After the passage of Proposition 8 in California, this new little thing called Join the Impact managed to organize perhaps of hundreds of thousands of people seemingly overnight. But after the famous November 15 Prop. 8 protests, things seemed to quite down. The "Light the Night" event was more like a candle in the wind and it didn't take long for activists and bloggers to ask the question, "Stonewall 2.0: Sizzle or Fizzle?"
By January, the consensus was pretty much reached: "Gosh, Stonewall 2.0 lasted even less time than Web 2.0. Oh well, back to the drawing board," wrote SFist's Brock Keeling.
But the Join the Impact-style organizing and the sense of urgency and renewal it spawned hasn't really died; it's simply been reshaped to take on different forms in different communities across the nation. In Charlotte, grassroots activism is very much still alive.
In early January, Robert, an LGBT community member living just outside of the city contacted a few community leaders, myself included, with a desire to organize a Feb. 14 Valentine's Day awareness event. At about the same time, I learned of that the Focus on the Family and Exodus International "ex-gay" conference Love Won Out would be making its way to Charlotte on Feb. 21 (coincidentally, the same day as the Human Rights Campaign Carolinas Gala, and the last day of a joint leadership conference of several primarily LGBT Christian denominations).
It didn't take long to get a planning meeting in the works. Two weeks after Robert first called for a Valentine's Day event, almost two dozen community members and leaders met in the conference room of Q-Notes newspaper. Mostly the same faces as those who planned Charlotte's Prop. 8 protest -- which managed to draw out almost 300 folks -- the group was sprinkled with new folks interested in the idea of an on-the-ground, grassroots activist organization in the Queen City.
Thus was born the Charlotte Rainbow Action Network for Equality (CRANE). We weren't and aren't affiliated with Join the Impact. We didn't use their site to organize. We didn't get any tips or advice from them. But the sense of renewal and urgency instilled in LGBT communities after their call for the Nov. 15 Prop. 8 protests served as the initial catalyst and spark for an increased interest in activism in Charlotte.
We planned a series of four different events in about a week's span of time. A Valentine's Day awareness event in downtown Charlotte brought out two dozen people to speak face-to-face with hundreds of passers-by on the importance of LGBT equality. An event with Truth Wins Out's Wayne Besen drew 50 people to the Lesbian & Gay Community Center for an evening presentation on so-called "ex-gay" ministries. A press conference with LGBT community and religious leaders prompted headlines in the evening news. And, in the culmination of it all, a protest of the "ex-gay" Love Won Out conference drew out 50-60 people for four hours on a Saturday.
Fifty people? That's all? Well, yeah. It is Charlotte -- not San Francisco. But the amount of discussion spawned by local media's coverage of our "ex-gay" ministry challenges was priceless.
It has been years since places like Charlotte have seen on-the-ground activism. Older members of the community told me over and over about their memories of groups like ACT-UP and how they were so happy a new grassroots group had been established. Working with already established groups, like the Community Center and a local LGBT political action committee, our grassroots group will be able make an impact where it really matters: face-to-face and person-to-person.
I'm also encouraged by the support we had from already established political organizations. Some perceive political and lobbying groups like EqualityNC and the Human Rights Campaign as being wary of "activism," but they stepped up and their support was phenomenal and greatly appreciated.
Stonewall 2.0 hasn't necessarily "fizzled." Take a look around the country at all the places with a renewed sense of activism. The numbers aren't as big or as attention-grabbing as in larger cities or what we saw right after the election, but people are there. There's no doubt that people are speaking out and taking action. Folks who haven't traditionally been a part of the conversation are now having their voices heard.
Without November's Join the Impact perhaps local communities uninvolved in grassroots activism might have never jumped on the bandwagon -- perhaps already established organizations wouldn't have seen a greater importance in local (and sometimes spontaneous) grassroots activism.
As our community moves forward, I hope we'll see more work and action at the local levels -- in whatever form that takes.