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June 12, 2009

Join the Oct. 11 March on Washington for Total Gay Equality

Sean Strub There's been quite a debate going on in the leadership circles of our LGBT communities about whether or not the proposed October 11 March on Washington Cleve-jones for total gay equality launched by sterling veteran activist Cleve Jones (PHOTO LEFT) is a good idea or not. I've been wavering, because although I'm usually in favor of militant grassroots street actions that are well-conceived I feared a new March would be too difficult to organize, and thus not get a large enough crowd, on such short notice. But now that it seems clear the March is going to happen anyway, and that it will be (as conceived by Cleve) a no-frills affair that won't cost an arm and a leg, I think it should be supported, and we should all try to make it as large as possible. My old and dear friend Sean Strub -- PHOTO ABOVE RIGHT; he's the founder of POZ magazine, has just become CEO of Cable Positive, the cable TV industry's AIDS-fighting program, and has been a terrific gay activist since the '70s -- wrote a well-argued note to a leadership listserv I'm on, where the debate about the March has been raging, which erased any lingering doubts I had about supporting the October 11 March. So did today's news about the court action in defense of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) by the Obama administration. With Sean's permission, I'll share his convincing arguments with you here:

Last night Cleve Jones was honored by the American Foundation for AIDS Research at a lively event in New York.  David Mixner gave a stirring introduction--it was classic David, at his finest--and then Cleve gave a rousing speech, calling for a March on Washington in October.   Lady Bunny gave quite a speech as well, but I'll share those details off-list with anyone interested.

The crowd responded wildly to Cleve's call for a March, clapping and standing, with some stomping their feet or pounding the tables.  They were mostly gay white men, to be sure (and donors, as it was a fundraiser).  But their heartfelt and hopefelt response made an impression on me.

I went to bed reflecting, with admiration, on how often Cleve has been in the vanguard, feeling the pulse of the community's "new" roots: the young, the newly-out and the newly-committed as well as the previously-dispossessed just gaining a grip on their personal power to affect change.  

Cleve is, at his core, a street activist, with a particular talent for organizing those who had previously not been involved, whether it was for Harvey's campaigns, organizing labor, immigrants or street kids, the earliest responses to the epidemic, or inspiring people to stitch panels for the quilt.  Yet he also is able to inspire an authentic and incredibly enthusiastic response from affluent and somewhat jaded gay white men in New York. 

I had been ambivalent about a march this fall, for many of the reasons that have been eloquently expressed by others on this list over the past couple of weeks.  The debate and discussion was important, as it forced us to confront and consider with a clear eye the challenging realities of trying to organize such a large-scale event in a short period of time.

But I contrasted those legitimate concerns and reasons with what I heard from LGBT folks with whom I discussed this in rural northeast PA, what I read on non-leadership listserves or comments on blog posts (overwhelmingly in favor), what I witnessed when Cleve spoke last night and what has stirred in my own heart, which is an exciting and even a bit frightening sense that this may be a moment unlike any other, a moment that will be gone a year or two from now when reelection politics will dictate the administration's every move.

I am now convinced that the time to debate whether to march or not is over.  If I had any residual doubt, today's news about the Justice Department's approach to DOMA erased them.  The march this fall is not going to be a small affair.  It is going to happen and it is going to be significant. 

Cleve has always had an extraordinary talent to rally the grassroots.  With the release of the movie Milk, his already-significant credibility with the media and major funders, as well as his celebrity stature, has increased dramatically. 

I understand that permitting for an October 11 LGBT Equality March on the Capitol's west lawn has been assured.  Robin Tyler, David Mixner, Torie Osborn and others calling for this march are amongst our community's most accomplished and respected leaders; their political judgment and informed perspectives earned from decades of activism are not to be dismissed easily. 

I appreciate the voices of those who have passionately argued against the march.  Some of them are individuals or from organizations who have, in the past, carried a disproportionate burden for coping with what a march means for the community in the Washington area.  Their concerns mustn't be ignored.

But let's recognize that decentralized organizing for this march is underway and the march is going to happen, albeit in a much different way than marches in the past.  It will probably have more of a grassroots feeling of the 1979 march than the increasingly-corporatized "movement as a market" events we've seen in more recent years.  That's a good thing, in my view. 

I hope those who have opposed the march can find their way to embrace these realities and try, in whatever ways they can, to help make the march as successful as possible. 

We are a movement of free will; no one has to support or participate in any given endeavor.  And there will surely be further debate over the merit to an October march and it its potential for success or failure, which is as it should be.  We should celebrate the many ways in which technology has enabled our community's conversation to be broadened to allow more voices to participate. 

But I hope that discussion can take place within a constructive context, one that does not sabotage the genuine and heartfelt need to take our issues to Washington and demand equality.  One can oppose the march without seeking to impair its possibility for success.  One can support it without vilifying or thinking less of those who oppose it.

The march will raise our expectations, broaden our vision and inspire hope.  That's what every one of the national marches has achieved in the past.  But let's also make this march demonstrate our community's shared struggle with those combating racism and poverty and sexism and transphobia and HIV and all those fighting for social justice.  Let's let this march teach us all more about the moral authority and political power we gain when coalition-building is our priority rather than our problem.

Let's focus not on the quantity of people in attendance, but the quality of our message.  We can show that, to us, "special rights" means that every person is special, that our movement is special because we so broadly embrace the struggles of all who are oppressed and that we are special because without us, the broader society would be bereft of something they so desperately need. 

See you in Washington.

Sean Strub

Posted by Direland at 11:28 PM | Permalink

Comments

I hope those who have opposed the march can find their way to embrace these realities and try, in whatever ways they can, to help make the march as successful as possible.

Posted by: Buy Zenegra | Nov 17, 2009 2:33:13 PM

great post!!!
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debra

Posted by: Buy Vardenafil | Oct 16, 2009 2:17:35 PM

I was on the steering committee for the first march on Washington in 1979. The same issues were raised and the leadership of the major gay organizations were not on board. The march was a huge success!! Right on Cleve!!! Out of the blogs and into the streets!!

Posted by: Robert Starkey | Sep 15, 2009 1:46:42 PM

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