Revolution doesn't happen by accident. Revolution doesn't happen without tremendous vision, loss, and sacrifice. Revolution happens when a critical mass of courageous people come together to struggle for it with every fiber of their being. Revolution takes place over time and, more often than not, raises complex questions that can't be answered in the immediate. Revolution happens when the people not only name their circumstances on their own terms but also organize with the strategic intention of reaching mass scope and scale action.
We are seeing this all over the Middle East, in Wisconsin, and in many other parts of the world as people come together to create a visible culture of resistance against deep seeded economic, social and political oppression/repression.
Revolution is local. Yet, when a social consciousness begins to emerge that makes the connection between uprisings (without taking away from their specificity and nuance) it gives us a window into the kind of broad social change that is possible. Yes, through these interconnected struggles we can begin to see that another world is possible.
A Democratic Awakening for the Queer Movement?
The organizing taking place in the US and across the Middle East has the potential to spark a democratic awakening in the United States, one that challenges the deeply rooted corporate and colonial power of this country. Yet the national LGBT movement could miss this moment of possibility if we are not prepared to participate in the broad based organizing required to bringing about sweeping economic, political and social change.
We could also miss the opportunity to reframe even the issues that the mainstream movement does work on in ways that resonate across communities. For example, if we intentionally reframe our work around ENDA we could begin to tie our organizing work to a bigger set of economic justice issues such as jobs, health care, immigration, poverty, homelessness, the corporate take-over of the economy and worker justice and labor.
Rooting our movement's political agenda in a single issue framework leaves us totally and unequivocally unprepared to work across communities to usher in the kind of change that could create social transformation for every aspect of the queer community. Isn't this what we should be striving for? Isn't this what building a movement should be about?
The Importance of Mass Scope and Scale
In order to understand why reaching mass scope and scale is strategically important to building a broad based movement it's important to summarize what constitutes a movement. In an article written by Beth Zemsky and David Mann entitled "Building Movement Organizations in A Movement Moment" they detail the interconnected elements that make a movement.... a movement! These elements are: collective intentional action, continuity of sustained interaction, outsider status, scope and scale and formation of a collective identity. All of these elements, which they define and detail in their article, are the core elements that help us to recognize that a shift in social consciousness and political action are taking place.
An example of this can be seen at the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1963. Bayard Rustin, a primary architect of the Civil Rights Movement, started organizing for jobs, peace and freedom in the 1930's and by 1963 the Civil Rights movement reached mass scope and scale as hundreds of thousands of people flooded the National Mall in Washington, DC. Reaching large scale action didn't happen overnight. It happened through decades of protest, strategic action, the will of the people and a tremendous faith in the possibility of justice. It also happened because, although not perfectly inclusive, the frame of the Civil Rights movement was broad enough to have profound resonance and relevance to the lives of poor and working class people across communities, particularly communities of color.
Achieving large scale action, such as was seen in the the Montgomery Bus Boycott, is critical to the success of a movement because it is one way for us to know that our organizing is having impact on a large scale institutional, social and political level. Essentially we know change is happening--even if it's happening slowly and painfully--because we can see it unfolding across all aspects of society. A culture of resistance becomes pervasive.
This is what we want. This is what we should be working for. This is what we need in order to create change for all LGBT people.
What Should the Queer Movement Be Working on Right Now?
This is a moment for all of us to act in concert and in solidarity with peoples movements in the US and internationally. Our movement should be focused less on attending to a narrowly defined set of interests and rights and more focused on the issues fueling a global resistance movement of mass scope and scale happening right here and right now! As LGBT people we need to understand that our survival is tied to broader movements for peace, freedom and justice.
As a result, here are some of the issues I think the national LGBT movement should be prioritizing:
Engaging in deep political education and organizing around the economy, issues of poverty and economic justice.
What is happening in Wisconsin is part of a bigger economic picture--one that has put our economy firmly in the hands of corporations. For example, in 2010 the US Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case on the side of corporations. As Erica Payne states in her Huffington Post piece entitled "Corporation in Chief" this ruling gave corporations unprecedented control of over our 'democracy':
We are in a political and economic moment where every social safety net is being sacrificed and undermined in order to maintain the wealth of corporations and the top wealthy 1% of this country. This is a direct dismantling of social and economic structures that have historically been in place to support poor, working class and middle class people - of which queer people are in significant numbers. Any queer organizing that doesn't center economic justice is failing to address the most pressing needs of our communities and have in impact on the broader global and domestic issues of our time.
Ramping up our organizing around the right wing and racism in partnership with other movements for social justice
The right wing is no stranger to the queer movement. No stranger at all. It's also no stranger to other movements for social and economic justice either. All we need to do is to look at the latest efforts to defund Planned Parenthood
and erect racist and sexist billboards in New York targeting Black women to know how potent this right wing activity is.
Given the increase in right wing activity why isn't the LGBT movement focusing our time and attention on organizing strategies and frames that resonate with and activate fair minded people committed to justice? How much more of a wake-up call do we need to work seriously and intentionally on racial and economic justice issues? The right wing is taking over our economy, using white supremacy to fuel their base and at the same time positioning themselves as a movement rooted in real community and family values.
In an article written by Mark Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center entitled "The Arizonification of America" SPLC "found that the latest count of hate groups last year had risen to 1,002 from 932 in 2009. The number of nativist vigilante groups was up, too, from 309 in 2009 to 319 in 2010. And there was truly explosive growth in the antigovernment "Patriot" movement, which added 312 new groups last year, skyrocketing 61% from 512 in 2009 to 824 last year."
This is about us. This is about all of us... So, I say let's get to it people!
Working to create a meaningful, intentional, and accountable internationalist frame that connects the complexity of issues facing our LGBT communities to a global movement for justice and liberation.
We've got to stop being a go-it-alone movement that prioritizes our narrowly defined national agenda (made of DADT, hate crimes, marriage equality and ENDA) over everything else that's going on in the world. What is taking place is a global shift in consciousness. Sticking to a national agenda that is disconnected from broader and far reaching economic, racial, reproductive and environmental justice issues is out of sync with what is taking place beyond the LGBT movement.
In a recent article in Colorlines entitled "The Wave of Popular Uprisings has Washed Beyond the Middle East" Michelle Chen not only details the range and depth of uprisings taking place all over the world but also raises the question of what lessons we can learn from them. She states:
We can start by resisting the impulse to read simplistic explanations out of a diverse spectrum of popular movements. The recent uprisings do not derive their power from a common agenda or strategy. What they share is a sense of openness and possibility, spontaneity and resilience, and a deep belief that violence and factionalism are toxic to that revolutionary potential.
The revolutionary possibility we are witnessing all over the globe is very different from the kind of organizing we see coming out of an LGBT movement that values equality over liberation and justice. The reason why the current national LGBT movement will not reach mass scope and scale is because its core strategies and values aren't rooted in building collective power beyond a narrow set of 'gay' issues. Revolution is only possible when the issues at stake are so core to the mutual survival of the people that it brings masses into the streets and to a collective consciousness that has the potential to create transformation.