25 March 2010

I almost maybe sort of agree with Dan Choi

I was reading this interview with Dan Choi about his recent escapades in bondage...  er, civil disobedience, and I find myself unsure what to make of it.  Of course, the denial of his basic rights after being arrested is regrettable, but given DC's issues with these kinds of things, sadly isn't surprising.  But DADT is just not an issue I've ever been terribly jazzed about.  On the one hand, it's a blatant employment discrimination issue, and it needs to be remedied.  On the other hand, such a remedy would expand the reach of a bloated and corrupted military system that is used to pad the wallets of lawmakers and corporate executives while being simultaneously targeted against groups of largely defenseless and largely innocent people in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  Identifying the lesser of those two evils is thus pretty tricky for a relatively pacifistic individual like me.  Thus I wish Choi success in his chosen struggle, while also hoping that the organization in which he rightfully should included is put out of business over time. 

That aside, he's quite right in pointing out how severely out of touch the uber-wealthy homonormative drones at the HRC are.  As I've ranted on too many occasions to link to, many of the mainline national LGBT organizations are doing diddly squat for poor folks, people of color, youth, trans folks,  small town/rural folks, queer people of faith, and on and on and on, and I'm glad someone with Choi's visibility is now making that point (and vainly hope that many both within and outside our community will listen to him there).  I also agree with Pam Spaulding and others that queer politicos should stop equating Democrats with allies, especially given their stunning accomplishments on our issues.  And I certainly have no issue with the use of nonviolent protest to make the case for justice.  

I guess my concern with Choi's actions boils down to two things:
  1. What's the grand strategy for equality here?  What battles do Choi and his new organization hope to fight, and when, and in what order?  Nonviolent resistance is a powerful tool, but it's not especially effective if not driven by a coherent strategy with articulated goals.  Yes, having Kathy Griffin headline a rally is a pretty stupid thing.  But so is going to get arrested as a one-off event.  The goal of both events seems more like grabbing media spotlights and donations more than changing anything. 
  2. Using nonviolence/civil disobedience to advocate for the right to serve in an organization that is inherently violent seems to require some mental and moral leaps that I don't know that I can make, as evidenced above.  I believe that as activists, we must walk firmly on the side of justice.  Yet the military (whether it does so willingly or not) actively perpetuates injustice both at home and abroad.  At home, it recruits from poor and downtrodden communities and runs these recruits through a few wars before letting them out with the scholarship money they joined to get (yes, that's a huge generalization).  In the field, situations like Abu Ghraib aside, we have to remember that modern warfare results in civilians making up roughly 90% of total casualties.  Prior to the 20th century, that proportion was reversed.  Using civil disobedience to prop up that kind of injustice seems to belittle the sanctity of nonviolent resistance.  
This little mental exercise you've just sat through hasn't really clarified much for me, so I doubt it has for anyone else.  It's just something I'm paying attention to, and it makes me uneasy.  I think I'll just continue to sit quietly on the sidelines of the DADT debate, and focus on some of the other social justice issues we're facing that aren't quite so morally muddled. 

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