Five Alternatives to the March on Washington

It has become one of my biggest pet peeves (and, I do have many) since beginning work at a “real world” day job. When people offer complaint, they should also offer a suggestion for improvement or a solution. Criticism is fine by me, but it should be constructive.

1979_marchVeteran activist Cleve Jones has called for a march on Washington. He says it’ll be different from what most people think of as a “march on Washington.” None of the big flashy staging. None of the celebrity and fanfare. None of the circuit parties.

“This is a march – a demonstration – not Lollapalooza,” Jones told the Washington Blade. “It’s not a national political convention. We are trying to unite around a single, all uniting, all encompassing goal of equality.”

For the record: I think a march on Washington, in this day and time, is a bad idea. Jones is planning his march for October. Veteran gay activist David Mixner has called for one in November. Marriage advocate Robin Tyler says hold off to 2010. Whatever the date, whatever the time, there are several reasons why a march remains a bad idea: the money isn’t there, the time to plan and organize isn’t there and, even if the time and money suddenly appeared, national marches don’t accomplish squat.

In the days since Jone’s call for a march has become public discussion, we’ve seen plenty of similar reasons not to plan the event. An L.A.-based LGBT journalist put together a list of five reasons not to march. An Indiana-based blogger put together a similar but more comprehensive list of 10. In a thread of 80 comments (and likely more by the time you read this), citizens of the LGBT blogosphere weighed in on the topic at Pam’s House Blend.

And while there have been ideas for better uses of time and energy, what we haven’t seen as much are constructive alternatives to the march: ideas to turn whatever passion there is for a national march into real, change-inspiring, on-the-ground, long-lasting action. My five suggestions aren’t anywhere near exhaustive, complete or perfect, but, at the least, it is a start.

Five Effective Alternatives to a March on Washington

Funding locally
Jones told the Blade that expects his march to cost less than $100,000. He told the paper that $100,000 “is not much money for us to raise.” If he can get access to that kind of cash so quickly, then aren’t there better ways to put it to use? Of course, there are.

Imagine if Jones and his fellow activists raised the dough and granted it out to five handpicked projects from highly targeted states. These grant-funded, volunteer-led and youth-empowering projects would receive $20,000 each.

Among the states chosen could be Arizona (the state that defeated one amendment, and got completely passed over by California and lost its second amendment battle) or Maine (which will face an anti-gay marriage referendum this year) or New York (which is facing a tough uphill battle for marriage) or North Carolina (still fighting for basic employment protections, safe schools protections and hate crimes) or any of an innumerable other states where local grassroots activism will make more difference than a national march ever could.

I think the results would be astounding. I think we’d see other organizations rally to the cause of these grant-funded projects. And, I think we’d see positive, progressive change.

Acting locally
An individual traveling to Washington, D.C., would spend at least $500 or more getting there, staying there, eating there and leaving there. Some, like those living west of the Mississippi, could end up spending close to $1,000 or more. Imagine five organizers of a grassroots group spending that kind of cash traveling to D.C. just to feel empowered. What could they accomplish by each putting $500 in a pot toward funds for an effective outreach, direct action or other local political campaign. When we’re talking about cities the size of one million or less, $25,000 can make a huge impact.

Lobbying locally
One of the biggest holes in Jones’ march idea is that it will take place during a congressional vacation. None of our nation’s leaders, save possibly the president, will be in Washington, D.C., to see the march. And, even if they were in D.C. at the time they probably wouldn’t care. Marches on Washington, D.C., come and go about every week. Most marches, if not close to all of them, happen without pomp or circumstance, without media coverage or serious political consideration.

Jones says his march will be create a national movement. The Blade reports:

Jones said he envisions the march starting as grassroots activity in all 435 congressional districts. He said lobbying would “begin immediately” and organizers would identify new leaders in each of these districts.

“Then we want to come to Washington, we want to march and make it clear to the president that we expect more – to make it clear to the Democratic leadership that we expect more,” he said.

Jones said he’s not looking for sheer numbers in event participants, but instead is hoping for participants from all 435 congressional districts.

After the march, Jones said participants would return home “and get to work and build their army of precinct walkers, canvassers, [and] phone bankers.”

People will travel to D.C. to be inspired and empowered and return home to work locally? That’s all that wad of cash is going to buy? Jones could bypass the expense of his donors and the march participants by taking his empowerment approach down to a local level: Partnering with statewide equality groups, Jones could spend half as much money by holding trainings over the internet and then dispatch local grassroots activists to lobby for the issues that impact them locally and statewide.

