November 12, 2008
Where to aim 'Second Stonewall' anger?
Posted by: Chris
It's been absolutely inspiring to watch the groundswell of daily -- sometimes hourly -- street protests throughout California since the passage of Proposition 8 last week. So much for the cynicism about Obama-mania on Election Night eclipsing the gay marriage defeats.
It's virtually impossible to know you're experiencing history in the making when you're right in the middle of it. But our present generation with their SMS texting and their Twittering (aka "tweeting") and their Facebooking are mad as hell over this, and it's lookin' to me like they're not going to take it anymore.
I sense the power could be shifting, from the suit-and-tie professional activists with their offices, their access, their press releases and their catered receptions, to the grassroots.
For the sake of the movement, I hope Rex is right. The focus-group dominated, hide-the-gays, Democrat-coopted approach taken by the Human Rights Campaign has been proven bankrupt once again. And it's clear from the HRC's radio silence about the Prop 8 protests that they have no idea what to do with gays who are energized enough to take to the streets.
Our so-called "leaders" at HRC and the Task Force aren't alone in their blank-face reaction to the week-long "Second Stonewall" protests in California, which will culminate in a National Day of Protest this Saturday. It's easy enough to see why the Beltway Boys are confounded by it all:
- The protests are grassroots, from the ground up, and the HRC (Activism 3.0) model is top-down, controlled by strategists wedded to focus group data.
- Because the anger and emotion is real, it's often misdirected, and D.C.-types can't associate themselves with protests that don't toe the line of political correctness.
- The focus of the protests is marriage and relationship recognition, which is not on "the gay agenda" that HRC et al have already acquiesced to: hate crimes in '09, ENDA in '10, and maybe -- just maybe -- federal D.P. benefits and repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell in '11-'12.
- Some of the protest anger is directed at HRC itself, and its top-down cohorts at Equality California, which ran a lackluster No on 8 campaign that refused to allow gay couples to be seen, much less make the case for their own equality.
To see just out of step the D.C. gay groups are with their supposed constituents, consider that the only real response so far to seven consecutive days of gay activism in the streets is to scold protesters about who they shouldn't be angry at.
Remarkably, the "Events" and "Take Action" links on HRC's website still list only the upcoming fund-raisers for the organization itself. It's unconscionable that a group that claims to be leading a movement is not at the very least leveraging its resources to get out the word for those who want to participate in the protests. Instead, HRC's only response to eight consecutive days of street protests has been to praise a memo from People For the American Way that calls activists to task for blaming minority voters.
In similar fashion, those on the crunchy Gay Left at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force have been almost a caricature of themselves, ignoring the power of the protests to conclude what we really need is, you guessed it, to "get thee to an anti-racism training! Let’s learn how attending to our own internalized racism can bring new awareness to our work with colleagues of color." Yes, that's an actual quote. Could the Task Force be more calcified and paleo-liberal?
Those on the gay right, for their part, are warning the protesters not to blame the Mormon and Catholic Churches, despite their obvious leading role in funding the devious Yes on 8 campaign. Conservative gay law professor Dale Carpenter warned that it's bad politics -- and risks proving Yes on 8's claims about the threat to religious freedom -- to protest outside Mormon temples.
Carpenter's criticism is somewhat ironic, coming just weeks after he claimed he was quitting the gay rights movement. He's fundamentally wrong, in my view, to suggest that protesting the critical organizational role in Yes on 8 played by the church. In fact, he turns logic on its head to suggest the protests threaten religious freedom.
The First Amendment guarantees the Mormons' right to preach against gay marriage and refuse to perform them in their own churches. The real threat here is to the Establishment Clause, since the leadership of the Mormon, Catholic and conservative Jewish faiths have provided most of the muscle to enshrine into the California Constitution their own religious beliefs, at the expense of fundamental rights recognized by the state's highest court.
Carpenter argues that a better strategy for the protests would be to borrow a page from the black civil rights movement, and hold sit-ins in marriage license bureaus. Not only would such a strategy fail to make full use of the spectacular number of gays and allies energized to action, it's also misplaced. The government is not to blame here.
Clearly the judicial branch isn't to blame, having vindicated the marriage rights of gay and bisexual Californians. The California Legislature twice passed gay marriage laws, so their hands are clean. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed both bills, but he opposed Prop 8 and since its passage has called on the state supreme court to once again declare gay marriage the law of the land.
No, the Mormon temples are as good a location to protest as any, in my book.
At some point, of course, these protests will die down and all these newly-minted activists will be looking for where to invest their energy. Neither HRC nor the Task Force has ever been about actual activism -- members are typically encouraged only to donate money and write emails and letters -- so it's my hope that the Join the Impact infrastructure will take on a life of its own.
Perhaps this new generation of gay activists can take the fight to Washington and demand the Democrats in control of Congress and the White House do more than the absolute minimum for GLBT Americans.
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