|Because this hasn't been as much talked about in non-LGBT progressive circles, let me provide a little background. The National Equality March, scheduled for October 11th, was announced on June 7th when Cleve Jones, a collaborator of Harvey Milk's and the founder of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt said in Salt Lake City he would be having a march in just four months' time. I traffic a lot in LGBT politics, and at the time, the response was nearly universally negative, with the exception of David Mixner. I won't go through them one by one, but instead you can check out my friends and colleagues Bil Browning and Pam Spaulding's posts, who make important points, and summed it up as a pretty horrible idea. Toni Broaddus with the Equality Federation, the coalition of state equality groups, also has a good op-ed on the topic.
Despite the loud outcry, Jones insisted that the march would go on as planned, and responded to the criticisms (examples here and here).
At Netroots Nation in mid-August, two organizers for the March came and we had a large caucus on the topic, at which half of about 50 activists in the room expressed criticism on the planning and execution of it so far, and the other pleaded it be canceled altogether. I offered help in Pittsburgh to their press spokesman, though it shocked me a little that he had been hired only two days prior, already had multiple commitments on various projects, and answered "really, none" when I asked him what national press had covered this. This was just eight weeks out at the time, and probably why a lot of folks in non-LGBT circles haven't heard of it. It's hard to find any mentions of it in non-LGBT media, either on TV, radio or the internet, that I've seen (other than a brief mention on NPR.org).
Or, as one friend of mine put it, when Netroots Nation was announced one year prior, folks set about booking our flights and circling their calendars. Folks knew it was happening. Eight weeks prior to a national LGBT march on the National Mall, most LGBT people in Pittsburgh were asking each other if it had been canceled yet, and all my straight colleagues were asking me, "what march?". Kind of sums up how well it was going at the time.
Conversations started to ensue amongst my colleagues on whether the folks behind the march, which was shaping up to be a disaster, have made their own bed and should now sleep in it, or whether LGBT bloggers, activists and organizations should try and save it from the certain disaster it would be, both in terms of media perception and how lawmakers would scoff at the pathetic LGBT rights movement that could only get a couple thousand people on the Mall.
It tended toward the latter. HRC, which demurred when the march was announced, announced it was endorsing the march (although many said it was only because they wanted more attendees at their national dinner, which is the night prior). Bil, who spoke extensively with the organizers at Netroots Nation, wrote a post endorsing the march after writing a scathing piece back when it was announced. Radio host and columnist Mike Signorile, who also opposed the March, has changed positions after Cleve Jones came on his show. So has Pam, according to the endorsement list.
Then, after more bad news last week, the wave of endorsements came yesterday. And today, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force announced their endorsement. There are a few ways to respond to all that news.
One is that the March was so poorly organized and staffed that no one had the time or brains to reach out to these folks in the first place. Another is that they had been collecting these endorsements for months and wanted to wait until they hit a critical mass to announce them. Another is that over 140 smart people and one organization in what Bil calls "Gay, Inc." all had a sudden change of heart after refusing for three months to endorse this thing- some, like Bil, Mike and Pam, even expressing opposition.
The last is that conversations started in LGBT circles among people who had been ambivalent or opposed to this thing, and they thought, "well, if this thing is going to happen, I guess we better make sure we don't embarrass ourselves on national television". I can't speak for the motives of all my colleagues, but I tend towards this one.
I am not writing this to pile on the March and the efforts around it. I'm writing this to ask a general strategy question.
Is this the right move? Is it right that Cleve made what many consider a mistake, soaked up people and money and other resources that need to go to Maine and Washington State and the Corzine race and Kalamazoo and possibly California and elsewhere, and now others have to rescue it? Is it right that poor planning meant little national media has covered it, Congress wouldn't be in session, organizers started to fear no one would come, planned activities like the AIDS vigil at the Lincoln Memorial had to be canceled- and others have to put down what they're doing and do media training for the participants, pitch friends in the national media to cover it, write e-mail blasts to get people to come, raise money, etc.? At a time when health care is near the finish line and there are a ton of other huge battles we could lose around the country? Should those who made their bed have to sleep in it alone?
And it's not just a hindsight question. It's a question of how we send resources over the next month. Like I wrote the other day, my friend in California only has enough to go to either Maine or DC, not both. It's a choice. Every person who endorses this thing is affecting that choice.
Or is it progressives' and LGBT activists' responsibility to answer the call to arms and make sure we don't embarrass ourselves and look disorganized and weak? We are all in this together.
And at what point is that decided? Is there a moral hazard question for the next time this happens?
I'm asking these as honest questions, and very interested in reactions.