To say that Netroots Nation got emotional would be an understatement: I cannot count how many times I saw tears, screaming arguments and a few outbursts that looked more like a breakdown than progress.
These fervent outbursts are understandable: fighting for truth and justice in an age of ongoing discrimination can be frustrating, and that's putting it lightly. But to allow one's self to be overcome with negativity doesn't always get the job done; there needs to be an emotional compromise.
As I process the experience, my mind keeps going back to the moment when Dan Choi gave Sen. Harry Reid his West Point ring. It was a moment of protest, yes, but one that wasn't filled with the anger we're accustomed to; it was a poignant moment that actually managed to moisten my typically dry eyes.
Fellow Bilerico contributor Jerame Davis described the jewelry to me as a "promise ring." It was a bit of a joke, yes, but as soon as he said it, we looked at one another, and something clicked in my head: this was a promise, and one that I hope isn't simply between these two men.
As the United States continues to devolve into opposing political camps, I think it's important that we all take a step back, breath and see these divides for what they are: people who feel threatened expressing their political resentments.
LGBT activists feel backed into a corner, while those on the right see their way of life, their "traditions," being eroded by democracy's inevitable progress, however slow it may be.
In that light, activism, a word so often accompanied by a right wing sneer, becomes a more humanistic action. We're humans looking for our promised land, so to speak, and Choi's action made it clear how powerful mutual respect can be in moving the movement forward.
I understand that Choi's "promise ring" won't likely force through DADT legislation. Even I'm not that delusional. I do believe, however, that Choi's action created some space of mutual respect and courtesy that could use more play in the "activist" world. Everyone expected Choi to do something incredibly dramatic, something that would make clear how upset we all are over the ever-lasting oppression we face. His flipped the script, though, and offered us a lesson: reverence can leave just as big of an impression as screams and placards.
Yes, we need anger, public outcry and enraged banners to make our point. But we also need to recognize that our opponents, particularly those who aren't as "friendly" as Reid, are humans, too, and aren't likely to change their minds if they feel threatened by the ever-angry "activist."
"I present this ring to you, symbolizing my promise as a fellow citizen: my service continues. I promise I will hold you accountable to your obligations to lead in the effort to end discrimination, both in the workplace and in the military," wrote Choi in his letter to Reid. He continued, "I commit to you my renewed pledge and continued service... I will serve as a reminder of the consequences we all pay when allegiance to political careers takes higher priority than allegiance to America's promise."
Choi's ring wasn't simply about Don't Ask, Don't Tell: it was his unspoken promise to approach "adversaries" with sincerity, respect and humanity, three sentiments that provide stable foundations for the at-times volatile emotions we can all feel.
If we allow ourselves to grow hysterical, however, we will get nothing done but perpetuate social divides. If we can come together with perceived enemies and find a common ground, however brief, we will remind one another that we're not just political positions; we're living, breathing people, and we have hearts.
Our hearts and those of our opponents may be broken or darkened by political realities, but they still beat to a universal drum, a drum I hope can bring us together, rather than tear us all apart.