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.
Veteran 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
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.
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.
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.
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.