In June, veteran Lesbian rights activist Robin Tyler issued a call for an April 2008 Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans march on Washington. The defeats our community has suffered on both national and local levels over the past year have made grassroots activism an urgent necessity. In response to Tyler's call, people in over 50 cities volunteered to help coordinate organizing in their areas. We invite others to join as well.
WHY THE 2008 MARCH?
Robin Tyler Responds to 13 Veteran Activists
On both local and national levels, the LGBT community has become the ultimate scapegoat. Because we are losing ground that we never actually had, we owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to take the struggle to the streets. We do not have one civil right on a federal level. We are treated like we are not citizens in this country, and we need to get as angry, as committed, and as passionate as we did around the AIDS crisis. We are not fighting for our lifestyles, we are in this climate, fighting for our lives.
First of all, let me thank veteran activists for your thoughts and concerns. It is my hope that the discussion about the March will take place in ever growing larger leadership circles. In this time of crisis, we all need to come together, with a single goal. A March demanding full citizenship for LGBT people in this country.
Although a call to March was seen by some as a "proposal," the hundreds of responses we have received, especially by youth and by people in the "Red States" have propelled this call into a reality. We not only must march, we absolutely will march.
This morning I received an email which read, "I am a 21 year old gay male student in Pennsylvania, and I am totally psyched about a march in 2008, and I know about 50 of my friends that would be to."
The activists who agreed with supporting a March, had many of the same thoughts we did:
"The time is right. Things are getting so frightening on so many levels, that we have to do something."
"Even march opponents agreed that catalyzing a movement that was activist in nature, seemed critically important at this juncture."
One activist who said "I am feeling frustrated and angry about the right wing agenda and gains in regards to our Civil Rights, it is time to hit the streets, not just in Washington, but in the Capital of every state, and the meetings of every national organization, and the gatherings of every religious event and the campuses of every educational institution. We must mobilize and strategize. We must sustain our activism, or we are doomed."
These words reflect our feelings, and the intense feelings of the majority of the people who wrote to us. Many have not been activists before, but all are feeling frustrated, angry, at times scared, and wanting to mobilize, on a rural, city, state and then national level.
Two respondents specifically mentioned "that we seem to be in a political moment, crying out for mass response and that the earlier LGBT marches on Washington did not seem to emerge from such a ripe and urgent moment." Although I agree that this climate has produced a ripe and urgent moment, let me respectfully differ about the earlier marches. The 1979 March came out of two things. My original call, was as a response to losing legislation in Minnesota. Anita Bryant had mobilized us in previous years, and the assassination of Harvey Milk, was the catalyst that finally brought us together to work on that first march.
The second March, Oct. 11, 1987, had many demands, but the lack of government response to the AIDS crisis made it a life and death situation. It is interesting that while that march at that time, was the largest civil rights march in American history, neither Time nor Newsweek covered it, saying they did not know it was happening.
The third March, in 1993, had one great by-product. For the first time, CSPAN broadcast the main stage on television, so that we could reach the millions who could not come to this March.
Where, I believed, we erred badly in this March, was that the march acquiesced to the promises of the Democratic Party. At the time, I was a major supporter of Bill Clinton, whom our community felt would be a great friend and ally. He was supposed to speak at that March. Then, for security reasons, he was supposed to send a video tape. In the end he just sent a short typed greeting. One week before, Clinton's Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, used the pages of the New York Times to float the idea of segregating gays in the military. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was then introduced by the Democrats in Congress, led by Representative Barney Frank. Subsequently, Clinton also signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law .
Marriage may be the hot button issue of the day. However, as important as the 1,334 rights which come with it are to many couples within our community, there is something much more at stake with this or any other aspect of our legal equality. It is a question of whether or not we will become citizens in this country. The billion dollar fundamentalist hate industry has propelled this issue into the central one because it resonated with their constituents. It gave them the ammunition to continue organizing, and discriminating, by using a civil contract called marriage, as a religious sword. Their bottom line is that they will not be compelled to honor any of our legal rights, as they see us as diseased.
We fully agree with the veteran activist who said, "This march should create an idea in the mind of America, that we are full citizens and that civil rights are truly indivisible. This should make it clear that in the phrase 'liberty and justice for all' includes LGBT people."
We need a mass mobilization. We need to support and energize those who have been devastated by the recently passed, anti-gay, state constitutional amendments. We need to mentor youth, and encourage leadership. To get back to the best grassroots traditions of our community, and other communities, we intend to make the 2008 march, not just a stand-alone, "flash in the pan" event, inspiring for one day but leaving no impact. Beginning in 2006, focusing on the "red" states, we will begin a series of local organizing meetings for the March. The goal is to spur local organizing among different community organizations and individuals, with local and state marches or other sorts of public events, in 2007. As our community's 1979 and 1987 Marches demonstrated, a national march can serve as a tremendous boon to both local and national LGBT organizing projects and creating new ones where needed.
As important as large community mobilizations are for changing public opinion, if they are not combined with a savvy political strategy, the legislative result may be nil. We must use 2008, the year of the next presidential election, to articulate our bottom line. We will support only those, regardless of party affiliation, who support total equality for our community. We will use the weekend of the March for teach-ins, networking, and truly creating an activist base.
One activist said, "If some of us feel that we must gather together in Washington, DC for some kind of show of strength, or show of selves, or show of determination not to be erased, then let it be a call to conscience that goes out, not to our communities, but to our families, and our allies. Let it be a Vietnam War Moratorium style-gathering, with teach-ins and graphic demonstrations of the great costs of 'homo-hate.' Let it be a place of inspiring speech that comes from our preachers, our rabbis, our leaders of faith who say 'enough.' It is time for this relentless war on queer people to stop. It is time for the gassing of our own family members to stop. It is time for people of faith and conscience and wholeness to stand with those communities now under terrible siege."
Thank you for being so eloquent. We totally agree. Let us do that!
I would like to end by quoting Jeanne Cordova, a veteran activist, who says,
"Why march now?
"Because there is fear in the land! Because gay people's values and way of life is at stake.. Because gays are the scapegoat of 21st Century politics, and we march now, because if we don't we may not be allowed to march later. Because, we have the most to lose.
"We march to show Washington that freedom begins at home. And we are not free. We march to tell our neighbors that we are Americans, but we are not free.
"We march now because we are caught in the cross hairs of an age that is polarized between black and white, right and left, and we are the champions of diversity. Because we are everywhere, we live in the blue states and we live in the red states, and we love the color purple, which is the color created when you combine blue and red.
"We march now to say, as the British have said to their terrorists, "We are not afraid! We will not be sent back into the darkness. We will claim our equality as citizens of the land of the free and the brave."
Let us continue this dialogue.
Robin Tyler initiated the calls for the 1979 and 2000 Marches on Washington. She produced the main stages for the 1979, 1987 and 1993 marches. For those interested in helping to begin organizing the 2008 march, please contact email@example.com