They get up early the day after Thanksgiving and hit the stores like millions of other Americans. But unlike most Americans, they’re neither turkey logged or Christmas shopping: they’re marching in Chicago annual anti-fur industry demonstration known as Fur Free Friday (FFF).
In its two and a half decade history, the FFF march which originates at Daley Center and concludes at Water Tower Place on the Magnificent Mile, stopping at every furrier along the way, has drawn as many as 800 marchers.
It has featured coffins, piles of animal pelts, dangling steel jaw traps, mock burials, phalanxes of monster masks, drums corps, street theater, interpretative dance and of course PETA style disrobing. Nor do the signs leave much to the imagination.
In the last seven years, some of the scheduled “stops” where a spokesman delivers a speak-out about the cruelty of the fur trade and the individual store’s complicity are happily gone.
Evans, the world’s largest furrier who anchored the State Street shopping corridor since the Great Depression went out of business in 1999 citing “anti-fur activism that focused on convincing the American and European public that wearing any kind of fur was cruel and malicious to the animal it was taken from.” Of course the fur industry blamed warm winters. It closed its Michigan Avenue store which it used to hide behind billboard trucks during FFF, in 1991.
And across the street the crypt like Mysels Furs with semilocked doors and an Addams Family-esque live male mannequin in the window closed its doors in the mid 2000s probably at the request of the Palmer House Hilton whose first floor it occupied.
But the battle is not over, say activists.
Sure, downscaled and dug in Andriana Furs’ days are numbered–“How well is your fur selling when your windows show men’s underwear?” FFF spokesman “J” asked the proprietors peaking out from behind curtains through his megaphone–like D’ion Furs who folded at the same Michigan Avenue location earlier.
But thanks to the growing “efficiencies” of fur suppliers like China–where animals including dogs were shown boiled alive in undercover videos last year–there are new stops on the Fur Free Friday march like Chicago Fur Mart where the 200 marchers chanted “Shut it down/Shut it down.” And Burberry’s whose decision to start promoting fur last year has provoked international protests and so far, no public statement.
Ten years ago, Fur Free Friday was the one day the tables on Mag Mile were turned and women in full length minks and lynxes had to do a fashion perp walk past disapproving crowds. But today, except for the trimmed jackets people bought without knowing they were “Asian wolf” from China or real fur at all, fur coats are becoming rarer on Mag Mile.
Not just because everyone who has a computer or a TV has seen the cruelty of fur production but because fur broadcasts a dated, helpless–even kept–look women don’t aspire to anymore. Out of touch with the environment, political times and your own body. (Regardless of this year’s “slimming” belts.)
When caught up in the three block anti fur parade, most shoppers are unruffled. But a few become unglued and oratorical.
“What about leather? Your shoes are leather!” they accuse thinking they’ve found a Disproof to the entire ethical argument: you can’t live without animal cruelty so you might as well wear fur!
“Why aren’t you helping the homeless?” “What about the hungry?” is the other Disproof sidewalk dialecticians seize upon while they help the homeless on their way to Neiman Marcus: human suffering is so much worse, you might as well wear fur!
(See: How can you work against breast cancer? Don’t you care about heart disease?)
Some activists like Mike Plotski, 49, from Joliet, a heavy set man wearing an “Out of Iraq” T shirt, say they’ve heard the what-about-people line for years.
“In 1987, it was the crack babies. In 1988 it was AIDS patients. They like to pretend we don’t care about people so they can disregard what we say. But I work with the peace movement, with prisoners, for the environment and for animals.”
More fuzzy logic was heard during the march too.
“The lady who runs this shop told me to stop protesting and get a job,” “J” told the crowd in front of Elan Furs. “When I told her I had a job and it did not involve murdering animals her retort was, ‘I’ll murder you!’ This is who were are dealing with!”
MARTHA ROSENBERG is staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at email@example.com