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The MRAs Didn't Meet In Rogers Park, But About 40 Feminists Did

By Chicagoist_Guest in News on Feb 8, 2016 3:11PM

By Will Gosner

Feminist activists and community members held a rally in Rogers Park on Saturday night to demonstrate against sexual violence, reclaiming the intersection once slated to host a meetup for men’s rights activist (MRA) blog Return of Kings that same night.

Return of King’s leader, Daryush (“Roosh”) Valizadeh, called off the meetup and no MRAs turned up at the corner of Broadway and Sheridan Avenue. Still, the rally participants—led by the Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation (FURIE)—wanted to “do a victory lap,” as they put it on their Facebook page, and build solidarity amongst the people outraged by RoK’s misogynistic, homophobic ideology.

After meeting at The Coffee Shop, roughly 40 rally participants, many of them carrying signs, walked to the intersection at about 7:30 p.m. They were split about 60/40 between women and men, and chanted slogans like “Real men don’t rape” and “Yes means yes, no means no, whatever I wear, wherever I go.”

Several police officers and squad cars were on scene at the intersection, located half a block from both a University of Loyola Campus Safety office and a Planned Parenthood. It’s a high traffic spot, which allowed the participants to show their signs to passing drivers, many of whom honked in support.

Earlier in the day, another group of community members and activists had shown their support by “chalk-bombing” the sidewalks and benches all around the intersection. They drew colorful anti-rape slogans and left boxes of chalk for others to contribute their own words. Some of the resulting chalk art is pictured above.

Mary Bowman, an organizer with FURIE, was heartened by the turnout on a cold night. “It shows that there are a lot of people out there who think violent misogyny is insane and dangerous and want to confront it directly.”

Early last week, RoK announced plans for a Saturday meetup at the intersection in question as part of “International Meetup Day.” Lindsey Ross, an Edgewater resident who attended the rally and has been aware of RoK’s online vitriol for several years, said the cancelled meetups felt unusual.

“We haven’t quite had this issue before, where they legitimately wanted to show up [in person],” she said.

The issue fizzled by Thursday, when Valizadeh cancelled all of the planned RoK meetups. He cited concerns about the safety of RoK members after condemnation from activists and people in the communities where meetups were scheduled.

Many locals at Saturday’s rally, including a woman with her 14-month-old daughter, saw the planned meetup as an attack on Rogers Park specifically and came out to express their anger and defend their community.

Indeed, the extremity of RoK’s self-described “neomasculinist” and pro-rape ideology—distilled in a blog post that endorsed legalizing rape on private property, which Valizadeh now claims was “a satirical thought experiment”—created a broadly united feminist front.

“Abortion is either too controversial of an issue or something people take for granted because we already won that [fight] in the streets,” Bowman said. “I think something like rape and people who are pro-rape—it’s hard to make that controversial. Everybody can get behind being against rape. It makes feminism a little more accessible for people.”

The rally also served as a chance for activists and others to meet likeminded people. Many attendees hoped that by gathering together to share their experiences and support one another, they could build a more lasting response to misogyny, which is much bigger than RoK alone.

“I think the challenge then for us as organizers,” Bowman said, “is to deepen that level of struggle for people and have them recognize that violent misogyny is not something that is unique to men’s rights activists or pickup artists and that it’s something that we need to respond to on a systemic level.”

Bowman also expressed hope that people who had their first experience with feminist organizing at Saturday’s rally “continue to organize with us so that we can make everybody safer.”

Will Gosner is a writer in Chicago.