Yesterday's blogswarm on ENDA generated dozens of blog posts and hundreds of calls to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and a piece in The Advocate, a national LGBT magazine with a circulation of 175,000.
On the other hand, the nonviolent sit-in conducted by GetEqual generated a piece in Newsweek, a national mainstream magazine with a circulation of 3,000,000.
A debate began yesterday in the LGBT community about which of these actions was more effective in calling attention to inaction on ENDA. Why is there any debate?
Eve Conant of Newsweek published an article last night entitled "Gay-Rights Protesters Stage Sit-In at Nancy Pelosi's Office: Leaders Stand Ready to Bail Out Activists." In it, she mentions the blogswarm in passing, but the bulk of the article is about the sit-in and the inaction on ENDA. This was followed up shortly by another Newsweek article by Kate Dailey, "Gay Activists Stage Civil Disobedience as Health Reform Gets Closer to a Vote."
Is it possible that GetEqual knows something about the media and politics that the more sedate advocacy elements of the LGBT community don't know, or don't want to know? I think so. Upsetting Congressmembers is no way to get access to Congressional offices, parties or celebrities, if that's your game. And that is part of the game. Someone has to be on the inside. But not everyone can be on the inside, or should be there.
Outside advocacy has its place too. I'm not advocating disruption for its own sake, by no means. But, frankly, patient advocacy and lobbying has resulted in a year-long delay in ENDA, and promises of more delay by the Speaker. Perhaps some media attention to this fact is not unwelcome.
Establishment types rushed to criticize GetEqual on listservs and blogs, faulting them for turning Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Congress and the public against us, saying they should have waited until the endless health insurance reform battles end, and suggesting that the sit-ins represented nothing more than a fit of pique that would accomplish nothing.
But the truth is that health insurance reform (it's not really health care reform anymore) will not be done next week or the week after that, as the reconciliation process drags on. Yes, I support health reform, and I have worked on it over the past year as well. I recall the words of the ancient Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" I'm for health reform and ENDA.
I do understand their position. They cannot be seen as encouraging the more unruly elements, or they will lose their backstage pass. But I'm not a member of that club, so I don't have that to lose.
But there is an establishment criticism that must be addressed, and that is the idea that the sit-in was counterproductive. Let's look at how Newsweek's authors saw the sit-in.
The First Newsweek Article
The first article highlighted the protesters' cause in the first paragraph, rather than the protest itself.
The groups are fighting for her to take the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor for a vote, Yandura told NEWSWEEK as he drove toward his home in D.C. to meet with other activists.
That in itself is a major victory. Instead of an article discussing "gays gone wild" or stressing frustration or anger, the tone is measured. She mentioned the blogswarm and the calls and emails from the community,
Next, she cited a statement from GetEqual that shows maturity and understanding of the political context.
"We understand that Speaker Pelosi and the rest of Congress are in the midst of passing health-care-reform legislation," said McGehee in the statement. "However, health care for many LGBTQ families is intimately connected to employment protections and we cannot wait a minute longer for those protections. We've already waited far too long."
After citing evidence that Speaker Pelosi is not going to present controversial bills to the House, the article ends with a call for human rights, evidence of massive job discrimination, and acknowledgement that pressure on an ally is sometimes necessary.
But activists say that politics should take a back seat to human rights and basic safety. "A recent study on discrimination found that 97 percent of transgender people who responded had experienced some level of harassment and 26 percent had been fired simply for being transgender," said David McElhatton, who is described in the statement as a transgender activist who participated in the San Francisco action today. "We thought we had an ally in Nancy Pelosi, but she has taken our equality for granted. We are not going to let up on her until she takes action to ensure that we are all protected in the workplace."
I can't imagine a better article to outline the issues to a mainstream audience.
The Second Newsweek Article
But the second Newsweek article is even better.
It first discusses the arrest of Lt. Dan Choi in protest of DADT. It moves on to discuss the Pelosi sit-in, and restates the issues on ENDA from the first article.
It ends by suggesting that more protest is a welcome development. Far from seeing the nonviolent action by GetEqual as a function of mere anger or frustration, it tacitly acknowledges that GetEqual's tactics so far are a sophisticated reflection of the political context in DC. It also implies that the magazine found the action by GetEqual to be newsworthy and worthy of continuation.
Whether this will fizzle out after today or become a new narrative in D.C. is yet to be seen. Leaders for the group sound like they're ready to make some noise and have the money and resources to keep this thing going for quite a while. Stay tuned--Conant is on the case, and more updates will be coming in throughout the week.
I believe that there is a place for nonviolent direct action, such as that conducted by GetEqual yesterday, when there has been a long course of more traditional politics that appears to be going nowhere.
Newsweek clearly believes that as well.
Gay activists everywhere take note: There is a new narrative in DC politics.