#NN11LGBT: Violent, confrontational ‘glitter’ protests should be re-thought

One of the unexpected highlights of Netroots Nation and RightOnline this weekend in Minneapolis was GetEqual’s “glittering” of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

Minneapolis resident and GetEqual activist E.B. Lang approached Bachmann after she spoke at the RightOnline conference. Once at the stage, she tossed rainbow glitter at Bachmann’s face and screamed, “You can run but you cannot hide,” and, “Keep your hate out of our Constitution!” as security escorted her out of the ballroom.

The video of the incident appeared on TheUptake, along with comments from Lang on why she undertook the protest.

Admittedly, the protest isn’t quite as dramatic as one might imagine. Yet, these “glitter” protests are outrageously personal, confrontational and aggressive. Personally, it turns me off and I don’t think it accomplishes the goal Lang and GetEqual seek.

“I’m trying to draw attention to a bigger issue, the issue of gay rights,” Lang told TheUpTake. “Basically, Michele Bachmann can run but she just can’t hide from her record of support of extremist anti-gay folks like Bradlee Dean…I think if Americans really knew what people like Bradlee Dean actually stand for they would be horrified.”

Lang is right, of course. People like Bradlee Dean — an anti-gay pastor in Minneapolis who supports extremist anti-gay and “ex-gay” positions — do horrify Americans. But Lang’s tactics are also horrifying. I imagine there are a great many average folks out there who, like me, see these glitter protests and are immediately turned off. I can’t bring myself to sympathize with any party in the interaction.

I maintain, as I have several times in the past, that the best direct actions and civil disobediences are those that are non-violent; that includes non-violence in thought, word and deed. Lang’s protest wasn’t non-violent; it was aggressive, confrontational and personal. Non-violent protest is supposed to clearly portray oppressor and the oppressed. That can’t happen when people like Lang lash out in violent ways and make themselves the focal point of anger when such emotion should rightly be placed on the oppressor. No longer clearly the oppressed, Lang is a participant in violence; no sympathy can result.

For an historical note and example, see the Greensboro sit-ins:

What the History video fails to adequately cover is the sheer level of violence directed at these sit-in protesters. In Greensboro and in cities across the South, non-violent protesters were met with fists and they just took it. They were clearly the oppressed and sympathy ensued.

I have had great respect for GetEqual and their movement toward direct action. I believe that their outspokenness during the debate over the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal helped to push media coverage and awareness. But, GetEqual’s increasingly confrontational actions worry me.

These very personal, confrontational protests — whether it be glitter-bombing or storming onto the floor of the North Carolina House of Representatives — are counter-productive and might very well backfire. Our community would do well to take a moment to pause and re-think these strategies.

7 Responses to “#NN11LGBT: Violent, confrontational ‘glitter’ protests should be re-thought”
  1. Although we should utilize lessons of the civil rights movement of previous decades, we can’t copy and paste actions. There are similarities but there are vast differences in the movement for people of color to gain civil rights, and for the LGBT population to gain civil rights. We have to use different tactics for obvious reasons.

    The oppression we face is much more institutional and political rather than widespread denial of equal services in the public sector. People of color faced both, and therefore could more easily use tactics such as the restaurant sit-ins where they knew they would be violently confronted and they could sit as the oppressed and allow the oppressor to be the one acting. It was a different set of circumstances. If the circumstances were the same, I would agree with your criticisms.

    Except for extreme examples, we aren’t banned from restaurants where “straights” eat, we aren’t banned from straight bathrooms, from straight water fountains, from straight schools, from straight churches, etc. The exteme widespread nature of the oppression people of color faced made it easier to organize actions where the violent oppressor was the one acting against the oppressed.

    To be clear: I see our oppression as extreme and widespread, but it is a different kind of extremism.

    It is my understanding that former glitterings weren’t even thrown at anyone, rather, glitter was dumped on a table in front of the “victims”. It looked as if the most recent glttering against Bachmann was glitter being thrown up in the air, not in Bachmann’s face. I do not condone throwing ANYTHING in anyone’s face.

    The oppression that is forced upon our lives, our relationships, our mental, emotional, financial, and physical well-being by anti-LGBT extremism and anti-LGBT laws is the real violence, not someone who throws glitter in the direction of a politician.

    Glittering is confrontational and it is not playing nice, but I don’t see it as violent. And it shouldn’t distract from the main goal of focusing on particular circumstances of discrimination and discriminatory laws and bringing about equality. Although I think there are better ways than glittering, I understand the idea behind it.

    (I haven’t glittered, and don’t plan to).

    Full disclosure: I organize with the North Carolina chapter of GetEQUAL.

    • Matt Comer says:

      Angel, thanks for the comment.

      I’m not saying copy and paste. And I agree that the two movements are different. But, I do think non-violence is the way to go. Glittering isn’t violent in the sense that someone is hitting someone else, but it isn’t non-violent in the strain of MLK, Gandhi and others who have utilized true non-violence. Non-violence means non-violence in thought, word and deed: throwing things at (or near) people is not non-violent. Neither is screaming. Neither is bursting onto the floor of the House.

      Again, I respect GetEqual. I just find myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with these very confrontational and aggressive tactics. I don’t like them.

