Diane Silver

"One Fight, Not Fifty" Sets Us Up for Failure

Filed By Diane Silver | September 03, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: gay rights, LGBT rights, National Equality March, One Fight Not Fifty, political reality

I hate to be grumpy, but I am horrified by the latest rallying cry for the National Equality March. It's the grassroots slogan: "One Fight, Not Fifty."

Just to be clear... I'm not attacking the march. What's got me gritting my teeth and pulling my hair in frustration is the naïve idea that LGBT equality can be achieved through one campaign. The theory this slogan promotes is that we can win equality by winning a single, decisive battle in Washington, D.C.

I first saw the slogan on the National Equality March Facebook page:

One of our posters today says it all: 'One Fight, Not Fifty'

The post received numerous positive comments, including this one:

Spot on! This fight is national, making it 50 fights is keeping us down and oppressed...

The problem with the slogan is that it ignores political reality. Even if we only focus on changing federal laws, we still will have to do battle in nearly every corner of the nation.

Actually, to say the slogan "One Fight, Not Fifty" is naïve is an understatement. I would be delighted if all we had to do was to engage in 50 fights.

In reality, we have to win 278 separate campaigns in order to win in Congress. In other words, we have to elect 60 pro-LGBT senators and 218 pro-LGBT members to the House of Representatives. Those are the number of votes necessary to pass a controversial bill.

The good news is that the politicians we elect don't have to love us. They just have to be convinced that a majority of likely voters in their home states and districts will punish them if they vote against us. Politicians also have to know right down to their socks that if they vote for fairness and equality, they will be re-elected.

To do this, we have to organize in our own towns -- not just in Washington, D.C. For some of you lucky folks, the battle has already been won. (Hey there, constituents of Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis, Dennis Kucinich and others!) Other pro-equality Americans face a long battle in their own backyards.

I've always thought that the recipe for success for the LGBT movement is one part courage, one part hard work and one part political savvy.

We all know courage because we live it every day, whether we are LGBT or straight allies. We aren't afraid of hard work. The post-Proposition 8 boom in activism illustrates that fact.

Now that we are on the cusp of winning equality, we also can't afford to be ill informed. In school you may have hated Political Science, but out here in the world the path to equality is paved with knowledge.


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I don't know, I see the slogan not as saying we should just focus on federal changes, but that we are all in this together and that the political battles in ME, FL, CA, etc. affect all of us, not just the people who live in those states. I see it as a call to get involved in all of these fights, regardless of where you live or where you come from.

As a resident of a state which had 76% of its voters vote in favor of a state constitutional amendment banning anything even "similar to marriage" for same-sex people, I couldn't disagree with the idea that fighting in individual states is the way to go.

Try getting Texas to turn its tide in the next decade (or even more) and support marriage equality without federal intervention is highly unlikely.

We are currently in a position with a democratic majority on the national level. A repeal of DOMA would bring about change nationally and force those "red states" into the real American dream, Liberty and Justice for ALL.

I feel the exact same way. I think the march is good, but I don't think it should supercede the mega-important local fights that all have different characteristics. We should all unite for one another, but the reality is we're fighting this war on HUNDREDS of fronts--Civil Unions in my state, anti-discrimination in Michigan, Marriage in Maine, Domestic Partnerships in Washington, ENDA in Southern states, UAFA, DPBOA, DOMA & DADT in DC. There isn't a 1-size-fits-all strategy. If the DC-ists are against waiting and incrimentalism, then they should try to push harder for us here locally, where we're already moving much faster than DC ever will. Don't take away our steam.

Most ideas I've heard from the marchers about either why they're doing it or what they hope to accomplish get me pulling get me gritting my teeth and pulling my hair in frustration. I think it's because they're looking for neat bumper sticker ideas more than a guiding philosophy, but most don't really have much of an idea why all this inequality stuff hasn't already been taken care of.

So they blame the fact that we want separate legislation instead of an LGBT omnibus bill. Or the blame the fact that, before 2009, we "asked" for equality instead of "demanding" equality. Or the problem is that LGBT orgs are incompetent and we need a 100% grassroots movement (LGBT grassroots organizers who existed before Prop 8 are just as bad as Gay, Inc.). Or they blame the fact that incompetent LGBT people run the movement instead of straight people (see the reaction from liberal gays to the Olson/Boies case and tell me there wasn't a smidgeon of homophobia from people saying "LGBT legal orgs fucked this up so bad, someone from the outside has to fix it up!" when usually the "fucked this up so bad" part was winning cases for marriage in the first place, at other time it was not having already won it for everyone nationwide during the Bush years).

The fact that the march organizers have generally avoided having some sort of coherent message for the march doesn't help out. These folks are trying to create it themselves, which is great, so we're going to have to put up with quite a few bad ideas for a while.

