Bigots not welcome in Detroit

June 12, 2014

DeAnnah Kleitz-Singleton reports from Detroit on how activists stood up against a "men's rights" conference being organized in their city.

ACTIVISTS SCORED a victory against sexism when the "men's rights activist" (MRA) group "A Voice for Men" apparently canceled plans to hold its First International Conference on Men's Issues at the Hilton's DoubleTree Hotel in Detroit after public protest.

The stridently anti-feminist group billed its conference: "If we wanted to find a city that was an iconic testament to masculinity, we'd need look no further than Detroit."

While the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) doesn't list A Voice for Men as a hate group, it does include it among several men's rights groups and websites dedicated to "savaging feminists in particular and women, very typically American women, in general." These groups and websites, says SPLC, are "thick with misogynistic attacks that can be astounding for the guttural hatred they express."

Scrolling through the long list of articles and blog postings on A Voice for Men's website, there is ample evidence of the extreme perspective the group holds concerning women, rape, domestic violence and sexuality, as well as race and class.

Protesters gathered in Detroit to condemn a "Men's Rights" conference
Protesters gathered in Detroit to condemn a "Men's Rights" conference (Steve Neavling)

Coming on the heels of the Isla Vista killings, in which a man who frequented men's rights websites killed six people, activists in Detroit weren't willing to allow the conference to stand.

Coupling these events with a standing boycott of the DoubleTree for union and labor disputes, the people of Detroit have no interest in allowing this conference to take advantage of the city's workers nor its hospitality. Activists quickly banded together to organize a protest on June 7 to stop the event from coming to their city.

Organizer Kelly Jackson describes A Voice for Men's choice of Detroit as a host city as a parasitic manipulation of the conditions of Detroit--a city facing bankruptcy, emergency management and declining workers' rights and living standards. Jackson said:

We need to make it perfectly clear that we aren't hurting badly enough to host a hate group, but also because we need to tell the world that we won't tolerate this sort of behavior...Detroit is already proving itself to be a city dangerous to women. The absolute last thing we need is a group coming in that is known for threatening women with rape, torture and murder, and for being rape apologists who make violent threats against courthouses and other official city buildings.

ABOUT A week before the protest, activists created an online petition calling for the cancelation of the event, which they planned to deliver to the hotel management at the protest. Within 24 hours, hundreds were signing on.

On June 7, union workers and organizers, feminists, leaders in the LGBTQ community, queer activists, family organizations, socialists and other leftists gathered at Detroit's Grand Circus Park. Protesters carrying signs that read, "Misogyny Kills," "Blame the System, Not the Victim," and boycott signs quickly spread across the park. "NO MRA" stickers were covering backpacks, jackets and pant legs, as activists converged on the center of the park to hear speakers.

The sponsorship of the event and speeches came from activists across the political spectrum, including Gay/Bi/Trans men's support groups, workers' rights advocates, UNITE HERE, Haven, Equality Michigan and the Graduate Employee Organizing Committee at Wayne State University.

A group of about 150 demonstrators marched through the heart of downtown Detroit to the entrance of the DoubleTree Hotel where they planned to hand over the petition. Trumpeters blasted notes to the rhythm of the march chants, while the words "Sexist, racist, anti-gay--right-wing bigots go away!" rang out. When protesters reached the DoubleTree, they began a picket line, some crowded the street, and others occupied the lawn facing the hotel.

Speakers pointed out that the DoubletTree's policy of non-discriminatory hosting might seem like a solid business plan, but they should put these policies into practice and refuse to host hate groups that preach discrimination. If this group were allowed to meet, hotel workers would be subjected to a hostile working environment.

The women of Detroit are not disposable. The workers of the DoubleTree are not disposable. The money offered by a conference of roughly 200 bigots isn't enough to compromise the safety of Detroiters.

Demonstration organizers were denied access to the hotel. "Bad business DoubleTree; don't stand with misogyny!" the crowd chanted, as it started to march and picket once more. Eventually, hotel management allowed protest representatives inside, and they delivered the petition demanding the hotel cancel the conference, and made it clear that further action would be taken until the demands were met.

Activists discussed future actions if the conference was held, including further demonstrations and alternatives to the men's conference. "We're exploring a number of options at this point, assuming the DoubleTree does not cancel the conference," said Jackson. "One of the ideas being explored includes having a meeting elsewhere in the city to provide actual resources to men who may be experiencing depression and anxiety." A peaceful protest at the conference was also discussed.

Detroit activists came together and made it clear to these anti-women bigots: Your sexism isn't welcome here.

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