Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why I Am Not Marching This Weekend

This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the first national LGBT march for LGBT Liberation. In 1979, a national network of grassroots committees was formed that developed local platforms and identified local issues of importance to LGBT communities. Those networks elected representatives to regional groupings that debated and discussed issue of pertinence to LGBT communities in those regions, and then those regions, after coming to consensus on the issues that they felt most pressing to bring to a national stage, elected representatives to a national steering committee that put together the final agenda for the march.

This model ensured that the march was not only a visibility event but reflected the issues and concerns of grassroots communities and reflected grassroots leadership. People of color and women were represented in this process. And the process was used again for the next two marches.

In 2000, that all changed. In 2000, the Human Rights Campaign severed its last links with reality and with grassroots communities. It most definitely burned the only, thin, rickety lonely bridge it had with people of color communities. It created a national steering committee representing a narrow set of ideas, a narrow site of ideologies and a whole lot of white people. There was an entire movement by queer people of color to work with and hold accountable the national march in 2000, which, largely, failed. Elizabeth Birch had the money and the influence, and she used both oppressively and shadily. The march happened and, as progressive suggested, was wildly ineffective and had almost no impact on the movement. Why? Because it had NO connection to the issues and areas where on the ground activists were organizing.

Now here comes Millenium March Part II, conceived of by Cleve Jones and his backers at the HRC. Jesus Christ do we never learn.

The agenda for this march looks much like the last one. They threw "immigration" issues in there as a bone to people of color communities, but the march is still focused on marriage, it is still focused on a gays in the military, and it is still focused on issues that appeal largely to a middle class white LGBT movement and does not reflect in anyway the racial, economic, anti-war and gender justice issues that are at the core of most grassroots queer organizing in the United States.

The march is a farce, it is going to be ineffective, it was poorly organized, poorly planned, and it will be a failure. As a matter of fact, it has already failed. Any march that is not organized in the way that the first three marches were organizing (and, incidentally was the same system used by Bayard Rustin to organize the 1963 March on Washington), is a failure. National organizations DO NOT OWN OR SET the movement agenda. The movement agenda is set by, worked for, and guided by folks on the ground that put their lives and their energy on the line for this work. Joe Solomnese and Evan Wolfson and the rest of the rancid right of the LGBT movement (and damn them to hell if they believe that they aren't the right reactionary wing of our movement) are hurting our movement more than they have ever done to support it let alone MOVE it forward.

Don't get me wrong, I support the queer folks that will spend their time, money, and energy to march this weekend. I have a number of friends that will be going to the march. But, at this point, the march needs to be a success in numbers or it will do so much damage to our credibility as a movement that it will allow the Democrats the space to openly sideline our REAL issues and concerns as opposed to the lip service they pay to it now while ignoring us in the halls of Congress.


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  2. So don't you contradict yourself with the last paragraph? I don't want to march either but I live here and have friends coming in from out of town. I can see the headlines now about the poor attendance. The organizers' reputations won't be stained, but our movementS (plural intended) will. I had a conflict with the Sunday march, but now I don't.

    I agree with all your points. So it's damned if I do and damned if I don't. And I bet the organizers are counting on that.

    I love your writing. Keep walking forward (ie, not in the direction of DC this weekend ;).

  3. Brandon, you don't know the half of it! My little slice of the pie is that you were right on about this being a "GAY" and "LESBIAN" "HRC" "march": until just about every living (and some deceased) national and regional bi activist in the country (and out of it) threw a shitfest of immense proportions, and one woman gave up most of her week to co-ordinate the last minute lobby effort (and how fucked up is it that we have to lobby for inclusion in what is ostensibly our own community and march), the organizers thought it was entirely o.k. to have just ONE bi identified speaker... Lady Gaga (who'll be marching with the bifolk, yay). She's cool, but not exactly typical or an "activist" with a record in the community.

    One activist reported she had 76 emails in a single day on the subject, and I opened up my own inbox to see a 47 message long thread on this that was less than 24 hours old.

    Once the organizers got that this was just not cool, suddenly more bi-identified speakers appeared... but none that we had suggested. Then we were told that if someone could pay their own way, and met other conditions that basically eliminated a large chunk of activists from consideration (even if they could afford it, which most couldn't) - conditions for inclusion that would have been reasonable under other considerations, if they hadn't been imposed on us as a result of the organizers apparent lameness in other areas - they would consider having someone we recommended speak. Fortunately we were able to find someone. So, well have a recognized community activist on the podium - for two whole minutes. Oh yeah, there's no time for translation (apparently no one else gets this either), so she'll be speaking in Spanish without translation (which I totally support - not her fault the organizers created this situation). At least some people will hear from her.

