Robin Tyler and ‘trickle down’ activism

Marching toward an empty building: "The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass," Rep. Barney Frank told The AP in 2009.

Yesterday evening I posted briefly about activist Robin Tyler’s 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 year.

I have a few more thoughts to add…

Back in 2006 (0r sometime around then, I’m not entirely sure), Robin Tyler ramped up efforts to organize a national march in 2008. (On a side note: What’s up with organizing these things in huge election years?) I was recruited to start building support for the march in the Greensboro/Triad area of North Carolina. I started a little website, tried to get others involved in the planning processes, spoke to student groups and community members and… the idea went no where. No one I knew then was interested in helping to organize a national march when there was so much work to do on the ground in their schools, communities and in our own home state. The time, money and other resources spent on getting people to Washington, D.C., for a one-day, feel-good, accomplish-nothing rally was better spent organizing locally, lobbying locally and creating change locally.

It’s been nearly a year-and-a-half now since the 2009 National Equality March, and despite big promises of after-march action in all 435 congressional districts across the nation, march organizers (many of whom are now involved in GetEqual) have done nothing to move their mobilized hundreds of thousands toward that goal. Small GetEqual chapters have started up here and there, but nothing has come close to the master plan march organizers had in mind.

Similarly, no one so far has pointed out any single direct benefit gained from any of our community’s past national marches on Washington. I’m willing to listen and weigh the evidence, but as it stands I know of no victories, successes or changes that came as a direct result of encouraging thousands or even hundreds of thousands to blow hundreds or thousands of dollars in traveling for to the national mall for one day’s worth of chanting and holding signs.

Yet, according to the Washington Blade, Robin Tyler is pushing that same old, tired meme that bringing thousands to D.C. will somehow create massive waves of change across the country:

Tyler said the process of organizing a national march would trigger more activity in the states than what is currently taking place under the leadership of both state and national LGBT groups.

“[L]arge national marches on Washington, which take over a year to do on that scale, produce activists and activity from every state,” she said.

National marches do create activists and activity in every state, but the activity is focused on getting people to Washington and money raised for the event. Never in any significant way is the activity focused on creating change at home. This “trickle down” theory to activism is just as flawed as Reaganomics.

National marches on Washington are not effective. They are not effective at creating change in the Capitol. They are not effective at creating change in the states. They certainly aren’t effective at creating change in the thousands of small cities and towns scattered across our country.

If activists like Robin Tyler are truly interested in creating change in this nation, then they would seriously consider giving more support to equality initiatives focused on the state and local levels. Our movement has made significant progress at state and local levels and we stand to make more, if given the resources that is. If you want to have a national gathering, try going to a Creating Change conference. There you’ll at least learn something, meet new and valuable friends and allies and have the real resources to start doing the work of equality at home.

But if education and true motivation to create change is not want you’re really after, then go ahead and plan a national march on Washington. You’ll just spend a day walking and marching and chanting and holding signs. When you go home, you’ll feel really, really good. But you’ll have exactly the same amount of resources you left home with: zero.

(Photo credit: J. Morton Scott, via flickr.)

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.

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