Alex Blaze

Should we march on Washington? What would we march for?

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 22, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Andrew Sullivan, bisexual, Cleve Jones, David Mixner, gay marriage, lesbian, LGBT civil rights, march, marriage, transexual, transgender, Washington

Over gaymarchjpg.jpgthese past few weeks, we've seen building pressure on Obama to act on his LGBT promises from the campaign trail. More and more high-profile military officers have been discharges, two laws related to LGBT benefits and rights were proposed in Congress, several states have legalized or will legalize same-sex marriage, the mainstream media has been actually reporting and asking questions about gay and lesbian troops, and, well, the queers are getting mad.

I've been surprised by the level of outrage and the demand that we do something from the community ever since last year's elections. How many times has someone demanded we boycott a product, company, state, or a country over these past six months? How many times has the impatience become so palpable it spilled all over a magazine cover or ended up as a long screed in the comments of a blog?

Of course, I'm all for acting and speaking out. That's half the point of this website that I (along with everyone else) have devoted so much time to maintaining and promoting (the other half is to listen). The angrier the better, since one of the defining traits of the LGBT community in the period between Andrew Sullivan declaring the AIDS crisis over in 1996 and Obama winning the election in 2008 was complacency.

Is it the massive insult a powerful segment of our community suffered after Prop 8 won? Is it that Bush was a brick wall to hit our heads against on queer issues while Obama looks and sounds movable? Is it that we've finally been able to see that the Religious Right doesn't, and never really did, have the stranglehold over American politics the media always thought they did? Is it that blogs, online organizing, and other decentralizing tools have moved the power to decide how angry we are away from a small group of LGBT journalists, celebrities, and organizations back to the grassroots? Is it the series of state-level marriage wins we've had in New England and Iowa?

And what do we do now? Several high profile gay activists have announced their support for a march on Washington, but is it a good idea?

There hasn't been an LGBTQ march on Washington in years because of the standard arguments against it: it costs of lot of money that could be spent on other projects, it's a logistical nightmare to organize, it won't do that much to push representatives and Senators who don't know whose geographical constituency is represented by the marchers, and it centralizes our demands on the federal government when some of our biggest advances are being made on the state level. On the other hand, it would focus media attention on us, would pressure the White House, and would help organize future actions as people got to interact face-to-face.

David Mixner proposed such a march:

I adore President Obama but not enough to allow his team to delay my freedom for political convenience or comfort. It is unacceptable.

My plea is for our LGBT leaders to call a March on Washington for Marriage Equality this November and if they won't do it, I appeal to our young to come together and provide the leadership.

We need to come together in a display of powerful community unity to empower our young and to show the nation that anything less than full freedom is unacceptable.

And NAMES Project founder Cleve Jones endorsed the idea.

While both their proposals described the need for action, and discussed some of the technical aspects of a march, they didn't really get into how it would be helpful. So I leave the question to you all: is a march on Washington a good idea in 2009?

If we had a march, what would it be about?

The other important question would be: what do we demand in such a march? Mixner already said that it would be a march for "Marriage Equality," not "LGBT rights." He expands:

Clearly there are other issues that should be on the agenda for the march but marriage equality is the lynchpin that deals with so many of those issues. The most striking outside that institution would be the freedom to serve in our nation's military - and that weekend I think we could have a separate powerful event to highlight that.

If the march is about marriage, why would it happen in our nation's capital? That's an issue that's being decided on the state level, except for DOMA and in the very unlikely case where the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage. DADT, while an important issue for the well-being of those who work for America's largest employer, doesn't encompass near as many workers as would be encompassed by ENDA.

Add to that the fact that there are so many other issues that are causing impatience and anger in our community. Employment discrimination, school bullying, police arresting gays who just want a little love, trans folk being hassled over bathrooms, hate crimes, poor media representation, abstinence-only education, the gay-straight income gap, and every other insult and injury we face on a daily basis are what's making us angry, not just DADT and DOMA, even though they're a part of the problem. I'd hate to see those experiences on all fronts be co-opted by the movement against those two laws.

