[Marxism] The National Equality March: A New Generation of Protesters

Dan Russell proletariandan at gmail.com
Tue Oct 13 08:32:20 MDT 2009

I'm surprised I haven't seen anything on the list about Sunday's
march. This was my first march on Washington and was incredible; I was
shocked how many (mostly young) people turned out due to sheer
frustration with Obama and the Democrats. This is one of many openings
for the left and a very bright spot in an otherwise dull political
landscape. For folks in Chicago there is a follow-up meeting next week
at the Lincoln Park Public Library. Also, Sherri Wolf will be speaking
about her book 'Sexuality and Socialism' at the Midwest Socialist
Conference in November. Feel free to email me off-list if you are
interested in any of these events.




The march on Washington that gays staged Sunday on the National Mall
drew something like 200,000 people — that's a good guess based on
conversations with many of the organizers and local authorities,
although estimates of Mall crowds are notoriously unreliable. But one
number you can take to the bank: the average age of those backstage
who wore walkie-talkie headsets and staff badges, the men (and a few
women) who were behind much of the organizing effort, wasn't over 30.
And that, by far, was the oddest thing about the march: Why would a
generation wired to their mobile phones and Facebook accounts nearly
from birth want to resurrect a form of political expression as old and
musty as a mass gathering?

The answer became more clear after I spent much of the day with Wayne
Ting, born Dec. 1, 1983, and — when he's not helping organize marches
on Washington — works as an associate at a private-equity firm that he
isn't quite convinced he wants to name. Like many of the others who
helped organize the march, Ting was shocked — deeply, if rather
naively — by the passage last year in California of Proposition 8,
which ended the court-appointed practice of equal marriage rights for
gay couples in that state. (See a visual history of the gay-rights

"What Prop 8 did for my generation," Ting told me the night before the
march, at Restaurant Nora, "is that unlike past generations before, we
had never been through something like where progress didn't seem
inevitable. Suddenly, some right that was given was taken back. I
think that had a huge effect on my generation — to say, wait a minute,
you mean, if I voted for and maybe wrote a check to the Democratic
Party, that's not enough?"

This in and of itself is raw evidence of how far this country has
moved on gay issues: Ting has such a strong sense of entitlement that
a routine historical occurrence in democracies — the snatching back of
rights that have been reluctantly given to despised minorities — came
as a surprise to him. It is that sense of entitlement that led to
today's march, which Ting and so many of his cohort put together.

They didn't do it alone, of course. The macher behind the march was
Cleve Jones, 55, a man who, in his younger days, was a compatriot of
Harvey Milk's and, later, the conceiver of the most powerful work of
American folk art, the AIDS quilt. Last year, Jones found himself in
the spotlight again after the film Milk reminded the nation of what
his close friend Harvey had died for. With relentless encouragement
from David Mixner — a longtime gay activist and occasional friend of
Bill Clinton's — Jones decided to pay attention to all the e-mails he
was receiving from 20-something gays who were both angry about Prop 8
and inspired by Milk.

That wasn't Jones' only motivation. He had himself made a dumb
calculation about Prop 8; he was so confident it wouldn't pass, that
instead of knocking on doors on Election Day in California, he had
traveled to Nevada to canvass in Reno and Sparks on behalf of Barack
Obama. Obama won; gays lost.

And Jones felt dejected. His friend Dustin Lance Black, a screenwriter
who worked on Milk and had traveled with him to Nevada, told him they
could make things right by getting gay people to demand — Harvey
Milk–style — precisely what they wanted, without compromise: equal
rights in all matters covered by every public law, state or federal.
That sentiment, born of regret and anger, eventually became the motto
of Sunday's march, one featured on almost every mailing sent by its
organizers: "Equal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50
states. Now."

Meanwhile, mid-career gay activists who run the day-to-day gay
movement from the East Coast — men and women in their late 30s to
early 50s who slogged away at gay causes during the Bush interregnum —
were rather dumbstruck at the idea that young gays wanted to march on
Washington. "Pointless," one seasoned gay activist told me. "If Cleve
and David Mixner have really inspired so many kids to work on our
behalf — finally, by the way, because I think these kids spent the
early part of this decade playing Nintendo or something — why don't
they tell them to go to Maine or Washington this weekend?" This
activist was referring to the momentous votes coming up in Maine and
Washington state that will determine how gay couples in those states
can define their relationships. (Read "Gay Weddings in Washington by

Jones, not surprisingly, considers this a highly cynical view. He was
present when Milk brought together thousands of young gays in pre-AIDS
San Francisco to change that city's politics. Milk was famous for
convening human billboards — long stretches of young gay guys holding
signs along busy streets. Coming together in Washington, Jones
thought, might spark the same kind of fellowship. Young friends
convinced him that Facebook could shorten the organizing time for a
national march dramatically. The site played another role: young gays
who had connected on Facebook even as uncertain high school students
now wanted to meet face-to-face. The march would provide a way to do
that — and see Lady Gaga at the same time.

The march itself was predictable. It was a farrago of left-wing
rhetoric (anticorporate, proimmigrant, etc.) and respectfully
anti-Obama rhetoric. "Easter egg rolls on the White House lawn are
nice, but enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the
repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act are more important," thundered
New York City union official Stuart Appelbaum, who was referring to
Obama's invitation earlier this year to at least one lesbian couple to
bring their kids to the White House's Easter event.

Will the march have a lasting effect? The previous gay march on
Washington, in 2000, ended in fiasco when money was stolen from march
organizers and little follow-up occurred after the attendees left
Washington. The organizers this year were determined to avoid those
problems. The march was staged for just over $200,000 — about a
quarter of the cost of the 2000 event — and Jones and other principals
repeatedly gave out a number that they wanted marchers to text, which
would automatically sign them up on a mailing list the organizers hope
will be useful in all congressional districts.

And yet as the march ended, I wasn't sure if it had just been another
party. The Broadway producers of the musical Hair took a great
financial loss this weekend by shuttering their production so that the
entire cast could sing at the march. As the gloaming approached, it
was a moving experience to hear tens of thousand of people sing the
words "Let the sunshine in" along with the cast.

Right then I thought of a conversation I had had with Ting, the young
private-equity associate and march organizer. He had told me that he
didn't know that in 1993, Mixner — the gay activist and friend of Bill
Clinton's who helped agitate for this year's march — had been arrested
outside the White House for opposing Clinton's infamous "Don't ask,
don't tell" policy for gays in the military, the same policy that gays
are now impatiently waiting on Obama to overturn. "A lot of us were 9
or 10 years old in 1993," Ting had said to me. I wondered if today's
9- and 10-year-old gays and lesbians would remember this march. Ting
and his friends have a lot of work ahead of them to make sure they do.

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