Direct Action
In the 1987 National March on Washington, approximately 800 people were arrested in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the largest direct action on LGBT equality in history.

There’s a reason why people use direct action: It works. Imagine if that $100,000 (hell, let’s add in all that money folks would have spent getting to D.C.) were spent on organizing a massive direct action campaign coast-to-coast.

There’s only one LGBT organization I know that’s done anything similar. Remember how much press the 2006 Soulforce Right to Serve Campaign on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” got? It was phenomenal. It was truly national. Now, multiply that by five, ten or fifteen. Imagine the local, statewide and national responses if five, ten, a dozen or two dozen people in 50 cities across the nation were arrested on the same day, for the same common, message-synced cause. That would create empowerment, action, discussion and, yes, that would create change.

Working in the digital age, funding for the future
What was true in 1979, 1987, 1993 and even 2000, is not true today. The entire landscape of political and grassroots organizing has changed, so much so that a political operative alive and working in 1979 but dead before the advent of the internet would never recognize it — much less be able to work in and with it — if he or she were to come back to life today.

“Grassroots” is just that: from the ground up. A national march on Washington hardly constitutes “grassroots” anymore. With the instant access to all things LGBT, people no longer need to travel to D.C. to get their activism and empowerment kick from national leaders and a national community. They can do it from home, at their desks in the dorm or at the office.

Imagine three bloggers, chosen from strategic states or areas of the country, fully funded with a small salary and travel/expense budget. Imagine that bloggers like Pam Spaulding have the time and resources to spend on daily blogging and reporting of our issues in local and statewide arenas. In only one day, the shear amount of information and knowledge shared and people empowered across these three fully-fledged blogger-news-media operations would far outnumber even the best of turnouts for a national march on Washington.

CORRECTION: The original text of this post stated that Rex Wockner had called for a national march in November. That person is actually David Mixner. My apologies for the mistake.

19 Responses to “Five Alternatives to the March on Washington”
  1. Wolf says:

    You do realize that the point of the March is to ratchet things up on a FEDERAL Level.

    This whole “Local” and “Issue by Issue” game we are playing will take another 40 years before everystate in America is won. If even then.

    This MOW hatey is akin to the Civil Rights March of 1965. It should be considered a show of numnbers and solidarity. This whole hatey and sniping thing about the MOW is just stupid and counter productive. If you want to go then go. Uf not well then don’t but don’t attack it.

    No one is BEGGING you to be there. You do have a choice

  2. Matt says:

    “You do realize that the point of the March is to ratchet things up on a FEDERAL Level.”

    Then ratchet it up on days when members of Congress are actually there, when folks actually have the opportunity to speak to them after they’ve spent hundreds, if not a thousand or more, dollars traveling to D.C.

    Success is coming at the state level. That’s the nature of our movement this decade. Success at the state level is coming faster than ever, and definitely faster than at the federal level. We should invest our resources where they will make the most impact and that’s not at the federal level.

    “This whole “Local” and “Issue by Issue” game we are playing will take another 40 years before everystate in America is won. If even then.”

    Every state won’t have to be won before equality is achieved nationwide. Inevitably, there will come a tipping point at which enough states have granted employment protections, safe schools protections and marriage equality that the federal government then intervenes and creates a level playing field across the board.

    “This whole hatey and sniping thing about the MOW is just stupid and counter productive.”

    My post was far from “hatey” and “sniping.” It was well thought out and reasoned, far more so than many of the blogosphere’s rantings on the subject. Want a discussion, you’re more than welcome to stay, but it seems you’re the one that is being snippy, not me.

  3. RaleighRob says:

    I agree with most of what you say here. We’ve been pushing for stuff on the federal level (like ENDA) since I was too young to know what “gay” is. It’s not working. Focusing on local makes more sense. Let the activists in California or New York work on marriage…that’s great. In NC, we need much more basic improvements.

  4. Mark Boston says:

    Great points. Here’s a similar view I came across….with alternatives for the money

  5. Oskar says:

    I think if you don’t have the resources to travel stay home have yourself a party an have friends over and discuss that what its all about. Contact your local chapter etc and let them know what you’re doing etc. But if you want to come down an party in DC come on down. We’ll be happy to have you even host ya. Thats what pride its all about.

  6. Matt says:

    Oskar… “come down an party in DC” That’s precisely what a national march will turn into: Circuit parties.

