11 October 2009

The National Equality March and shoddy organizing

I just got back from the rally portion of the National Equality March, and if I didn't believe in the march from the outset, I most certainly don't believe in it now.

As many of you know, the march was called for and organized by Cleve Jones, and as announced this afternoon, the planning committee consisted of mostly Californians. These Californians called for the march because they lost proposition 8 last fall. I hate to break it to them (again), but losing prop 8 was their own damn fault. A campaign of generic tv commercials and cocktail parties is not activism, is not mobilizing, and is not convincing to the general public. On the same ballot, chickens gained rights, while gay couples lost them. It's not the radical right's fault that initiative was lost -- they played their role in that saga exactly as they were supposed to. The lesbian and gay activists in California (and I use only those words intentionally) and their mainstream gay rights organization backers at the national level messed it up, and I don't feel sorry for them. From the outset, it was clear that their main objective was to bring their sad song to DC, and they have done so, and I'm still not sorry for them.

The rally today featured 35 speakers, at least 30 of which most people have never heard of. Marriage rights were clearly the order of the day. Don't Ask Don't Tell played a close second. The pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was hardly mentioned, and healthcare wasn't discussed at all. As the rally was getting started, the announcer kept talking about "securing equal equality for gays and lesbians." Not only does that phrase make no sense, it isn't fully inclusive of what our movement at least purports to be (though is pretty accurate, sadly). In any event, marriage is apparently the be all and end all thing all the little queers are supposed to blindly get behind.

There was very little mention of the unique issues facing transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States. No mention whatsoever of the rural experience. No mention of the poor and working class experience. No mention of the immigrant experience. No metion of the youth experience. Virtually no mention of the person of color experience. This was a march for the white, the middle and upper class, the educated, the well-to-do, the conformist, the assimilationist, the patient, and most sadly, the blind followers. Barack Obama was given one oratical blowjob after another for his ever eloquent empty promises. Barney Frank, with whom I rarely agree, was scorned for calling the march a waste of time. And, sadly, there were far too many posters saying "listen to Cleve" and "Cleve is right." Right about what, exactly? That he needs and wants attention and thus threw this little party to get it? The only person in the long list of speakers (before I left in frustration) to actually call for people to talk to their legislators at the local, state and national levels was Judy Shepard.

(BTW, there couldn't have been more than 10,000 people there, and that's probably generous. The crowd didn't go much further than the Grant memorial/reflecting pool in front of the Capitol.)

There was no talk of grassroots empowerment (though the grassroots were falsely invoked time and again). No talk of how to actually be an effective organizer. No offers of various strategies to see LGBTQ rights recognized at various levels of government. Instead, the talk was listen to the gay elite, and follow their orders. If you dare ask questions, you must be against us.

Fuck all that. The other day a Human Rights Campaign fundraiser stopped me on the street to ask for money. I tried to politely say I had ethical issues with his organization, and wouldn't give. Rather, than leave me be, he started to argue. I pointed out that that HRC is a racist, classist, sexist, transphobic organization. His only retort was that on "the trans thing," they recently added some words to their charter and decided to not fuck up ENDA this time around. Racist, classist and sexist went unchallenged.

I'll admit, I'm a white, gay, cissexual, well-educated, employed, housed man. I should be the one this march appealed to the most. And yet, it was a turn-off. There was no apparent understanding that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. There was no recognition that the oppressed of the world need to unite and work for and with each other. There was no recognition that the incredibly conservative mainstream national gay movement has failed us all.

I've recently been reading a collection of essays called Smash the Church, Smash the State by several early radicals who were involved in gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans, immigrant and PoC liberation right around and immediately after Stonewall. Several of the authors express astonishment that today's movement (with whom many broke ties long ago) is fighting for marriage rights when 40 years ago the goal was to smash unjust patriarchal institutions, and that rather than fighting for the end of violent oppression and imperialist wars of expansion, today's gay movement is fighting to openly contribute to those efforts.

I guess today we're supposed to congratulate ourselves for working backward.

This is not to say that good things didn't happen around the march. There was a town hall yesterday for trans activists from around the country to network, share experiences, and strategize together. And I also had the real privilege of participating in an all day leadership conference for queer youth from DC and all over the country, where they gained training and skills to take the fight back to their schools and towns and build a better future.

Today is National Coming Out Day. Yet if this march is any indication of the future of LGBTQ activism, then we haven't come out at all. We've built ourselves a new closet that will take years to deconstruct.

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