Editors' Note: Guest blogger Zack Rosen is a Leo who is losing his hair. He attended Netroots Nation on a Freedom To Marry scholarship. He blogs at The New Gay.
Nothing looks more democratic than Las Vegas from the 36th floor of the Rio Grande Hotel. A whole city of lights, bustling, in perfect little squares of houses and commerce, all given an equal plot of land in the city where anyone, as the legend goes, can win a million bucks from a quarter or get a blowjob from someone they might or might not be paying. It was a great fantasy from the window of my hotel room in the midst of last weeks NetRoots Nation conference. We are all equal, and we all count. Unfortunately, the view of the city looks way different from the street. It’s dominated, depending on where you look, by a smattering of buildings so tall that you can barely see the sky.
Wednesday, in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building, I was arrested for something I believe in. I complain a lot, and criticize, but rarely have I felt so close to creating the actual change that I think is needed in our queer universe. It’s hard to put yourself on the line like that. I was only assured that it was worth it, worth the temporary loss of freedom, the spectacle of being shackled in front of the whole word, because I approached the issue (with the help of fearless activist group Get Equal) on my own terms. I am tired of waiting, tired of being polite, and tired of being stymied by an overly organized system every time I try to make a difference.
The greatest resource we have in the queer community is queer people. Not organizations, not cabals or clatches or back rooms filled with cigar smoke and a fine mist of Skyy Vodka. People. Us. When I went to NetRoots Nation last week, a high profile convergence of bloggers, organizations and activists, I came out feeling like I was nothing. Not affiliated with an orgs, not in the accepted camp of approved activists, and certainly not one of the 6 or 7 bloggers elected to decide what the rest of us should care about. The LGBT meetings I went to confirmed something I had long suspected: Gay Inc has galvanized not just our culture, but our movement. Instead of empowering individuals to attack the things that matter most to us, and make a difference one small act at a time, a consensus had developed that there is a right way to go about things, a right hierarchy of what issues matter, and when.
We are headed to a paradoxical truth, one that flies in the face of the most basic lessons learned since kindergarten. I fear that very soon, the individuals that comprise the queer community are going to be stronger on their own than they are together.
I say this because the system I saw set up at NetRoots seemed designed to punish those that act on their own without approval from the homos-that-be. Instead of debating the best ways to address our own causes, beat our own daily injustices, so much of the debate came down to why a given issue matters more than another. Everyone put your dicks and clits on the table and measure. Biggest one gets to change the world. ENDA. DADT. Marriage Equality. Immigration. each one of these is equally important, because each one is a patchwork in the great straight quilt that keeps us from getting out of bed. There is room for all of them. If you tackle religion, or domestic violence, or culture, or anything, it should be just as important because A) you care about it and B) your resources will be better served toward something you care about, and know about, then they are towards someone else’s cause.
It made me sad to see even our best and brightest so attacked for how they chose to alter the world about them. Mike Rogers' rallying ability, Pam Spaulding’s inimitable voice, Michael Crawford's tireless quest toward marriage equality. Nothing else should matter when a person has dedicated themselves to what they believe in. Instead, I saw all these people spend as much time defending themselves as they did empowering the people around them.
And when that happens, you miss the bottom half. If Bloggers are intermediaries between the people and the power, you can either influence up, at the power, or influence down and get more regular folks to believe that what they do, no matter how small, can make a difference. And if you were like me, unfamiliar with the menagerie of acronyms and political names peppered into regular speech, you would feel that the train has already passed you by. The system is just that, a system. Working tirelessly within it makes as much sense as standing in a rain storm to stay dry.
Everyone has their place. That’s what makes us people. The insider insight of HRC would be of no value without the balls-out civil disobedience of Get Equal, and vice versa. I have never seen a group of like-minded people so split on between two equally valuable poles. We are lucky enough, in a way, to live in a time when our political workings have some structure. But when your erector set becomes handcuffs its time to rethink. Queer people, queer activists: Do you want to change your own little corner of the sky, or ensure that everyone with you on the ground has a chance to flex their muscles?
Think about it. In the meantime, I’m done letting others tell me what’ right for me.