Shadowproof

Why a March in D.C.?

I know there have been many posts on the blogosphere about this march on Washington organized by Cleve Jones of Project AIDS Memorial Quilt including criticisms from Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project and Pam Spaulding of Pam's Houseblend, but I think it's worth continued discussion and criticism.  

First, let's look at the economy!  This is the WRONG time to consolidate our money and resources into one basket, or rather, one region and/or one event, similar to our handling of Proposition 8 in California.

More importantly, I for one am tired of following another white organizer or predominantly white/middle class-run organization.  The invisibility of minorities during the Anti-Prop 8 organizing and, more specifically the television campaigns and outreach were incredibly offensive.  Minorities and people of color have been directly and indirectly left out of most advocacy and organizing circles so for those who are offended, get over it because that's what we had to do.

Now, looking over Jone's rebuttal article on Bilerico, there are numerous instances where he contradicts himself while trying to justify the supposed need for a march on Washington.  Thankfully he makes this easy for us to see by outlining the challenges made by Browning along with his own rebuttals (which I italicized for further readability). 

“Point 1:
'Planning a march on Washington isn't something you can throw together in five months.'

Wrong. We've learned from Join the Impact, Meet in the Middle and others that large and powerful events can be organized with lightening speed.”

Okay, he's right, JTI did organize events, some even large, though all were organized by locals and none involved one big national event or a march on D.C.  Meet in the Middle is based solely in California, so there's no need to say anything more on that.  All Jones has proven is how easy it is for states and other localities to organize their own events that were, at times, coordinated across the nation. It doesn't mean a national march on Washington can be planned in a short amount of time, nor that it should be.

“Point 3:
'Congress isn't in session on October 11th, what's the point when participants can't lobby?'

Wrong. The most effective form of citizen lobbying occurs at home, in local districts, when people who live and work and vote in that district engage their representatives in long term dialogue. That's why we're building this march in all 435 Congressional districts.”

I think Jones explains this perfectly when he says, “The most effective form of citizen lobbying occurs at home, in local districts,…”  So how exactly does this support having a march on Washington?  Yeah, it doesn't.  Our best bet is to focus our work at home, targeting local government, or state government or the offices of federal congress members located in our home states, but organizing one huge event in D.C., targeting Congress when it's not in session does not sound like a well thought out plan.

“Point 4:
'None of the large organizations have been consulted…its just a small circle of people.'

Wrong. A large and growing network of grassroots activists from throughout the country is coordinating the march. Perhaps Bil believes that we should have achieved a consensus from all the leaders and organizations before calling for the march. A consensus in our community? Get real. What we are offering is a clear unifying demand, a philosophy and a strategy. Individuals are free to support it, criticize it or ignore it as they choose.”

I'm sorry, but if you're trying to convince us that, “A large and growing network of grassroots activists from throughout the country is coordinating the march,” don't just make the claim and leave it at that.  It seems Jones expects us to take his word on this, but after the Prop 8 debacle this is no longer an option.  We should know who is involved so we know whether to take his event seriously.  Unsubstantiated claims are not going to cut it anymore.  We want proof and confirmation, not rhetoric.  That means proof of the people and organizations involved, proof there is outreach to the grassroots and, most importantly, proof that minorities and/or people of color are being contacted, heard, and included in the process.  We want to know that a well thought out plan is in place.

“Point 5:
'A do-nothing march on Washington is a tactical mistake.'

Well, of course, a do-nothing march would be a total waste of time. This march is an organizing vehicle to create a national grassroots movement to change votes in Congress. That's the purpose.”

People and organizations have tried over and over again to motivate us, the grassroots, by telling us that we HAVE to follow them.  Why won't they come to us and find out what we, the grassroots, need or want to do?  Why are we always being told to go to them?  This has been the historical and continued mindset of large organizations and persons in power and it doesn't get us anywhere. If Jones is serious about developing a grassroots network he needs to start by getting in contact with the grassroots.  That means contact regional, state and local groups.  He needs to talk to activists on the ground, organizations on the ground, ask them what they're working on, what their needs are, and how those with power and resources can help others without. 