Cleve Jones says that the march should be about:

-- Have one demand only: "Full Equality Now - full and equal protection under the law for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states." Let's stop settling for fractions of equality. Every compromise undermines our humanity. We must declare our equality.

I assume "full equality" means legalizing same-sex marriage.

Is it possible to decide on something to march about? Not something that we'd all agree about (as if that were possible), but something that would easily understood, speak to the majority of LGBT people, and would help us materially? Marching for "LGBT rights" won't cut it. There's more anger and energy in our population over the past half-year than there was in the last decade, but is it about tangible harms to us or is it about us being insulted?

But we would need a unified message so that it seems like, you know, we were mad about an issue and then decided to march, not the other way around. If we did do a march, what would it be for?

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Seems like now would be a good time to break out the copy of The Dividends of Dissent that's been sitting untouched on my nightstand for months.

christophe | May 22, 2009 12:31 PM

In the 87 march Washington was filled with a blanket of LGBT people, imagine how big and powerful a march on Washington would be today with all the powers of the Internet?

There was the time when Marches on Washington were an urgent new idea -- as when masses of unpaid veterans and rights-seeking black people converged on the capital. But today marches have a record of waning success and effectiveness.

Travel is so expensive, and most people are so strapped for cash, that there will likely be a poor turnout. (Even the Christian conservatives are having a hard time turning out large numbers for events, like those organized by The Call.) Corporate sponsors are harder to come by.

Worse -- there is the negative fallout from open political wrangling around major LGBT political events. What many Washingtonians remember about our 2000 Millennium March is not the urgency of LGBT issues, but the fierce infighting among the LGBT organizers -- plus the financial mismanagement that seems to have become chronic at so many big LGBT events. The Millennium March ended with the FBI investigating the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the March's festival.

Today, as I study the controversy and disorganization around our marriage effort, I seriously doubt that we could put together a March on Washington front that would avoid all these old problems.

The Obama administration is quite aware of how many of us there are. We don't need to carpet the D.C. Mall with warm LGBT bodies to prove it to them. They are also quite aware of our list of issues. What they need (and are presently lacking) is the POLITICAL WILL to do what we need done.

We need to infuse them with that WILL. But our limited money and energy and resources are better spent on targeted legal actions, as well as targeted local and statewide efforts (including local marches, if they can be done well) that will pressure key legislative votes and inspire key judges to do the right thing.

Please DO NOT march on Washington!

My partner and I live in DC—seven blocks from the Capitol Building. We have attended lots of marches on Washington. And we’ve watched them produce occasional good feelings among the marchers.

And political disasters.

Take the 1987 march, for example. Shortly after the march Senator Jesse Helms introduced and was able to have passed and signed into law legislation designed to further discriminate against GLBT people. The march didn’t help us. In fact, it helped to concentrate the furies of our enemies.

Instead, please stay home. And work there for our rights. There you can have a real impact. In your city, your county, your state. (Just as my partner and I have done here in DC, our home.)

Working at home is not as glamorous as marching on Washington. And working at home can scare people who are not out in their communities.

But working at home produces real results.

Marching on Washington costs lots of money, distracts people from battles that we could otherwise have won, and ends up being a waste.

I don't need speeches, I don't need porta-potties and I most definitely don't need a permit to air my request for redress to my President.

No disrepect Ms. Warren, as I am a fan of your....but I'll be there, with or without the old guard.