    • d pi says:

      Throwing glitter, even into the air, can still result in it entering cavities of the body through inhaling it into the lungs, which cannot be good, or is blown by the air system into somone’s open eyeball. Once you think an assault, however trivial, is acceptable, you have opened the door that cannot be closed. Another person things throwing a tomato is OK. Even just dumping it on the table is an assault. You think its ok to dump glitter, then next person thinks it OK to dump dog feces, the next person a bullet… once you go down the road, even one step, can you be surprised that others go farther? NO violence only begets violence

  2. Sage says:

    I have been an LGBT and Sacred Activist for more than 30 years. I became an LGBT activist when I was 19 years old, was studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood in seminary and decided to start a gay support group in the seminary to address the huge “elephant in the living room” that continues to exist in most catholic seminaries–the significant number of gay and closeted seminarians in the seminary. I was threatened with expulsion and was intimidated by the priests and faculty. As an African American with a grandfather who had marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., I was very familiar with Kings use and understanding of non violent protest as well as Gandhi’s usage of the same. I eventually ended the support group under pressure but I made my point and a sacred activist was born.

    I specify that I am a Sacred Activist as opposed to simply being an activist, because over the years I have discovered this is an extremely important distinction. I could attempt to give a concrete definition of sacred activism steeped in intellectualism and New Age consciousness. Instead of doing that I am going to give an example of sacred activism that is relatively well known and recounts a real event that occurred in the not so distant future. I believe this will be far more beneficial and effective. This story comes from South Africa right after the end of that countries ended of apartheid and its attempt at healing from that horrible chapter in the country’s history. Again, I want to stress, this is a true story:

    A Radical Forgiveness

    After the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, a commission was established to bring the violence of apartheid to light and to give both victims and perpetrators a chance to be heard.

    The Commission brought an elderly black woman face to face with the man, a Mr. Van de Broek, who had confessed to the murders of both her only son and her husband.

    The elderly black woman stood in an emotionally charged courtroom, listening to white police officers acknowledge the atrocities they had perpetrated in the name of apartheid.

    Officer Van de Broek acknowledged his responsibility in the death of her son. Along with others, he had shot her 18-year-old son at point-blank range. He and the others partied while they burned his body, turning it over and over on the fire until it was reduced to ashes.

    Eight years later, Van de Broek and others arrived to seize her husband. A few hours later, shortly after midnight, Van de Broek came to fetch the woman. He took her to a woodpile where her husband lay bound. She was forced to watch as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed his body. The last words she heard her husband say were “Forgive them.”

    Now, Van de Broek stood before her awaiting judgment. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked her what she wanted.

    The old woman replied:

    “I want three things,” she said calmly. “I want Mr. Van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.”

    “Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van de Broek to become my son. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.”

    “Third, I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. I would kindly ask someone to lead me to where he is seated, so I can take Mr. Van de Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”

    The assistants came to help the old black woman across the courtroom. Mr. Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted. And as he did, those in the courtroom—friends, family, neighbors, all victims of decades of oppression and injustice—began to sing “Amazing Grace.” Gradually everyone joined in.

    This story is chronicled in these two books:

    Harvey, A. (2009) The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, New York: Hay House, Inc.
    Prevallet, E. (2005) Toward a Spirituality for Global Justice: A Call to Kinship. Sowers Books and Videos.

    The old woman in this story is clearly a sacred activist whether she has ever heard the term or not. So many activists are so filled with anger, self righteousness, righteous indignation and a sense of displaced entitlement that they are unable to understand the call to compassion and clarity of spirit that are called for with any true act of activism. This is the challenge that so many activists carry today.

    Matt, I am impressed that at such a young age you have somehow managed to understand your activism as not merely a stage on which you play out your anger, emotional woundedness, egoic self righteousness and hurt and project that all onto those that could be imagined to be your “enemies.” Rather, you seem to have grasped that it is primarily an opportunity to bring healing and justice to a world that needs both and to yourself at the same time. I honor your awareness.

    Finally, I want to leave a quote by Albert Einstein that I believe also applies to the issue at hand. Here it is: “You cannot solve any problem in the same state of consciousness in which it was created” – Albert Einstein

  3. Sage says:

    That story obviously comes from South Africa’s not so distant *past* rather than its not so distant “future” 🙂

    • Matt Comer says:

      Sage… Thank you for your comments, compliments and wonderful, wonderful story. I appreciate your kind words, but I don’t claim to be perfect. I certainly relapse into anger plenty of times, as I’m guessing we all do.

  4. Sage says:

    You’re welcome Matt. I enjoy your blog quite a bit.

    Believe it or not I don’t demonize anger. It is one of many emotions available to us as Human Beings. Therefore, like all other emotions, there is something we can learn from it. It is there for a reason. I too express anger. Sometimes in a very unconscious way. I look it it though to examine what is really going on within me. So for me anger, as with so many other human emotions, the issue for me is learning how to coexist with it in a way that more often reflects my level of functionality rather than my degree of dysfunctionality. Once anger becomes a default way of dealing with our own inner demons I believe the primary lesson to learn from it is to consistently look within rather than consistently projecting without. Self forgiveness is a huge part of that process as well. Some people may not ever learn how to express anger in a way that benefits them in the greatest way possible. I don’t judge such people. I simply imagine there were more important lessons in this lifetime for them to learn. Not learning the lesson however, of anger, at least to some degree, almost always leads to some form of very tangible suffering for self and others.

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