Sunday, May 24, 2009

March, May(be in) November?

Longtime activist David Mixner is calling for a gay March on Washington for marriage rights. He also focuses on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Having organized a number of major marches in my near 50 years of activism, I don't take this call lightly. Trust me, I know that there are times when such marches are ineffective and poorly timed. Yet, I have also seen them be extremely effective both in message and building momentum within the movement. For the first time, we have the opportunity to have tens of thousands of our straight allies and straight students join us and we should organize the march to make it easy for them to be by our sides.

My experience has taught me the secret to any march is to keep the message simple and to make it easy for others to join. Of course, our best organizers must be enlisted in order to ensure that hundreds of thousands attend in an orderly and safe fashion.

Tapping into my previous work, I would suggest the following for consideration: On the Friday before the march 12,000 (approximately the number of our service people that have been dismissed under DADT) led by our veterans walk single file from the Pentagon to the White House until all 12,000 are across from the White House. Let the nation see visibly how many of our citizens have had their careers destroyed while the military allows convicted felons to serve. I would love to see 12,000 across from the White House chanting "Let US Serve."

One of the lessons from previous marches is that everyone should be on the Mall by no later than 3PM. We should not let logistics prevent people from getting to the Mall or otherwise they won't be counted. Everyone must be present before the evening news has to develop their stories. Each marcher and organizer should be told that every single person has to be on the Mall from 2PM to 3PM in order for us to have a success.

Names Project funder and activist Cleve Jones agrees.
— Have one demand only: “Full Equality Now - full and equal protection under the law for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.” Let's stop settling for fractions of equality. Every compromise undermines our humanity. We must declare our equality.

— Organize the march from the grassroots with a decentralized internet-based campaign. Keep it simple; avoid bloated budgets and cumbersome structures. The primary objective must be to turn out the largest possible crowd. We don't need elaborate and expensive staging or fabulous dinner parties and concerts - we need a million or more people in the street demanding equality now.

— Encourage and enlist our allies in the broader progressive movement to build the march. Involve the labor movement, racial, ethnic and immigrant communities, progressive faith leaders, peace and social justice advocates and other supporters. LGBT people of all ages and races recognize the challenges facing our nation and our planet. We are eager to stand, as equals, with our fellow citizens in meeting these challenges.

Jones correctly addresses the problems of previous marches; the power struggles, the money battle, etc. Do you recall the fight Larry Kramer had in even getting onstage in 1993?

While it's nice that Mixner already has aspects of the proposed march choreographed down to specific staged assemblies, I'm not sure what a new one will do.

The 1979 and 1987 marches were historic and led to many new groups being formed. It was needed, and the only major way for LGBT unity, for a time.

I attended the 1993 March, and it was wonderful; empowering, fun, sexy and liberating. I wrote the cover feature article about it for Frontiers magazine.

Yet in a few months after its occurence, Mixner's old pal Bill Clinton gave us antigay policies on marriage and in the military which harm us to this day. Even Uruguay is now more progressive than the U.S. in its military policies.

The 2000 March on Washington turned into an infomercial for PlanetOut and the Human Rights Campaign. I worked for PlanetOut then, and even those articles I wrote have disappeared from PlanetOut's website.

The results, along with a strange case of bags of cash going missing, was the success of HRC in finishing its $8 million office building, PlanetOut overspending through the dotcom boom, and now facing its lowest market value ever. When even the major sponsor of a march refuses to maintain a few web pages as a legacy, what's the purpose of having one?

The group Yes on Gay Marriage has an overview of the history of gay marches on Washington.

But has anyone done their homework on this group? While Mixner allows a post of his march proposal, does he know that Yes on Gay Marriage has been widely dismissed as yet another 501c3 that may clash with other groups' plans? Or that, as the BAR article shows, most other LGBT groups consider another march to be as useful as a "hole in the head."

But more important, Yes on Gay Marriage has dubious origins, and even ties to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign.

Last year, according to data filed with the secretary of state's office, the COPS voter guide paid at least $245,000 to Moran and Associates, which Moran is president of, and at least $105,000 to Barry Wyatt Associates. The California Vote by Mail Voter Guide paid Wyatt's firm at least $15,000 last year.

A source with Protect Marriage who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly said Yes on 8 "did purchase space on Moran's voter guides" and negotiated directly with Moran and another person, whose name wasn't known to them.

The voter guides' card says, "Cops know children raised by a married mother and father have the best chance for success. Proposition 8 strengthens traditional marriage. Yes on 8!"

So, if this kind of group, whose pocketbooks ride both sides of the fence, is going to be "in charge" of a movement toward another march on Washington, please include me out.

If last years -and next week's- Prop 8 protests proved anything, it's that protests can be organized on a regional and national level in a matter of days, with no budget, and with an energized committed group of thousands.

But the impact of those protests is questionable. Iowa's gay marriage ruling happened out of the radar of most activists. Other states shifted because of lawsuits.

California's lawsuit, whose decision will be released on Tuesday, does not look good. Anyone who watched the proceedings saw how enamored the Ca. Supreme Court was of Kenneth Starr's pro-Prop 8 arguments, and how they continually interrupted and dismissed the Lambda Legal lawyers. So, basically, the Supes are flipflopping on their earlier decision, and we face a longer struggle.

Even as the GOP loses ground, we're still getting sidetracked by the alleged administration of "change." The rightwing has nothing, except bashing gays, as Frank Rich eloquently states in his NY Times Op-Ed:

Anyone with half a brain in the incredibly shrinking G.O.P. knows that gay bashing will further dim the party’s already remote chance of recruiting young voters to replenish its aging ranks, much as the right’s immigrant bashing drove away Hispanics. This is why Republican politicians now say they oppose only gay marriage, not gay people, even when it’s blatant that they’re dissembling. Naked homophobia — those campy, fear-mongering National Organization for Marriage ads, for instance — is increasingly unwelcome in a party fighting for survival. The wingnuts don’t even have Dick Cheney on their side on this issue.

A march on Washington will cost money that will be sapped from regional LGBT groups. Marches on Washington take place every weekend, and you hear little about them, if only as a short piece on the weekend news.

A showcase of on-stage celebs may rally support, and provide an amusing vacation for a few thousand who can afford it -mostly East Coast people who can take a bus or train trip- but its impact is questionable.

When the Obama administration, already bogged down with the horrid legacy of the Bushco regime, holds meetings with the likes of Andrew Sullivan, who wrote that Dick Cheney is a "hot daddy," and who fervently disdains hate crimes laws, you know we're getting nothing but centrist lip service.

Sadly, a hundred thousand LGBTs on the Great Lawn won't have an effect. And no doubt Obama's schedule will -oops- include a trip abroad that weekend.

A president who lets a repugnant rightwing preacher say his inaugural invocation, and whose underlings censor a gay pastor at a sidebar event, is not our friend. He's just a lesser adversary.

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