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The Music Center area becomes a protest site

Groups intend to voice concerns, timed to appearances there by Mexico's Vicente Fox and Israel Philharmonic.

January 27, 2007|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

Passions over international human rights issues have given rise to an unusual sight outside the Los Angeles Music Center: political protests.

While protests are a sporadic element of life in Los Angeles, these demonstrations stand out because of their location -- in the heart of L.A.'s cultural center, where political dissent is usually channeled through works of art, not street protests.

Two Los Angeles-area groups are planning protests against a talk by former Mexican President Vicente Fox on Monday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and two performances in early February by the Israel Philharmonic at Disney Hall.

A Los Angeles affiliate of the international Women in Black organization held one demonstration outside Disney Hall on Jan. 14 and plans a second one for 1 p.m. Sunday before the scheduled 2 p.m. L.A. Philharmonic performance of Schumann's Second Symphony. Other protests will coincide with the Israel Philharmonic's scheduled concerts Feb. 5 and 6.

Monday's planned protest against the Fox visit is being coordinated by the Organization of the Binational Indigenous Front, which organizer Odilia Romero said represents Native Americans on both sides of the border. The group also demonstrated Jan. 14 across the street from the center.

Romero said the group's members were outraged by the center's description of Fox, who left office in November after six years, as a promoter of Mexican democracy who helped stabilize an unruly economy.

"There were assassinations, political prisoners, migration for indigenous people" during Fox's presidency, Romero said. "I don't think he has stabilized the economy. The people are more in poverty than ever. We want our voices to be heard because we are the product of migration."

Why protest at the Music Center in the first place? For pretty much the same reason Willie Sutton once said he robbed banks: That's where the money is.

"It's not about the program itself," said Carol Smith, a leader of the Women in Black-L.A. group, whose demonstrations consist of more than a dozen black-clad women standing silent vigil while handing out informational pamphlets. "It's about educating the people who attend the symphony."

The group earlier had petitioned the L.A. Philharmonic to cancel the concert as part of its attempt to bring international pressure on Israel to change its policies toward Palestinians, including its occupation of Gaza. Israel has long maintained that its policies are driven by self-defense concerns.

WIB-LA is part of a broad campaign seeking to bring the same international mix of sanctions and cultural boycotts on the Israeli government as arose in the 1980s against the former apartheid government of South Africa.

In a letter to WIB-LA, Deborah Borda, president of the L.A. Philharmonic Assn., rejected calls for a boycott of the Israeli orchestra.

"We will never support the silencing of artists from any culture as a means of political action," Borda wrote. "Whenever this unfortunate course of action has been pursued by governments and political entities, it is always to the detriment of society at large, and certainly the artists."

"The protests have been peaceful, and they are certainly welcome to express their opinions," said Philharmonic spokesman Adam Crane.

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