Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 23 - Marriage Equality Protest at Century Cinemark, Evanston

Photo by Michael Lehet

Alan Stock, the CEO of Cinemark Theaters which owns 413 movie theaters across the U.S. and Latin America, donated $9,999 to California's YES on Prop 8 campaign. The passage of Proposition 8 stripped the right to marriage and all its accompanying civil rights from same-sex couples in the state. Why the odd number of Stock's donation? Amounts of $10,000 and above are made public record.

Last night a crowd of more than two hundred gathered in front of the Evanston Century 12/Cinearts 6 movie theater, owned by Cinemark, to protest Stock's contribution to institutionalized discrimination and ignorance.

Randy and I had planned to take the girls to an early show of Bolt, but I couldn't cross the picket line. I won't describe Dear Husband's face as he ascended the escalator with the girls. I stood in the 32 degree cold for a while, reading the signs: "Gay is Good" in a biblical font, "Joseph Smith is Gay" under a foppish picture of the Mormon founder, "Your Movie Date Supports Hate," "H8" on a red octagon.

I joined the line. My voice sounded strange in my ears for a moment or two, but call and response sucked you in, chanting, "Boycott Century," "What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want it? NOW!" "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, the CEO has got to go!" Two plastic bucket drummers kept up the beat. A couple of panda bears marched and posed for pictures. Good-natured police cracked the occasional smile as they steered the circling marchers away from startled passersby rushing to catch their showtimes. Leaflets listed alternate theaters for all the shows playing.

Logic and intellect demand our support of this equal rights battle, but deciding to step into the march had a measure of emotion for me too. Walking behind a couple holding hands caught the chant in my throat. The rainbow flags on high posts waved dramatically under the lights of the Century marquee.

Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network spoke to the crowd, "The corporation who owns this theater said, 'we can't control what our employees do,' well, I had a couple of responses. One, your CEO is not just another employee - he's the head of your firm. Secondly, how would you feel if your CEO went around donning a white sheet or denying the Holocaust? Would that be acceptable to you?" The crowd roared, "NO!"

At Thayer's suggestion, the group turned to the north and marched to the Northwestern Campus, three blocks to the east. Protestors called out to groups of students on their way downtown, "Don't go to Century! Rent a video instead!" Light-flashing police cars stopped traffic at intersections, but once the group reached the university's iron gate at Chicago Avenue and Sheridan Road, an officer with a bullhorn announced the school was private property and the continued march would be trespassing. Thayer rallied the group again with stories of this very intersection being blocked for three days by Vietnam war protesters in the '70s and the plaza of the Rebecca Crown Center, through which we had just walked, ringing with the voices of Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid protestors in the '80s.

The crowd moved south on Chicago Avenue, our chants being taken up by anonymous voices from apartments and dorm rooms above. We turned west on Church, passing shocked and smiling faces behind the windows of Chipotle and Blue, the new sushi restaurant at the Hotel Orrington.

The group that returned to Century had lessened in numbers but the spirit was still high. We were joined by a Harajuku girl (you can see her blue and white outfit in the photo above) and a brunette Marilyn Monroe in bright orange heels, with a gold handbag and headscarf against the chill. A woman drew cheeers when she yelled, "Hey, we stopped someone! They turned away from the door!" A man on his way in offered sympathy but argument: "Cinearts has a history of showing and supporting gay and lesbian films that the mainstream movie theaters won't play." An older woman, a pretty bubbe-type with her husband and another couple, stopped to ask me what the story was. "What a hypocrite," she said when I mentioned Cinemark profiting from gay and lesbian films. "We just saw the best movie," she went on. "Slumdog." "Oh that's suposed to be great!" I replied. "Best movie of the year."

By 8:00, the protest sign were being placed in a neat pile on the sidewalk and plans were made to regroup and warm up at Seattle's Best. The drumming stopped. A few protestors stood talking in groups, signs still held high. A Streetwise vendor who had stood at the doors all night started calling out, "Enjoy your movie! You can't mess with God! Your arms too short to box with God!" A woman with a "Christians for Love and Equal Rights" sign quietly conferred with him and his call turned again to "Streetwise!"

I didn't have a hat but my coat was warm. The marching had kept my feet warm, now I needed to jump a little to keep the blood moving. When children started leaving the theater, I knew Randy would be out soon with the girls. He pulled up across the street with a shake of his head and the girls described the movie to me on the way home.


Jordan said...

Wow, good for you for joining them, Cindy. I hope I would've done the same thing. Thanks for sharing this; I'm sad to hear it about a theater I go to often. I'll need to write a letter to them.

2KoP said...

Great post. It's true that Cinearts shows movies you can't really see elsewhere — often controversial movies — so this contribution doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

I find it ironic that Northwestern gets away with using that whole private property thing as an excuse for so many things, when the University itself as well as its students have little or no respect for the private property in their neighborhood, including mine. An institution of higher learner should be a haven for public discussion of the issues of the day.

Cindy Fey said...

Hell yeah. Especially since NU is getting a tax-free ride.

Michael said...

Thank you for joining in with us. It was a powerful moment wasn't it?

And thank you so much for sharing my photos and video with your readers!

- Michael Lehet