As anticipated, Greenpeace played its strong suit at the American International Toy Fair in Jacob K. Javits Convention Center by protesting the use of vinyl in toys. Also as expected, a spokeswoman for the environmental group at the Feb. 13 demonstration expressed satisfaction that the exhibition within an exhibition went well.
Technically, as New York demonstrations go, it did. There were no traffic snarls and no injuries or property damage. Two guys in Batman and Robin costumes simply climbed the metal framework inside Javits Center about 50 feet to an overhead catwalk where they eventually attached a banner warning people not to play with vinyl toys.
Most spectators, however, appeared puzzled by the activity until a large number of police appeared. Many assumed it was a toy show stunt, and part of the price of admission. It did have the look of a Madison Avenue promotion, which illustrates how blurred the line is between entertainment and political protest.
The New York-based Toy Manufacturers of America Inc. largely has ignored Greenpeace's antics publicly. The trade group has issued several statements emphatically rejecting Greenpeace's allegations that vinyl toys contain lead or other toxic additives, but beyond that, generally has left the defense of vinyl to the Morristown, N.J.-based Vinyl Institute.
A Feb. 12 toy industry discussion in New York on toy safety was closed to the public, which Greenpeace predictably assailed but no one else seemed to mind. The issue falls particularly flat in Gotham, where more people worry about the danger from lead bullets, not toys.
What did capture the attention of many of those watching the protest at Javits was the ease with which the activists evaded the building's security. The World Trade Center bombing is still a fresh memory in New York.
Whether Greenpeace understood that and counted on it to help its message about protecting children from toxic vinyl toys is uncertain. More clear were the feelings expressed by a number of trade show attendees who saw the off-Broadway production: To do good, you have to do it the right way. Few seemed to think the demonstration met that criterion.
Henson is a Rocky River, Ohio-based Plastics News correspondent.