Theater makes activists move on Despite facing confrontation by theater officials and local sheriffs, Cate Russo was determined to get her message out to everyone who saw, and was moved by, Michael Moore’s controversial new movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. The movie grossed a documentary record: $23.9 million in its opening weekend. Russo hoped to generate interest in MoveOn.org’s campaign to fight George Bush’s re-election by informing fans of Moore’s film about ways to “keep the heat up.” Instead, she found herself facing arrest.
After attending a 4:15 p.m. showing of Fahrenheit on Saturday at the College Park Loews Cinema, Russo began distributing half-page leaflets, written by MoveOn, which suggested everything from registering to vote to attending a “Burning Bush House Party” on Monday night at Russo’s home in Carmel.
It wasn’t until she was outside of the theater later, passing out more leaflets, that she was approached by Loews managers and Marion County sheriff’s officers, told to stop soliciting and to leave the property at once.
Russo maintained that she was not soliciting, and was no more disruptive than any other group of friends gathering to discuss a movie; the police and theater manager were not convinced and demanded again that she leave the property. Some of her friends and new acquaintances were also asked to either leave, go into the theater right away or face immediate arrest — an action Russo likens to fascism.
Russo, a retired journalist and owner of an online bookstore, is no stranger to this kind of treatment. An activist from the age of 15, she says that she has been arrested over 80 times in her life for standing up for her beliefs. On Saturday, however, she had dinner plans at a nearby restaurant and didn’t want to cause anyone else to miss the movie. She moved herself and her friends to the edge of the parking lot and continued to distribute the handouts.
Loews maintains that its staff was within their rights to ask Russo and the rest of the group to leave the property. Several Supreme Court cases, notably 1980’s Pruneyard v. Robins, upheld the right of privately held establishments, such as malls and theaters, to limit the free speech rights of citizens on their property.
However, other MoveOn activists distributing the same leaflets received warm welcomes from local cinemas, from Glendale to Regal Village Park. Al Anderson, a retired carpenter, said that the Glendale theater staff was very receptive and encouraged him to come back with more handouts at later showings.
Russo attributes the difference in treatment to the recent purchase of Loews Cineplex by the Carlyle Group, a private global investment firm with alleged ties to the Bush Administration.
Despite the difficulties, Russo’s “Burning Bush House Party” was a success, drawing over 30 excited Moore fans to hear him speak and answer questions through a nationwide Internet conference call.
The group was not discouraged by the incident at Loews. They hope to continue their activism in the future, encouraging more people to get involved.