One Friday evening last month, a group of women positioned themselves outside the Wicker Park bar Cans, pressed play on their boom box, and launched into a synchronized dance routine set to Nelly's "Hot in Herre." In pink T-shirts emblazoned with the words "You Can't Touch This!" and black pants with fuchsia hands appliqued on the buttocks, they had no trouble attracting attention. When they were done, they handed out homemade flyers on sexual harassment and date rape to the crowd.
As they performed the routine earlier that night outside Soul Kitchen, Earwax, Sinibar, Swank Frank, and the Borderline, "a lot of people stopped," says Jen Tsai, a member of the group, which calls itself the Pink Bloque. "Almost everybody took flyers and danced with us or sang along."
At Cans, however, not all the feedback was positive. "All of these guys in the windows started hooting and hollering and being, like, 'Oooh, baby,'" says Kate Dougherty. "At first we laughed and then it got kind of creepy. A couple of us ran across the street with flyers about harassing women on the street. They got really angry and shut up."
"I thought it was the best moment for us," says Amanda Parris. "Even if they
didn't go home and say, 'I'm not going to do this anymore,' it interrupted what they were doing."
The "pink thing" started when some in the group of about a dozen students, artists, and activists decided to wear hot pink scarves and tops as a way to find each other at protests. But, says Anne Dienethal, "A lot of the girls in the group got tired of going to actions or protests where everyone's just chanting 'We want this and we want it now' and taking themselves really seriously." As their enthusiasm for the standard tactics of street protest waned, they got together for brunch this spring to brainstorm something fresh.
"We tried to come up with as many strategies as we could that were different from standing around and chanting or holding a puppet or wearing a mask," says Dougherty. Finally they hit on dancing. Their name, the Pink Bloque, is a play on an anarchist tactic called "black bloc," which entered the vocabulary during the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization.
Their first street action took place on May Day at various locations downtown. "We thought there was going to be a huge protest, but there was nobody," says Dougherty. "So we just did it with ourselves, by ourselves." They danced around to Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money," did cartwheels, and handed out information about sweatshop workers and unequal pay for women and minorities. After brushing up on their technique by watching Darrin's Dance Grooves, they debuted the Nelly sequence on July 4 at Taste of Chicago, as a response to the USA PATRIOT Act. "The theme was that it's getting hot in here for civil liberties and for people on welfare, people of Arab and Muslim descent, and people trying to immigrate to this country," says Rachel Caidor. "We also handed out some flyers about the depletion of public housing in the city."
After their routine was over, they started an impromptu dance party to music being pumped out by the sound system at the Bally's Total Fitness demonstration stage, drawing an enthusiastic crowd.
The group hopes to make enough money to buy their own sound system--or at least a louder boom box--at a fund-raiser this Sunday, October 13. "We're working hard to be louder and more visible in public," says Caidor. They also plan to join larger protests--particularly if and when the U.S. declares war on Iraq.
The Bloque members aren't sure how their "serious" activist peers will take their antics, but that's OK. "We want to open up a discussion about what people take seriously," says Caidor. "We want to bring dialogue to people already protesting, but also to bring more people into it who are intimidated because it's really foreign and unfamiliar. When you're walking down the street and dancing to Nelly, people can relate to that."
Sunday night's 21-and-over Pink Bloque fund-raiser includes a bake sale, dancing, and music by DJs Tsai, Kim Soss, Damon Locks, and John Herndon. It starts at 10
at Danny's Tavern, 1951 W. Dickens. Admission is free but contributions will be accepted and guests are asked to bring clothing and unused toiletries to donate to a battered women's shelter. For more information call 773-836-0049 or E-mail
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tom Burtonwood.