The Words of the Alves Family

Facing the Modern-Day Goliath: Porn

Gale Alves and Ina Conneally
Newburgh, NY
March, 1999

The last gifts had been wrapped, cards written and cookies baked; now it was time to relax and enjoy the "season to be jolly." But it never turns out that way. No angels with good tidings descended this year, but bad news -- through the news, of course. The article read: "Sex Business or Art Show?" and it was about a strip dance club which had just a few days ago opened its doors, here in our city, just around the corner, and even to minors!

With its seductive name "Lips" there was no doubt that this wasnít some kind of "exotic dancing" as it promised to be. No Caribbean folk ballet or such. The girls would all be naked, of course, dancing suggestively to thumping music, being tipped by their audience. The owner of the business had sneaked his way through several city ordinances, using a loophole in the law: "Lips" wasnít adult entertainment simply because it admitted minors if accompanied by their parents!

To us, that meant we would have to shake the Christmas mind-set off for now, go out and do something about it. It is always helpful in this kind of situation to be upset enough to get things done quickly. Protest was the only adequate response, so we quickly wrote up a press release and sent it to all the different newspapers, radio stations and TV channels in the area, announcing that a rally would be held in order that the sex business have its "lips" shut forever. On the day after Christmas, phone calls came in, one after the other, asking for more information, wanting to interview us -- but who were we? As it had been with another rally earlier this year, we appeared as two "outraged citizens," but this time it was useful to represent the neighborhood as "joint neighborhood associations." It wasnít all phony baloney, because both of us had made many efforts in the past to create a neighborly spirit through street parties and meetings promoting safety in our area, with local police officers present.

One radio moderator though, had his expectations set a little too high. He was disappointed to find out that there was no big name or organization behind this eloquent press release, written with the help of two church brothers -- only two ordinary women, one feeling shy and the other awkward. Nevertheless, he had already gone ahead and invited the owner of "Lips" for a round-table discussion on air. He didnít feel confident to have one of us meet this "six-feet-tall gentleman who knows all about his legal rights" -- neither did we. But if there was no one else to confront him, one of us would be there, facing this modern-day Goliath -- at least to voice some higher opinion on the issue, after all. We had also gained about 300 signatures from residents living close to the strip club, a petition drive to have that place closed down. Furthermore, the city council was already fighting its own battle legally, arguing that the owner had violated certain zoning codes and ordinances. But, as the radio moderator told us, we needed someone else -- as we guessed, preferably male, substantial in flesh and spirit -- to appear in the ring. It was by sheer luck (and divine intervention) that we found our name-and-fame helper: an African American minister with more reputation in the community than we could ever come up with. It was good, though, to have the interview together with our ally and to back him up with some statistics on how sex businesses had brought whole neighborhoods down in the past: crime rates had risen drastically, especially murder and rape. Probably the minister might discuss the issue in a religious way, so we were advised to throw in as many facts and numbers as possible; Jim Dougherty, a family member with a lot of first-hand media experience, gave us this valuable advice.

The night before the interview was spent with little sleep and a lot of anxiety. With butterflies in the stomach and numbers about crime increases, one of us made her way to the radio station. Together with the pastor and the club owner, three of us went inside the studio where the wrestling match was to take place. A TV station had arrived, too, adding to our butterflies. Each one of us was introduced to the audience on air, and then the two major opponents had their turns. The minister, single-minded and with a deep voice, repeatedly asked how a strip club could, in any way, add to the quality of life in our city; the owner, in turn, talked about his legal rights, as if he were the victim. Typically, in this situation (as we knew it would be) he made a point about "anyoneís right to have their own belief. By the way," he said, "I was raised Catholic myself, but the greatness of the country lies in the diversity of believing." Now it was time to pop out statistics proving sex entertainment not merely a matter of belief or personal lifestyle, but a matter of great impact on the community as a whole. The owner didnít like that; he didnít really want to deal with that woman who had placed herself between that nice pastor and himself. After the interview was over, he shook hands only with his opponent, telling him that in his club they also had black girls dancing ("Iíll bet you do," smiled the minister sourly").

That was the day before True Godís Day, and it had been a quite exhausting experience. Nevertheless, it made us grow in confidence that even with our limited abilities we could be the "mouse that roared." By the way, didnít Moses have a speech defect also? After several other interviews, both on air and on TV, the day of the rally finally came. We had invited many ministers as well as residents to give speeches and to protest. We had, over the years, developed personal relationships with the clergy of Newburgh, so now it was time for them to respond and support the good cause. As it had been with the other rally earlier last year, the weather on Jan. 9 was so bad that we had to postpone the event until the following weekend.

On Jan. 16 the day finally arrived when all those "mice that roar" were able to come out of their holes. We were grateful for the support of UTS seminarians who were the first to arrive in front of "Lips" -- we were grateful also for the generous contribution of protest signs, made by one sister. We unfolded a big banner reading "Residents and Clergy United -- No Lips in the Face of Newburgh," and then Robert Kittel was the first to give a speech. Meanwhile, President Kim had arrived, as well as other protesters, a local TV station and two newspapers. During the hour we spent shouting slogans and giving speeches, about 36 people came together. Interestingly, this number matched with the number of signatures we gained during the petition drive: 360!

Media like controversy, people angry at something. The more noise, the better. Our speakers were able to fulfill that expectation, for everyone spoke strongly and with conviction against the opening of "Lips".

The rally had turned out well, but we both felt that -- after having brought all those public-minded people together -- we wanted to take another step together with our new allies.

Right now, we are in the process of forming a coalition which we call "Coalition for Family and Community." Our hope is that through this group we can move more freely and effectively for new events to come. We have committed people with us, including a Muslim imam, a city historian and Board of Education member, a county legislator, a Roman Catholic nun and a Latter Day Saint ("Mormon") activist.

Instead of having only our church come out, we believe that through the unity among different faith groups as well as community organizations, we are able to reach for higher goals and be a bridge of unification for people of conscience -- even without name or fame, and only equipped with a slingshot.

P.S.: The strip dance club "Lips" is temporarily closed, pending a final verdict in March.

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