Sunday, November 16, 2008

are you out there? can you hear this?

Back in the day at UA, I went to a lot of protests for a while there. I remember my first big anti-war protest and how excited I was to be surrounded by so many (approximately) like-minded people; I also remember how the enthusiasm started to be overcome by apathy and depression, by seeing the same people every time and little to no evidence that anything we were doing had any effect whatsoever. When I moved to Illinois, I was still all ready to try and carry on with my activist leanings, to find a niche and try to do something helpful and at least moderately hopeful. Unfortunately, I never found that niche, and so I just stopped. Until yesterday, I'm pretty sure it had been years since I went to a protest.
But yesterday... Amazing. I went to the Prop. 8 solidarity protest downtown, along with what I heard from other reports might have been two thousand other people. I've been to plenty of protests where a lot of people were there to push their own agendas, and that always makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. I'm not really there to have somebody talk to me about, I don't know, the Communist Party, I'm there to protest whatever's being protested. But yesterday was by far the largest rally I've ever been to where I saw a positive dearth of that. I know there was some flyering going on (but even that seemed remarkably topical), and I'm sure there were some agenda people around, but mostly it seemed like everybody was truly there to be seen and heard, to raise signs and voices and say that they believed gay people were just as awesome as straight people. The crowd was relatively diverse, and I witnessed none of the overt racial tension that I'd heard about at other marches. That's not to say that it didn't happen, or that something more subtle than outright racial slurs was going on, because that would probably not be true. There were also a number of things (like signs saying "Black is the New Gay" and a chant that went something like "Gay, straight, black, white, it's all the same fight") that seemed at the least overly simplistic and made me take a step back. But at least we were all there, which is a start. Maybe after this gay activists will get better at reaching out to other communities.

I don't have any pictures (hopefully I'll steal some from Anna later, but my batteries were dead), but here's some signs I saw:
Love is ABFAB
No More Mr/Mrs Nice Gay/Dyke
Keep Your Gospels Off My Gonads
Prop 8 Is As Bad As This Poster (on a kind of crappy-looking piece of posterboard taped to a stick)
8 is the Loneliest Number
Love is a Battlefield
I Can't Believe I'm Still Protesting This Crap

And everybody's favorite nonsense poster:
Watch Out! I'm Going to Gay Marry Your Mom!

There's no non-cheesy way to say this, so: I truly felt like my faith in people came away from this experience a little bit restored. When I got there and saw so many people, I will admit a tear came to my eye. That lasted until I got boxed in between some barricades and a group of tall, oblivious gay men, which I eventually escaped from when the police moved the barricades back to make room for the masses of people that just kept flowing into the plaza. Anna and Ellie showed up just after that and we found some friends of theirs and moved to a place where we could both see and hear the speakers. A number of people had flown in from California, including the cast of a pretty bad lesbian sitcom that Anna had just reviewed. One of these women told us that at several protests in LA the week before had involved impromptu marches and that it had felt amazing, and you could feel the crowd perk up. When the speeches ended soon after, there was a pause and then the organizers asked us to wait for a few minutes while they "decided where we were going to march to." (At this point, I penned some phone numbers on my hand. Ever since Tucson, where somebody I knew got arrested at every damn protest I went to and usually for no real reason, I've been somewhat paranoid about wrongful arrest. I'm aware that this partially had to do with the people I was around--hi Rachel!--but still. So phone numbers for an unplanned march seemed like a good idea.)
A few minutes later, we headed out. People were so excited, so it was a big letdown when we were herded onto the sidewalk as we poured out of the plaza. But a block or two later, we were suddenly in the street, crossing against traffic signals and waving our rainbow flags at the cars who were sitting stalled out at green lights watching us. There was some waving back, and some high-fiving, and a lot of staring in fascination, but that was okay. It felt so good to just be there, and despite the pain and anger that I'm sure many felt after the election we all just seemed happy to be together, to be shutting down traffic and laughing together and doing something we weren't supposed to. We walked down the middle of downtown streets for... a long time. At least a mile and a half, with no discernible destination. I guess that's what happens when the march isn't planned ahead of time, so it was cool, although there were an increasing number of jokes about either walking home or stopping at H&M as the march wore on. But we got to stop traffic on State Street, waving once again to the mobs of people outside of Macy's holiday windows, and we certainly impacted a lot of unwary folks' Saturday afternoon. I came away with a feeling of power and joy and energy that I haven't felt in a long time. The queers are still here.

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