  7. Tom Lang says:

    But you also have to understand the passion of activists who would want to march–there is a benefit to that. I personally think that Gay Pride Parades need to be political (again) and carry our message. And every LGBT person whose town has a 4th of July Parade etc, needs to have a presence there. Activism is constant or at least it should be.

  8. Matt says:

    Tom, I completely agree: Activism does need to be a constant, but it should never be a waste.

    I think protests and/or demonstrations on July 4th are a fabulous idea, bringing attention to the fact that while we are collectively celebrating our independence and freedom, not all Americans have yet been able to benefit from the dream laid down at our nation’s founding.

  9. Lonnie says:

    Every single one of these proposals is already being implemented. It sounds like the author doesn’t know this. He should get involved in some of the local activities and organizations already existing. The point is that these things have already been done for the last 30 years and there’s been very little significant progress at the national level. He says “For the record: I think a march on Washington, in this day and time, is a bad idea.” When is a good time to march? Never? The point is we haven’t had a national march in almost 17 years. People told MLK that a march on Washington was a bad idea. And guess what? They were wrong. The March forced Kennedy to recognize the civil rights movement and finally pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It’s time to ignore the right wing/conservative leadership who tell us to patiently wait for politicians to grant us our rights. It’s time to stand up and fight for our rights. As the civil rights activist John Lewis wrote “We must say that patience is a dirty and nasty word. We do not want our freedom gradually. We want our freedom NOW!”

  10. Matt says:

    Lonnie… If you think I’m a part of some “right wing/conservative leadership” that wants to gain freedom gradually, then you certainly have never, not even once, spent any significant time researching who I am, reading this blog or following the things I have done (mostly on a local level).

    Kind of shameful for someone who is trying to take someone to task for not knowing something, huh?

    But that’s besides the point. This post and these proposals were directly related to better uses of Cleve Jones’ donors’ $100,000. I never said things like these weren’t in the works, and if they are, then great. We should add $100,000 to their budgets.

    And note… it has only been nine years since our last national march on Washington (and that one was just as controversial as the present idea and ended disastrously). It sounds like the author doesn’t know this.

  11. GrrrlRomeo says:

    We have a Democratic President, and a Democratic House and Senate. This is not something that happens that often. That is why the time is NOW to lobby and petition the Federal.

    This March is going to happen because enough people want it to whether bloggers want it or not. Please stop trying to make it fail. Please? Some people do feel like they need this. Please let us do what we feel we need to do. Do I have to beg? I mean…if this is what some of us feel passionate about…this particular action, if you try to stomp it out it’ll break some people’s spirit and they won’t want to be involved anymore. You can suggest alternatives out your ears, but it won’t change that a march on Washington is what some of us have a heart set on. So…I’m begging, if you don’t agree with it, then just let those of us who want to do it instead of trying to discourage participation.

  12. Matt says:

    GrrlRomeo said, “We have a Democratic President, and a Democratic House and Senate. This is not something that happens that often. That is why the time is NOW to lobby and petition the Federal.”

    Then you should march on a day when our national leaders will actually be at work, and not on vacation, so that you can have the chance to lobby and petition them. Right?

  13. dave says:

    Matt, I am with you 100 percent on the state issue. As a person of the right I value the states as being test beds of sorts for democratic and social change. Dick Cheney is right about the states and marriage.

  14. dave says:

    Oh tell Lonnie or whatever that im the token ‘right winger’ he/she can beat up on.

  15. sickntired says:

    ANOTHER damn march in which nothing will get done, except of spending a shit load of money, Congress will be on vacation,, wow what an impact..NOT.. this is why we can’t get ahead..

  16. John says:

    I agree whole heartedly with what you say. The MOW is a done deal though. Money is tight everywhere, and I can’t imagine a large turnout during these difficult economic times. And another thing about the MOW, it is still not clear (seems doubtful) that there will be any kind of “march,” (parade)but rather just a large meeting along the mall.

    And nobody told me about “circuit parties” at previous marches! Is that even true? I don’t think so.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] LGBT organizations, activists, bloggers and others initially rejected the idea. In June, I offered five alternatives to the Jones-Mixner march. In October, the national march was held and about 250,000 LGBT and straight ally folks traveled to […]

  2. […] I have nothing further to add to the discussion than what I’d already discussed as a response to 2009′s National Equality March. If you care, you can read those “Five Alternatives to the March on Washington” here… […]

  3. […] desires to organize another national LGBT march on Washington, this time in 2012. I pointed to the five alternatives I suggested when activists in San Francisco called for a similar march in 2009, ultimately leading to the National Equality March in October of that […]

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