Editors' Note: Guest blogger Cleve Jones is a long-time gay rights activist devoted to AIDS awareness and education. He co-founded the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and is the leading force behind the planned march on Washington scheduled for this fall. Cleve is responding to Bilerico Project founder Bil Browning's recent concerns about the march.
On June 8, 2009, Bil Browning of Bilerico Project attacked the planned march on Washington scheduled for October 11 in a post entitled: "10 reasons why a march on Washington is a bad idea." Bil, and other critics of the march are wrong on all ten counts and here's why.
In his first paragraph, Bil references a speech I gave in Salt Lake City during Utah Pride to announce the march. The speech is posted on YouTube, but apparently Bil didn't actually view it. If he had he would have known that the march is not just about Prop. 8 or California or marriage equality, but for equal protection under the law in all matters governed by civil law, in all fifty states.
"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.
"The Mall is already reserved on October 11... Cleve and Co. have already been denied a permit for that day."
Wrong. The West Capitol lawn is available and has been reserved - by us. The DC Police, Capitol Police and the National Park Service are all cooperating with us to accommodate a crowd of any size.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"The majority of US queers still need basic protections from discrimination."
If you would take them time to review our statements and my speeches on the issue, we have only one demand: equal protection under the law, in all matters governed by civil law, in all fifty states." We reject further compromises and delays.
"Cleve's quotes are all about Prop. 8, California and same sex marriage."
Wrong. View the speech, read anything I've published since last November. It's all about full equality now. And please don't complain that the media will only focus on marriage rights when you're exacerbating the problem by misrepresenting our statements.
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.
The events of the past week have made it abundantly clear that President Obama and the Democratic leadership are turning their backs on our community and reneging on their promises. We need to march in Washington on October 11, then return to our home districts and get to work.
A few more words on the date, October 11, 2009: