By the end of the nearly week-long Creating Change Conference held by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force in Dallas, many of us had joking begun calling it "queer bootcamp."
It was a rigorous schedule of sessions, trainings, discussions, brainstorming, and outreach that both exhausted and energized the over 2000 activists in attendance. While there was talk of specific legislation (ENDA, DADT, DOMA) and other community goals we have all heard and read so much about, there was also extensive discussions on race, poverty, social justice, immigration, gender and trans issues, coalition building, youth activism, seniors issues, and every other issue that is important to the LGBTQI community and the country as a whole.
It was a delicious mix of solid tool training (like the session I lead with the amazing Jenna Lowenstein of the Stonewall Dems about using New Media in your Organizing Strategy) and larger discussions meant to draw lines and connections between various social issues.
In short, it was a good blueprint of how a movement should look. The quote that hit home with me, and seemed to sum up the attitude of the conference was:
We need an eye on creating the just world we want, not fitting ouselves into injustices that already exist.
One of the ideas that permeated Creating Change was that our goals as a movement should be larger than just passing legislation. The ever-present call for "equality" isn't achieved by simply passing laws that offer protections or legal recourse when discrimination occurs. These laws help in the march for change and help protect our community, but they aren't a silver bullet for justice. They are more tools to use in the push for equality.
A great example is to look at the movement and goals in the realm of women's rights or racial equality. The equity laws passed are tools and good starts, but they certainly haven't erased institutional discrimination and inequality. Those struggles continue today and most likely will never stop.
Like these movements, our goals should be broader and more all-encompassing. Yes, we must have a roadmap with markers of progress along the way. Things like repealing DADT and DOMA, working for stronger anti-bullying laws, or passing ENDA are signs of movement. Yet we can't look past larger issues that disproportionally effect our community, like poverty, healthcare, or education. These are areas where we must become true allies and partners with other movements to move the ball forward for all of us.
No one can deny that the big legislative pushes often get the most attention in the media (and thereby get the most attention from our organizations because they are higher profile, easier to measure, and help with fundraising and general issue awareness). We can't forget, however, that there are huge numbers of grassroots activists across the country fighting hand-in-hand with other communities for social change and justice. We all have to do a better job at expanding our conversations past the tunnel vision of legislative politics.
This isn't just some collection of hippie, liberal, pollyanna talking points. Looking at other successful movements, one thing we can learn is that it takes different tactics within a movement to achieve any success. We need the people with access to power (like those in office or lobbying in DC), but we also need the radical, take-it-to-the-street activists who pressure not only those same leaders, but our own movement to keep that forward momentum and not simply be happy with the access to power we have achieved.
We need the political, the radical, the messy, and the middle ground. Those are all tools in our toolbox.
Creating Change embraced that messiness and seeks to harness it. Definite tools were taught (to be taken back to the activists hometowns and communities), legislative plans were made, and traditional thought and values were challenged and expanded. There was no one way to do things, rather bonds between the different tactics, ideas, goals, and communities were forged so instead of getting in each other's way or fighting against one another, we can compliment the work we all do.
And that was some change I can believe in.
As next year's Creating Change Conference approaches (to be held in Minneapolis), I'll do my best to keep everyone up to date on scholarship opportunities and other ways to help more people go. It really is an event that has to be attended to be believed.