A friend of mine visited Chicago recently and we were talking about his trip when he got back to DC. We chatted about various parts of the trip but the comment that struck me the most was when he said that upon mentioning the march to his gay friends there they had no idea what he was talking about. Then he asked me why the gays he talked to in the nation's third largest city had no idea what was happening here in D.C. on Oct. 11.
Not knowing how to respond I said that I'm not on the ground in Chicago so I don't know what local folks there are doing to publicize the national event. This news was troubling to both of us as we have been following this march since we both heard about it a few months ago.
Full disclosure: I was originally opposed to the idea of march on Washington when I first learned about it. I have since changed my mind and have even volunteered my time to help out with the D.C. host committee.
The exchange prompted a larger discussion about the whole march and whether it was a good idea. In the end, I wasn't able to convince him that the march itself is a great idea, though he had always planned to attend since he lives in Washington and is with the movement on principle. He was convinced, however, that it was worthwhile for folks to attend, if feasible, because of the myriad events that will be taking place all weekend long.
Many of these events will be strategy sessions and grass-roots organizing workshops. I told him to think of it as a free conference available to anyone who can make it. We are all aware of how expensive conferences can be, but the best ones are worth the money paid because of the invaluable information received. Part of the idea behind this march is to bring together seasoned and new activists in order to learn from one another. Conferences are excellent for networking opportunities, making new friends and finding out the latest news about an issue. Indeed, learning about the events associated with the march is what sold me in the end and I was heartened when at the end of our conversation, my friend was also a new convert.
In several of the posts I've read here on Bilerico and on other LGBT blogs, there has been much pleading with readers to attend to show solidarity and to speak out. If you're still on the fence, however, maybe learning about the other events happening that weekend and why they are important to the movement will help you make up your mind.
First, it is important that you understand why organizers have called for a march and the strategy for advancing the equal rights movement. From the Equality Across America web site:
Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. We will accept no less and will work until it is achieved. Equality Across America exists to support grassroots organizing in all 435 Congressional Districts to achieve full equality. Many bills currently exist to address some of these issues, but we do not support a piecemeal strategy. We seek one federal solution to full equality.
Equality Across America is a network of decentralized organizers in every one of the 435 Congressional districts. These organizers form Congressional District Action Teams (CDATs) that will do the work on the ground in their own communities to achieve full equality. Each CDAT works not only toward national equality, but participates in their local and state struggles for equality in areas like marriage, adoption, and work-place discrimination. Equality Across America connects organizers from around the country so we can support one another in all of our work, focusing energy and resources in battlegrounds when needed.
Much of the criticism that has been lobbed at organizers of the march (it should be noted that while Cleve Jones has been the subject of much of this criticism, he is only one player and certainly not in charge of the event) is that it will be ineffective, it is a waste of resources, and nobody will be around to listen. Of course, those same critics have said little about what else will be happening that weekend.
"We always wanted this event to be a weekend planned around organizing, not big productions of concerts and social events," said Robin McGehee, national co-director of the National Equality March. "We looked at the Saturday before as a time to capitalize on the grassroots organizing energy that is happening across the country and allow for people to not only learn or refresh skills around lobbying, phone banking, media work, etc., but, to meet other organizers and activists from across the country that truly want to organize in their congressional districts to bring about full equality across America."
So, what exactly are these events I keep talking about, and what will attendees get? There are actually far too many to describe here, but you should visit the Equality Across America site for a full schedule of events. I will highlight a few that I think are definitely worth going to. You should note that some require registering so be sure to sign up soon.
There are a whole host of Don't Ask, Don't Tell events which include a session called "Repealing DADT: Lobbying Tactics". This training will take place at the fabulous HRC building and there is room for 200 of you who are interested in finding out best practices for lobbying your legislators. Other DADT-related events include a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetary and even a morning cadence run starting at the national WWII memorial.
A big part of what we'll be marching for is to ensure a better future for LGBT youth. There are several youth-related events that will allow them to network and learn about how they can get involved to help secure that future. SMYAL, a local DC group, is hosting its leadership conference "Stand up, Get Loud" on that Saturday for youth age 13-21. Among the workshops included are those on developing communications skills, college/intern readiness and self-defense. The event is free and includes meals, but it does require registration. The Trevor Project is also sponsoring empowerment trainings and workshops for folks ages 13-25. For those college students looking to take home organizing skills, there will be a session solely on tips for organizing on campus. Again, all these workshops are FREE.
Ever thought of running for office? If so, you should sign up for the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute's session, "Change Your Government from the Inside". The Institute has helped hundreds of LGBT candidates run and win public office. Indeed, having more LGBT men and women in public office is one of the most effective ways to advance our cause. Equality Across America is also hosting Camp Courage, a grass-roots organizing workshop modeled after the highly effective "Camp Obama" trainings that helped elect a president. Those attending will be expected to commit to promoting full LGBT equality. This event already has 166 people signed up and organizers are asking for a small donation of $5-$10. Those interested in promoting a healthier relationship between faith and the LGBT equality movement should be sure to attend the "Workshop on Faith Communities & LGBT Justice Campaigns."
There are several other workshops and events happening that weekend and you should visit the site for more information. Free conferences are not a regular occurrence.
Above all, remember that this march is an opportunity for the LGBT community, which for so long has suffered from disunity, to come together and strategize over how we will advance our cause in the years to come. Being on the same page about our demands and speaking with a united voice is far more effective than a disjointed movement. And, to effectively speak in that voice, we need to be prepared.The workshops will help us prepare and at the end of the weekend we march to the Capitol to make our demands, ready to go home afterward to start making progress.
"The march is not the end. The march is the beginning. We are hoping that our message re-invigorates the dialogue about LGBT full equality and eventually fulfills the dream of EAA [Equality Across America] - an organizing group in every congressional district - ready to lobby and remove people who are not voting for and promoting a full federal equality agenda," said McGehee. "We are not expecting to wake up on Monday morning with a federal bill on the presidents desk to sign. But we do know that the more noise we make at the march, we have energized our young people, re-committed older advocates, and inspired groups of allies to make sure the issue stays top-of-mind until we all are equal in the eyes of the law."