    Hopefully things have improved since the last time I checked my inbox, but the last time I checked, that's the story - maybe a total of four bi-identified speakers, with exactly one coming from a long list of individuals suggested by the activist community. And that's a very abbreviated version that doesn't include some of the other minor but tragically humorous lunacies involved.

    I hear there's seven trans speakers (wonder how much of a shit fit they had to pull, and how many of them come from the activist community), so I guess that means this is technically a GLBT march at this point. Technically.

    I hope it's a success, if only because the cost of failure will be immense, but I'm not going to be paying any attention to it.


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  5. Amen, darling. 'Poorly organized' seems to be synonymous with this whole push for Marriage lately. This weekend will be about as successful as the initial push against Prop 8. Fact is, "they" will never learn. Maybe too much 'privilege' has gone to their little heads. Things like grassroots and activism has taken on a whole new meaning lately and it's a little frightening to witness. At this point its hard to estimate the amount of damage we as a community will undergo due to the blatant divisiveness of these so-called "organized" efforts. Unfortunately, we will remember this as being a truly fucked time in LGBT history.

  6. @Kaimana the whole damn thing is a contradiction. I called it earlier, when talking to some friends that are going to the march, that it is a whole "hate the sin, love the sinner" scenario. Good grief.

    @Thomas Oh I am sure the trans thing was learned from the last 8 or 9 years of a visible ass whoopin' of the HRC by trans folks and trans allies, but they just don't get it. Hell, this last February, Robyn Ochs became the first bisexual activist to win a national queer leadership award from a national LGBT organization, which was the Task Force's Leadership Award (and it came with a gift of $10,000...heyyyyyy). But yeah...BULLSHIT!

    I didn't know Gaga was bi. That's awesome.

    @Rosalind I love you sister girl for so many reasons.

  7. Thank you for this. As you know, I'm still young up in this movement. I appreciate a history lesson. But my questions is then, "how do we get the march back to what it once was? -- in terms of the planning being by the people, for the people."

  8. Hey Cedric!

    I don't know if we can or if we should. I think those marches were strategic, were connected to on the ground organizing, and were a massive way to demonstrate that we exist everywhere.

    The country knows that we exist everywhere now. I think marching for memorial purposes every decade is a good idea and good fun, but I think the time of the effective 'march on washington' has long past or at least is not currently what is necessary or the best use of time, energy, and resources.

  9. Hey B...

    So, for the most part, I agree with you that abandoning the "folks on the frontlines and in the trenches" is a failure, however, I do see "Gays in the Military" as not solely a white issue...especially if you think about where recruiters are targeting populations in lower income seems to me that the military can and has been a means for people of color to get out of their 'hood and forge a career or skills so long as they can be who they need to be...

    Am I missing a perspective here?

  10. David: Gays in the military, unfortunately, has been largely focused on mostly white men and women that have been ejected from the military due to their sexuality. And it has been an issue that has been narrowly focused on the rights of gays to serve openly in the military.

    Poor people of color often do not construct their identity primarily around their sexuality and that is not likely to change with the dropping of DADT. The way the issue is currently framed lands it squarely in a majoritarian middle class framework. It also doesn't speak, generally, to working class white folks in the military, either.

  11. That is to say the economic justice framework and the recruiting issues that you mention are completely missing from the dialogue around Gays in the Military as a movement issue.

  12. @Brandon: Ah...appropriately 'schooled'

    My social justice background may have assumed there was more to repealing DADT then there really was...the optimist in me, I guess...


  13. Hey David: No schoolin', no schoolin'. But, it is true, DADT has always been extremely narrowly constructed. It's an old issue that really had it's "peak" during the Clinton era. I actually believe that DADT will soon to come to an end, particularly in light of nation's such as Israel and Great Britain having axed their own restrictions on queer folks in the military.

    Now if the issue was really centered on solving anti-queer violence in the military combined with an anti-poverty draft campaign that was broad based and coalitional with youth and people of color, I would be on board. As a matter of fact, a few years ago NYAC and the AFSC launched a joint campaign and had some great materials about youth military recruitment and the impact on queer youth.

  14. re: The country knows that we exist everywhere now...I think the time of the effective 'march on washington' has long past...

    I think you are right. The 1979 March probably didn't need a coherent agenda, it just had to happen. Times have changed, and tactics have to, too.


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