I really think a March on the Capitol would be a good idea. Remember in the after math of Prop 8, the media coverage we recieved. In the long run I believe prop 8 did more for us than against, because of that very media coverage. So on that hand, I think a peachful March could be the thing. With the help of modern communication and social networking it could be the biggest March we have ever had. I agree with Cleve Jones, we should march simply for totaly equality and rights. We don't have to focus on one topic, focus on all the things, Hate Crimes, DADT, DOMA, Marriage Equality, and anything else we have yet to recieve. While I do think we should keep up the ad campaighn I think we should show more LGBT families. In the prop. 8 battle I think that may have been why we lost. It's ok to show celebrites supporting us, be we should mostly focus on our own families, like the new ad's I've been seeing have included. Back to the March, I say let's give it a try. It would surely put us every main stream news network and blast us into the public view, more then ever before. The angry queers are here to stay. I think we should invite reporters from networks like CNN, ABC, CBS and MSNBC to follow us. We should give them exclusive access and interviews, especially those networks who have portrayed us in a good light and given us media coverage. We should give something back to our supports. As far as celebrities, invite them also. But focus mostly on LGBT celebrities, like Ellen and Wanda Sykes, but ask those celebs to bring their partners so American can see the entire couple. We also have to make sure we do not throw the transgendered community under the buss, if they don't get their right, we're not happy. I say let's do it. But we need good leaders to organize this.

Oh and sorry for any spelling mistakes, I am very passionate about this issue.

I called for a National March on Washington for Oct. 2010 at the Silverlake rally in Nov. 2008. The lgbti media carried it, and there was enormous interest. However, there are several things to be considered. (1) Marching in 2009 is not an election year. We will only have any power at all if we march demanding all Federal Rights
from the Democratic party. If we do it in 2009, it will not have the impact that doing it right before mid-term eletions will have. Nor will it give grassroots people, families, students and others who may not have the money in 5 months, time to save up. This way, we can see if the Democratic party does ANYTHING at all. We definitely should march and continue to mobilize locally. But to rush into one this year instead of holding it during an election year, will be a waste. And the March will ONLY work if this time, after 30 years of Marches (since 1979) our bottom line to the Democrats is Total Equality-Support us,or we won't support you.
Robin Tyler

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 23, 2009 7:27 AM

An election year would also give us the opportunity of losing the House of Representatives. Greater unified planning is required. Pam Spaulding's recent posting about the Dallas meeting and plan needs to be chewed over and embraced by all LGBT groups as a center point to organize around. It is no longer 1967, 1979, or 1987. When I did marches there was no internet. It is now time to be smart as well as right.

Arthur Corbin | May 23, 2009 1:37 AM

A march on Washington is emotionally appealing when so many LGBT people are angry. What would be more effective is a march on all 50 state capitals on the same date.
Washington incurs travel costs, human resources, and a lot of agreements among organizations. The earlier marches left people and organizations exhausted and produced few results. The Quilt in Washington was powerful and effective, the focus was on 1 subject, a big plus.
Statewide marches will develop and marshal the skills and local resources that can then be used for a nationwide march. Statewide marches are closer to home reducing expenses and bringing our message closer to fellow American's homes.
Gay Liberation accomplished significant gains,
1) American's now know LGBT people are everywhere and that we are a part of everyone's family.
2) A majority of LGBT people are out. All professions, all ethnicities, all beliefs, and all communities have out people.
3) Negative language and actions are no longer acceptable. Not eliminated, no longer acceptable among a majority of American's.
4) Empowerment of LGBT people has created new voices, new choices, and more diversity. Our activism keeps the Constitution a living and developing document.
We are on the last mile toward equality. This is when you would expect the greatest resistance from the many people and organizations joined against our inclusion in the American compact.
Dinosaurs die slowly but they do die.
Keep up your enthusiasm, your active participation in whatever organization that meets your needs and concerns, and keep creating and sharing love, the greatest gift.

Doesn't anyone remember the disaster called the Millennium March? How much money did HRC lose on that? Or the fact that the organizers cut out the T speakers? Trust me, the T community hasn't forgotten. I can't imagine why anyone would want to try doing that over, or what corporate sponsors would pony up money to support that.

Does anyone in office really care about marches on Washington anymore, GOP or Democrat? I doubt it. Get off your patoot and go talk to your Senators and Congressman, in their local offices, instead. Then do it again, and again, and again.....

