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Sacrifice for Boycott

By Steve Ramos · March 14th, 2002 · Arts Beat
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The two words that come to mind when I think about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott are "doable" and "sacrifice."

There were other Montgomery, Ala., businesses that Dr. Martin Luther King could have boycotted as part of his fight against that city's segregation laws. But when Rosa Parks refused to forfeit her seat to a white man and relocate to the back of the bus, the opportunity to focus on the Montgomery Bus Co. presented itself.

Fighting City Hall and big business is hard. Boycotting a bus company is doable.

As far as sacrifice, it's important to remember that Montgomery's black community relied heavily on bus transportation to get where they needed to be. During the yearlong boycott, it was the black community that formed carpools or walked to work, school, church and the grocery store. They suffered during the boycott, but they sacrificed.

Amanda Mayes, sitting inside a Clifton coffeehouse, also uses the words "doable" and "sacrifice" in her conversation about the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati's "Artists of Conscience" boycott. At 26, Mayes has gained a lot of attention due to her position as the coalition's media spokesperson.

As explained on the volunteer group's Web site (www.cincyboycott.org), the "Artists of Conscience" ban is asking performance artists to cancel their Cincinnati dates until serious progress is made on the social and economic gaps that segregate the city. The ban began on Jan. 28, and already comedian Bill Cosby and musical performers Wynton Marsalis, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and The O'Jays have cancelled their spring performance dates; Prince quietly rescheduled his to Columbus.

The coalition's quick success attracted the attention of Cincinnati Arts Association (CAA), the non-profit arts organization that manages the venues where many of the performances were booked. On Feb. 28, CAA attorneys delivered a letter to the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati demanding $77,350 to pay for damages caused by the cancellations.

CAA wants the coalition to provide a list of all the artists they've contacted and to cease the ban and send new letters asking artists to honor their Cincinnati performance dates. The coalition has until March 16 to meet CAA's demands.

Talk about the CAA lawsuit makes Mayes pause for a few beats. Facing the deadline, she says, "What's ironic is that the arts is censoring us. We told them (CAA) that part of a boycott is to put economic pressure on businesses that control the city. They are the ones who dictate the politics of the city. They pull the strings on (Mayor) Charlie Luken and the rest of the puppet government. (The CAA) is not the first targets of the boycott and they won't be the last. We reserve the right to target Federated, Saks and UDF."

Mayes is a slight woman with a strong voice and a powerful stare. She explains the coalition's position matter-of-factly.

She and other coalition members met CAA President Steve Loftin and other administrators Jan. 18 at CAA's Aronoff Center offices. Loftin explained how CAA does good work on a weekly basis for all residents of Greater Cincinnati. He explained that the financial losses from the cancelled shows would make it difficult for CAA to complete its mission. Loftin wanted the boycott to stop.

This is when Mayes starts talking about sacrifice. Everyone has to sacrifice, she says, to achieve the greater good of ending what the coalition calls "social and economic apartheid" in Cincinnati. As the management organization for the city's main performance halls, CAA is the first arts group to make that sacrifice.

Later the same afternoon, at his Aronoff Center office, Loftin confirms the CAA's response to the boycott.

"We feel that we're being interfered with," Loftin says. "Our business is being interfered with. Let me be very clear: Our letter to them is in response to their actions. ...

"We're trying to do some good things. We believe it has value to the children and value to all the citizens of the entire region. I will tell you that they acknowledged the good work we do. They said, 'We have no beef with you. We have no beef with the CAA.' "

CAA and the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati have no plans to meet a second time. On March 16, the coalition plans a town meeting to raise funds to defend the lawsuit. Meanwhile, a grass-roots effort has been asking people to patronize downtown businesses this weekend. Luken's characterization of the boycotters as "economic terrorists" continues to hang in the air.

Like the Montgomery bus boycott, the "Artists of Conscience" ban likely will be long and difficult. If successful in breaking Cincinnati's racial divide, there's a chance that Mayes and Loftin could share front-row seats at a future Aronoff Center performance. That is, if people are willing to sacrifice now.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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