Sunday, October 11, 2009

Marching Orders

I wish I could find the text of my 1993 March on Washington feature for Frontiers. It might drum up some energy for what's going on today. It is interesting that HRC managed to wrangle President Obama away from the San Francisco golf tournament (where he was scheduled to be a few weeks ago), and to their dinner in DC on the eve of Cleve Jones' new grassroots march. But of course it didn't work that way. Did it? The March was organized by grassroots activists.

Gay rights advocates march on DC, divided on Obama

Thousands of gay and lesbian activists marched Sunday from the White House to the Capitol, demanding that President Barack Obama keep his promises to allow gays to serve openly in the military and allow same-sex marriages.

Rainbow flags and homemade signs dotted the crowds filling Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House as people chanted "Hey, Obama, let mama marry mama" and "We're out, we're proud, we won't back down." Many children were also among the protesters. A few counter-protesters had also joined the crowd.

Did Obama promise again to eliminate Don't Ask Don't Tell? Yes. Did he make his case for our rights clear? Well then, mission accomplished. Sort of.

Mr. Obama, who spokes for about 25 minutes, told the crowd that he came to the gay community with a simple message: "I'm here with you in that fight….My commitment to you is unwavering."

Introducing Mr. Obama, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese told the crowd, "We have never had a stronger ally in the White House. Never."

Richard Socarides, who had advised the Clinton administration on gay and lesbian policy, told the Associated Press that Mr. Obama delivered "a strong speech in tone, although only vaguely reassuring in content.''

"The president and Nobel winner came and paid his respects, but tomorrow many will ask: What's his plan, what's his timetable,'' Mr. Socarides said.

It's a grey cold day here in San Francisco. Facebook friends are uploading mobile pictures. I share, from a distance. I wonder and hope that it took this march to get that speech to get our rights.

Gestures, symbols, moments. Yes, these, too, are a form of activism:

For Lt. Dan Choi, the day began with a jog around Washington's memorials, calling cadence at 8 a.m. with fellow veterans and supporters before joining the march. Choi, a West Point graduate, Arabic speaker and Iraq war veteran, is facing discharge under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for revealing in March that he is gay.

"We have fought in battles to protect our country, and now we are fighting at home for equal and full protection under the law," he said. He later stood outside the White House in uniform with his partner.

On Saturday, he led a group of gay veterans in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery to honor gay and lesbian soldiers who have died in the line of duty.

But what will today do? Ever since Cleve then David Mixner, and others called for this march, the message was clear. But there wasn't a lot of agreement for months, and it no doubt will be smaller than any.

Other veteran activists doubted the march would accomplish much. They said the time and money would have been better spent working to persuade voters in Maine and Washington state, where the November ballot will include a measure that would overturn a bill granting same-sex couples many of the benefits of marriage.

A bill introducing same-sex marriage in the nation's capital also was introduced last week by the District of Columbia Council and is expected to easily pass.

Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay member of Congress, said the marchers should be lobbying their lawmakers. He said the demonstrations are simply "an emotional release" that do little to pressure Congress.

"The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass," the Massachusetts Democrat said Friday.

Despite Barney, our gay party-pooper, I wish everyone well, and I hope it energizes their activism.

More coverage of the 2009 Equality March HERE.

See the live-streaming photo album HERE.

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