Thanks all for providing such great comments on this topic. I like the idea someone brought up of a march on the capitals of 50 states (if I were in charge, it would be all 50 of them, including North Dakota). A few reasons:

1. Less money for travel (could be a day trip in most states, so much less hotel and couch-surfing too), easier to organize as delegation would be easier.
2. It makes more sense, since we're asking for more in terms of state legislation than federal, especially if it's about marriage.
3. As Patricia points out, we don't need to show our numbers, we need to show our political power. Civil rights advances are made easier if a group of states has already made an advance.
4. Each state could pick it's top issue. Massachusetts won't need to talk about marriage - but they could definitely use trans workplace protections. Marriage is too far away in some place like Indiana, but workplace protections for all isn't. Etc.
5. One of the side benefits of marches is that it gets people together to network and organize for future events. Since lots/most of that work is happening at the state-level, then people can work on that instead of national issues.
6. GREAT VISUALS. Local media in a place like South Dakota would do better to show gays marching in downtown Pierre than in Washington. Send the message out that we're everywhere now.
7. Better message - the lgbt rights movement is post-Brokeback, post-transamerica now. it's not coastal-urban, it's in middle america. Real America and such, to borrow a phrase.
8. Could help spur local LGBT organization. Some states haven't even gotten as far as having one organization.
9. More unexpected - we've done the march on washington thing like a bunch of times now, and as Dalland pointed out, no one cares about them there anyway. In Jackson, Mississippi? Something tells me they'd be a bit surprised.

Downside, though:
1. Some states have terrible local LGBT groups or orgs or activists. Like they really suck and they fight too much over ego issues (and probably not enough over substantive issues). Although getting people out there might be good to subvert them and question them.
2. If a state doesn't have anyone show up, that might be a problem.
3. More coordination between groups of people will be required.

beachcomberT | May 23, 2009 7:44 AM

Statehouse rallies are fine, but what is the critical mass needed before they have any impact? Equality Florida and allies drew about 700-1,000 to a Tallahassee rally in March, biggest ever, but the legislature still went home without voting on any gay-equality bills. Would a turnout of 10,000 have made a difference? A rally without follow-up work to lobby individual legislators intensively is a waste of time.

Arthur Corbin | May 24, 2009 10:23 AM

Alex - More than LGBT people will be mobilized for state rallies and lobbying.
National groups can develop the training, materials, and talking points so local activists are prepared to talk with legislators, state officials, media, and citizens.
The internet makes training and common purpose much easier to organize and develop and with effective moderation,this process should be free of the negativity that occasionally surfaces.
LGBT people have communion with a majority of churches and church leaders, one area of support. LGBT people have unwavering support from PFLAG and PFLAG has members in most states.
GLAAD should be able to mobilize media and train in the use of media.
HRC should have a clear understanding of the make up of each state, key officials, legislators, history, and goals.
ACLU can provide guidance on the legal terrain, wins, losses, issues, and approaches.
The Trevor Project and the Matthew Shepard Foundation can help with youth outreach, discussions on the corrosive effects of hate, and a strategy of what has worked to reach and change hearts and minds.
The gay archives and historians can provide training on our 40 years since Stonewall, the enormous arc of achievement in the face of total silence and oppression.
There are many more resources and individuals who are ready, willing, and able to provide knowledge, guidance, and compelling voices (Judy Shepard, Lance Black, Lt. Choi are 3 that come to mind as well as the writers of the Dallas Principles).
My 35 years of experience is if you articulate (state) a project with goals and a time line, if you provide resources and examples, if you show a moral basis for this work, and if you have fun in the process, the rest is within reach.
This is timely preparation going into the 2010 election cycle. We must be ready to hold legislators accountable for the democratic ideals they espouse in theory but not in practice. LGBT people know nothing has been given to us without organized and focused work.
Please remember that you can have a lot of fun during this process and you will make many friendships that will strengthen your life.
Thank you for the forum.