

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