In recent weeks, the gay and lesbian community has been in a serious and, at times, contentious debate about the wisdom of holding a March on Washington this October.
The concerns range from there isn't enough time to organize any type of event that would garner national attention to the rationale of spending limited resources when they could be used in targeted states to the fact that Congress is out of session that weekend.
Event proponents, meanwhile, say the power of social networking can bring people together in one place, there should be no delay in fighting for equal rights, and it only costs about $300 to fly from the west coast to D.C.
What nearly everyone does agree on is that if the "event" goes forward, the most optimistic projections of people who will attend will number in the tens of thousands - if that. And if less than that show up on the west side of the Capitol, the gay and lesbian movement will look disorganized and weak.
It is time to alter course, and - while we still have it - it is time to stitch together a "Queer Quilt Across America" - not just one on the west side of an empty U.S. Capitol Building.
A little context is in order here. Anyone who knows their gay history or has seen the movie Milk (about the life and times of gay icon Harvey Milk) will know who Cleve Jones is. He worked right alongside Milk as he became the first openly gay elected official in California. Jones also conceived of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
At a small rally in Utah on June 8th, Jones declared (almost unilaterally) plans to organize a national March on Washington. An article from the Boston Globe will provide some context to the Salt Lake City rally:
An activist who worked alongside slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk announced plans yesterday for a march on Washington this fall to demand that Congress establish equality and marriage rights for the lesbian, gay, and transgender community.
Cleve Jones said the march planned for Oct. 11 will coincide with National Coming Out Day and launch a new chapter in the gay rights movement. He made the announcement during a rally at the annual Utah Pride Festival.
The call for a LGBTQ "March on Washington" drew nearly instant criticism from gay rights groups, activists and bloggers.
The founder of The Bilerico Project, Bil Browning, listed 10 reasons a march was a bad idea, including several I mentioned, as well as these two:
4. None of this has been coordinated with anyone other than a small circle of people. None of the large organizations have been consulted - although that's not necessarily a bad thing if you've got the grassroots behind you. A small circle of people is not the grassroots though; it's just a different cadre of wanna-be movers and shakers.
6. A march on Washington will not bring marriage equality to flyover country. It will help to prod conservatives to rally and focus energy and money into states like Maine (that could repeal marriage) or Indiana (where we've successfully fought off an amendment every year for almost a decade). In their zeal to bring marriage back to California, the coastal queers are willing to sacrifice us on the alter of domesticity.
Pam Spaulding, of Pam's House Blend, had this to say about the idea:
It is not the time for a march, IMHO. People who would scrape up the time, energy and enthusiasm to get to DC to march should at the very least be able have the opportunity to learn how to lobby elected senators and reps, since we all know people love to turn out to demonstrate en masse, but rarely show up to speak with lawmakers with the same enthusiasm. Also, direct contact with lawmakers is something the right wing far surpasses us at in terms of effectiveness -- this has to be the goal of any effort of the scope of a national march.
Give people tools they can use back home at the state level, not just provide an offline social networking opportunity to hear feel-good speeches in the equivalent of an echo chamber. Stonewall 2.0 grassroots efforts like the initial Join the Impact rallies showed us that we have to take advantage of online direct action to spur targeted offline action. And it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.
In a blog posting of his own on Bilerico, Jones defended the idea of a march, saying there was time to organize the march and there was "a large and growing network of grassroots activists from throughout the country is coordinating the march."
The October 11 march and rally in Washington, DC, offer our community a powerful opportunity to protest the lack of action from President Obama and the Congress. It's an important way to express our anger while building the foundation for a nationwide grassroots movement to change votes in Congress. The organizers are all volunteers, operating with a stripped down, barebones budget and committed to doing the hard, often tedious work of organizing in all 435 Congressional districts.
There you have it - at least the history of the idea of a March on Washington. So far, however, most of the major national gay and lesbian groups have been standing on the sidelines - waiting and wondering.
Some have called for renaming the event to lessen the public relations fallout from a small band of disorganized protesters yelling at an empty building, but one thing is clear: You don't "gather" or have a Woodstock-style "event" on the National Mall - you March. That's a rather well-established fact - unless you are attending the Smithsonian's annual kite-flying festival.
Holding a rally on the west side of the Capitol is a well-intentioned, but highly ineffective, idea - Especially when Congress is out of session, there is no lobbying involved, and there is no clear agenda.
Many have suggested smaller, targeted rallies in all 50 states - and the District of Columbia. Now that's more than simply an idea, that's real grassroots action - and the media coverage would multiply by a factor of at least 50.
It's not just time to "re-brand" the ***idea*** of a March on Washington this October, it is time to nix "it" entirely.
And it's time, in its place, to stitch together a "Queer Quilt Across America" for National Coming Out Day in October. Rallies and marches included.