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

Dan Russell proletariandan at gmail.com
Fri Oct 16 09:26:50 MDT 2009


We've just begun to fight

Sherry Wolf, the author of Sexuality and Socialism [1] and a leading
organizer of the National Equality March last weekend, looks at what
made the demonstration a success.

October 16, 2009

THE FIRST mass protest of the Obama era--the tea-bagging gatherings of
bigots aside--was a colossal success.

In defiance of the corporate-run LGBT establishment, Gay Inc., and
with no major organizations, media or financing behind it, the
National Equality March nevertheless drew more than 200,000 people to
Washington, D.C., to demand full equality in all matters governed by
civil law in all 50 states.

The march was a vindication of the idea that mass protest is possible,
necessary and desirable if the left is to challenge both the right and
the politics of don't-rock-the-boat gradualism gripping the Democratic
Party and its liberal defenders.

As a member of the march's leadership and an author and public speaker
who has been on tour for several months, I had a bird's-eye view of
how this march was organized, warts and all. We were a rag-tag
bunch--of veteran activists, but mostly developing young militants,
who are more multiracial, anti-corporate and suspicious of the
Democratic Party than previous generations of organizers.

Tanner Efinger, a Los Angeles bartender who labored for months without
pay to build the march, introduced one of the march's initiators Cleve
Jones at the rally, saying: "I am no one of note, I am not a seasoned
speaker, I have no published pieces of work or even a college degree.
I have no health insurance, I am in debt...We are, all of us, an
unrepresented motley crew of underdogs." It was an eloquent
description of the carpet of humanity laid out before the Capitol on
that gorgeous fall day.

The mobilizing efforts for the march--which were derided by an
anonymous Obama adviser as the work of fringe "bloggers" who need to
take off their "pajamas"--included not only aggressive online
promotion, but good old-fashioned street heat on campuses and in
communities, where speak-outs, teach-ins, rallies and educational
events drew anywhere from dozens to hundreds.

Twenty-seven-year-old Kip Williams from San Francisco's One Struggle,
One Fight was the sole paid organizer for the march, earning minimum
wage to work tirelessly, dashing across the country and getting groups
and individuals onboard.

The march's student coordinator and socialist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
helped centralize a mammoth effort to organize students to hold days
of action, phone bank and join the huge lead contingent of youth at
the front of the march. Robin McGehee, a Fresno, Calif., mother who
was kicked out from leading her local PTA after Prop 8's passage in
November, volunteered countless hours to orchestrate march logistics.

And Chloe Noble, who is marching cross-country to raise awareness of
homeless LGBT youth, organized workshops with Chelsea Salem the day
before the march, as did transgender activists and LGBT families who
brought together hundreds of kids and same-sex couples at a
milk-and-cookies event to make protest signs and schmooze among other
families like their own.

Though UNITE HERE organizer and Harvey Milk protégé Cleve Jones was
attacked for his audacity to build a march in less than four months
and for countering the incrementalist approach of the dominant LGBT
groups--and red-baited for his collaboration with me--none of these
attacks stuck.

Openly gay Rep. Barney Frank's oft-expressed contempt for the
march--"The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the
grass"--earned him the derision of student protesters, who chanted:
"Barney Frank, fuck you!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THERE IS no direct correlation between the organizational abilities of
march organizers and the massive size and strength of the turnout. In
other words, we succeeded because we struck a chord with a new
generation of budding activists and a politically left-leaning swath
of LGBT folks and our straight allies of every age. The march cost far
less than previous national demonstrations--under $250,000--and there
was zero corporate branding either requested or desired.

The march punctuated not just a turning point in the LGBT struggle,
but kicked the door open for an unapologetically straight- and
labor-allied civil rights movement that organizers hope to collect
into a national network called Equality Across America (EAA). EAA has
already called for a Week of Initiatives November 1-8, during which
activists in every locality possible should aim to call a meeting,
show a film, hold an action or just take the first steps toward
getting organized on the ground.

Joe Solmonese--effectively the CEO of Gay Inc. in his capacity as
president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)--expressed a particularly
brash opportunism. HRC, which is the largest LGBT lobbying group in
the country and pays Solmonese $338,400 annually, first denounced the
march, and then endorsed it when pressure from below made it clear,
they had nothing to lose by signing on and could benefit if the march
was a success.

Though HRC never used its Web site or 750,000-person e-mail list to
help promote the march, it leapt at the opportunity to parlay the
march’s success into raising $200,000 for themselves less than 48
hours after the protest.

Those fired up and raring to mobilize after the march would do better
to focus their energies and funds on those who have both the vision
and desire to organize EAA into a genuine grassroots effort to demand
full equality now.

The forces that came together to strategize and mobilize did so on a
basis of shifting the national discussion away from state-by-state,
issue-by-issue incrementalism, and toward full civil equality for LGBT
people. Many organizers cut their teeth in the Obama campaign and
feel, rightly, that without the mass pressure, President Obama never
would have addressed LGBT issues as he did last weekend--and he never
will act on those sentiments without an active and ongoing struggle.

Liberal activists are turning their gaze leftward, something that was
clear to me in the enthusiastic response to my Sexuality and Socialism
book tour, and the hundreds who packed into and around Busboys and
Poets Café in D.C., cheering wildly as they listened to Cleve Jones
and me speak on LGBT liberation the day before the march.

And the turnout on October 11 was, of course, the ultimate expression
of a new mood of militancy and a posture of defiance in the face of
liberal hand-wringing and right-wing belligerence.

But this march is just a start. We've got to keep up the fight and
build EAA into the grassroots movement so desperately needed to win
civil rights for all.

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