Really, though, it is interesting how, on some level, people are trying to grapple with the idea that people actually don't like us all that much. The comment you put up there, "This fight is national, making it 50 fights is keeping us down and oppressed," says it all. I want to tell that person, no, it's homophobia and transphobia that keep us oppressed, as well as the tools people use to maintain and propagate them, but something tells me that people who don't realize that homophobia exists or how the LGBT movement has operated for 40 years won't be listening too much to the queer boy from Indiana telling them what's up.

Alex, you must have a precision, laser-hammer, because ONCE AGAIN, you've hit the nail RIGHT on the head!

This is why you're my favorite contributor (shhh, don't tell Bil)!

The march is too expensive for most people to attend, at a time when Washington will be empty, and is offering little in the way of training for the participants. People would do better by donating locally, or attending Creating Change conference to learn organizing skills. At QueerToday.com I've posted just 5 of my concerns. I hope you'll check it out, and while you're at it sign the petition for lgbtq community support for a public health care option - becuase that's what we should all be focusing on right now!

Geez, everybody! It takes us ALL doing whatever it is we can do to win the little fights and the big ones. If people know it is best for them to march in Washington...wish them the best. GO CLEVE! People know they are to work locally? Wish them the best. Stop worrying about what everybody else is doing that isn't the way you would do it and be proud of your own contribution.

I've been around a long time now. I've marched in Washingon twice (THANKS CLEVE!)and it helped me understand who I am and to know I am part of a very big picture. I found out I wasn't alone. I've worked statewide in politics--and received lots of hate from the established gay community. I've worked at the college level and had death threats and been ridiculed by school administrators, newspaper editors and gay and lesbian folks. I've helped with local marches and movements and been fired by liberals because of my support for equal rights in marriage. I've been kicked out of a gay and lesbian center by folks who didn't think I belonged. I've worked for ethnic minority rights and met with harassment from what I consider my own community.

I expect to deal with negative stuff from the "other side" and I deal with it. No matter how much it happens I'm always still a little surprised and more hurt than I wish I was when it comes from the lgbt community and that's where it comes from most. Lots of people think it's their business to tell others what they think they are doing wrong. Stop jabbing at folks and support them in their action even if you don't think it's "right" for you. It takes all of us doing whatever it is we do. Looking for the one way that works isn't going to cut it.

The March will dilute our efforts, devour critical resources, and seriously damage our chances of fending off the NOM/RCC/CWA/LDS effort to reverse our recent gains in Maine and Washington state. Congress will pay a lot more attention to the results of those two referendums than to one more street-party in D.C.

That is a GREAT point, but don't forget, if this march is a wash, that's going to play bad in DC as well. If it looks like the numbers just aren't there, and that we're becoming ambivalent, even our allies get full permission to write us off! Phew!

This march is happening, we need to make sure it happens right. Its not going to go away, so--love it or hate it--its going to happen. We need to, at the very least, wish them good luck and hope for the best.

DON'T forget about Maine and Washington. I really think the results of these contests will say something about a LOT MORE than Marriage Equality. I think these are referenda on our VERY existence. People aren't really going to be voting about gay marriage in their state, they're going to be voting their prejudices or tolerance over all. We can't write it off just because its about "MARRIAGE." All of these ballot measures have REALLY been about sending the gay community a message to shut up and sit back down, don't you forget that.

Marches on Washington for any cause have become a pro forma activity. There's a set protocol, and everyone follows it. Usually a few people get arrested in a choreographed manner: The cops have the pattern down, too. The speeches are routine; it doesn't usually matter if you can hear or not, because everyone says what you expect them to say. Occasionally someone says something inspiring, and perhaps that motivates a few people in the crowd to go out and do more.

And that's about all you can expect: A few people will get inspired to take action. Congress isn't paying any attention at all and neither is the White House. Marches in Washington are political theater just like going through security at the airport is security theater: They make people think they're doing something, when actually they're not accomplishing anything.

Before marches became so established, they had an impact. The 1963 March on Washington did help pass civil rights legislation. And more spontaneous street demonstrations are probably useful -- the marches (not in Washington) by those challenging US immigration policies a few years back caught everyone's attention (though the undocumented are still being treated badly). But choreographed marches are rather like national political conventions: nothing really happens there anymore.

Electing Democrats (or Republicans) is not the answer. It simply perpetuates bigotry in government. Both parties are dominated by bigots and bigot panderers. That’s not going to change. People tried change with Clinton and got DOMA and DADT. They tried change with Bush and 40 state DOMAs. They tried change with Obama and got run over by the Obus.

Escalating mass actions, whether local or national, led by a nationwide, democratically run activist group with a mass action perspective and a cutting edge program is the answer. One fight, not fifty is exaclty corret.

Relying on Democrats is like waiting patiently for the OBus to run us over. It’s absurd.

With Democrats like these who needs Republicans?