ROGERS PARK — After a group of men referring to themselves as "men's rights activists" canceled their Saturday evening meetup in Rogers Park, dozens of feminist demonstrators showed up to take their place.
The original meeting, scheduled to convene at a flagpole near Devon Avenue and Sheridan Road at the border of Rogers Park and Edgewater, was part of "International Tribal Meetup Day" in which blogger Roosh Valizadeh told the readers of his Return of Kings website to come together in common cause.
In response, members of the Chicago-based group Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation (FURIE) created a Facebook event for a counter-protest at the same spot.
Valizadeh announced on his site Wednesday night that since he "can no longer guarantee the safety or privacy of the men who want to attend ... there will be no official Return Of Kings meetups."
Members of FURIE, though, didn't back down on their plans. Hours after a different group chalked every inch of the sidewalk with feminist and anti-rape slogans, activists huddled together in the cold and waved homemade signs at passing cars.
Beloit College students make protest signs out of newspapers. They were part of a group of eight students who drove two hours from Wisconsin to be part of the protest. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
"I think we scared them off," said Melissa Haggerty, a Loyola University junior and FURIE member who helped organize the protest. "It's good, but we still have a long way to go. We're not just here tonight because of that one group — we're fighting misogyny and rape culture everywhere."
Valizadeh, 36, has written that he believes sexual assault victims are "playing the rape card," saying the definitions of rape are too stringent in America. He also penned blog posts about so-called "legal rape," but he later tweeted that it was "satire."
"They can claim it was satire, but the fact is that rape is real and it's pervasive, and the kind of things they've been saying are dangerous," Haggerty said. "This is a fringe group, and a lot of people think of them as a joke, but their ideas aren't coming from nowhere."
Tim Davis, an auto mechanic and cartoon artist from Uptown, hadn't been in contact with FURIE members before the event. Still, after his niece told him about the planned meeting, he decided to show up holding a sign saying "Real Men Honor Women."
"For men to feel so insecure that they need to assert their dominance over women is just cowardly, and feeling like they need to form a group just to advance that is even more cowardly," Davis said. "I believe real men show strength through compassion, not dominance. And when you believe something, you make a sign and show people. That's why I'm here."
After meeting at the intersection, most of the demonstrators went across the street to The Coffee Shop, 1135 W. Sheridan Rd., where co-owners Tammie and Richard Mann kept up a steady pour of free coffee long after their normal closing time.
Tammie and Richard Mann, co-owners of The Coffee Shop, 1135 W. Sheridan Rd., stayed open late and gave free coffee to the protesters. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
Once they heard about the event, Tammie Mann said, the decision to host the activists and serve them at no charge was a "no-brainer."
"This isn't about any one issue — this is about coming together as a community and standing up to the issue of violence," Mann said. "No one has the right to incite violence, whether it's rape or anything else. People need to be good to each other. And this is just our way of trying to live up to that."
Most of the protesters were Chicagoans, including a heavy showing of Loyola students, but the event's vast social media reach pulled in activists from way outside city limits.
Eight students from Beloit College in Wisconsin piled into cars and drove two hours so they could join their voices to the effort.
"We really just wanted to be here so we could show the need for everyone to respect each other," said one student, who declined to be named. "There's this misconception about feminism that it's trying to suppress men, but it's really just about respect."
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