“Point 6:
'A march on Washington will not bring marriage equality to the flyover states… the coastal queers are willing to sacrifice us on the alter of domesticity.'

Wrong. In fact, only federal action will bring full equality to all of our people in all fifty states. The march and other actions that focus on Federal intervention are urgently required. And could we please stop using strategies and rhetoric that divide us by state or region? The 14th Amendment of the Constitution is supposed to protect us all.”

Speaking of divisive rhetoric, there is never ONLY one way to get something done.  While he doesn't directly say his march is the only way for federal action, he certainly does imply it   So sorry Jones, but I'm just not buying it.  Besides, I can't think of a more divisive strategy than consolidating our resources into one district and/or event.  What do stockbrokers tell investors?  Diversify! Diversify! Diversify!  The same goes with our resources in advocacy work.  Don't put all your eggs into one basket.

“Point 7:
'California is not the end-all-be-all of queer America.'

Agreed. But wrong, again, if you think that's what we believe. Read what we are actually saying, it's clear that this march is not about California or any other single state. It's about all of us. And it's about building queer political power to win equality, combat homophobia and fight for HIV/AIDS funding.”

That bit sounds great on a mission statement, but in my experience, when you try to organize a protest, it's always important to have tangible goals and, more importantly, a tangible target.  I think the best example of this was the WTO protest in Seattle.  Not only did they have detailed goals, but their target was very tangible, a meeting of leaders from across the world to discuss global economics.  Sure, Congress is tangible, but which sounds better? Targeting congress and the white house in D.C. or, let's say, targeting the DOJ on the same day of talks with LGBT advocates and defenders concerning challenges to DOMA.  Hell, as was pointed out earlier, Congress won't even be in session the day of the event.

“Point 8:
'Not too many of us can afford to take a vacation to DC.'

Yes, times are hard, but if you want to wait until the economy improves before we push for equality you may be waiting a long time. We're organizing frugally, not planning a 3-day multimedia extravaganza. Roundtrip airfare from the West Coast is available now online for less than $300. Millions of equality advocates live within a few hours drive or train trip of DC. The march is going to be huge. While many will not be able to attend, they can hold support rallies in their hometowns or engage in other actions to support our goal.”

Whoa, hold on a second!  “The March is going to be huge.  While many will not be able to attend…”  I'm sorry, but how will this march be huge if many won't be able to attend?  Jones tries to work around this contradiction by emphasizing early on about millions of advocates living within a few hours drive, but does anyone else feel as if he's writing off those who can't afford to go? 

If you're talking about organizing the grassroots, but are flippant about those who can't attend the event, well…then you're not really organizing the grassroots.  Part of working with the grassroots includes being attentive to their financial constraints.  It's nice to know that he has enough money to throw away on a trip to D.C., but $300 would be hell of a lot of money for me and I'm sure many others to spend, plus there is lodging, food, and transportation within D.C.  It's not like there'll be churches or networks of free housing available for people to spend the nights like they did in the civil rights movement or during the global justice movement.

I'd like to note that Jones does offer up a website for the march, but instead of offering us detailed information about the event it simply has a sign-up sheet and personal accounts meant to tug at our heart and wallets rather than our brains.  Also, I am always skeptical of organizations and websites that avoid concrete details about their organizations, or even the people behind them, something that takes no time at all to write-up.

Those were the main points that caught my eye.  While this may not be an election year, there are numerous state issues coming up, including referendums in both Washington State and Maine and I'm sure there are other state and local issues that I don't even know about.  That along with limited resources suggests to me that we need to focus on local actions rather than one big action in D.C., especially if our goals are to develop the grassroots, people who live everywhere, not just in D.C. or the coastal regions.

Furthermore, It's time for persons and organizations in power to start coming to us, the grassroots, to discuss our needs and goals rather than telling us to go to them, something Jones clearly forgot when he came up with this idea to march on Washington.
 

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