Sunday, May 1, 2011

Of Rallies, Marches, Banquets - and Civil Rights

Originally Posted on October 20, 2009

Let’s be honest here: Do rallies, marches and speeches do anything to change the way things are now?

I wanted to take a week or so to absorb all of the activities from the weekend of October 10-11. Between the activities in Washington and throughout North America in support of the National Equality March and National Coming Out Day, I came away with several observations.

• It just seems pretty convenient to march, rally, cheer and make speeches anytime we feel compelled to do so.

• We also expect President Barack Obama to deliver our rights to us. Even the President understands that certain policies need to go through Congress to draft before it reaches his desk for enactment. We argue otherwise without understanding the actual processes of the Federal Government.

• Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has a point: Instead of just marching and rallying, try lobbying instead! It’s more effective that way.

• We are still a divided people. We not only disagree with either targeting the Federal Government or each individual state house; we often disagree on the actual methodology to do so. Furthermore, we’re still divided in terms of gender, actual sexual orientation, generation and subcultural identity 40 years after Stonewall.

• We’re still afraid of those who would rather see us either repent our sexual orientation or gender identity…or see us shoved into an untouchable class in American society.

What has the events of that weekend truly accomplished? I’m waiting for an answer…or, should I just listen to the continued debate as spurned on by the media?

Every time Michelangelo Signorille chastises the President for not being diligent on GLBT rights, it makes me cringe. Does the master of outing in the early 1990s not get the concept of utilizing the entire Federal and State government by steering GLBT folks towards direct action via lobbying? Don’t play sideline pundit if you don’t understand (or, refuse to understand) the enormous burden this President is shouldering beyond just civil rights for all American citizens.

As I see it, maybe Rep. Frank has it right. For civil rights, including the repeal of both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, to advance, it has to be the will of the people that will drive these pieces of legislation forward. It means having our voices heard at the Capitol. I’m not talking using the Human Rights Campaign to do the talking for us. What have they done for all of us lately? If you ask me, they do not represent every population of the GLBT community, especially the poor and various other people who do not fit the queer archetype the HRC loves to pander to.

If lobbying is the most active option to engage GLBT citizens on all levels of government, then maybe they should look at the Minnesota model. Every April, Outfront Minnesota, the state’s GLBT political action organization, holds a lobby day at the state capital in St. Paul. It is a highly organized event to give every GLBT Minnesotan a chance to talk to both their Representative in the Lower House and their State Senator. The event includes training to help individuals talk to their representatives as well as noon rally to galvanize the citizen lobbyists to do their duty. Meetings with representatives take place all day and can range from a “love fest” of support by the legislator to a standoff with an anti-GLBT politician. When Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was in the state legislature, she would open up her lobbying meetings with a Bible reading condemning her queer constituents. The fact that she met with GLBT residents in her district was at least viewed as an effort.

Instead of marches featuring tens of thousands of people, why didn’t the organizers of last weekend’s events consider a similar citizen-lobbying day?

For years, this community has used direct action to further the cause of GLBT rights and associated issues affecting queer folks. Since our mainly complacent community would rather march and rally instead of getting in people’s faces, we should consider taking up Rep. Frank’s invitation to stand up as citizens and lobby our Members of Congress to repeal DADT, DOMA, advance the Hate Crimes Act for GLBT inclusion, amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and any other piece of Federal law that must include the legal rights of every citizen including homosexual, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Armchair lobbying under the HRC logo isn’t going to advance your rights. You need to talk to your representatives yourself. E-mail? Twitter? Nah – try your phone instead. Try visiting their local field office. Be presentable and astute when you do so. If you get to Washington, go to their office near the Capitol. If you catch your Member of Congress, know how to present yourself in a manner that garners respect from the person you voted (or not voted) for when they were up for election last. Lobbying also means telling your story. A typical politician listens to thousands, if not millions, of them in their tenure on Capitol Hill – they need to listen to yours!

To achieve equity as citizens of this country, we need to work harder to push through these key pieces of legislation for our President to finally fulfill his promise to us. Don’t let the HRC speak on your behalf – take the direct route. In a true democracy, the voices of individual citizens must be able to resonate with politicians. Perhaps this is exactly what Rep. Frank has in mind for us to do.

1 comment:


    Terry Walker wrote on Facebook: Yes, I’d rather see encouragement of direct involvement in local matters too.