You Made the Bed, Now Sleep In it (Alone)?

by: Adam Bink

Thu Sep 03, 2009 at 16:30

Cross-posted at The Bilerico Project

The news out late yesterday was that the National Equality March was endorsed by "over 140 leaders from all walks of life in the LGBT community."

What was interesting to me about this was (a) the timing of the announcement (b) the number of people who decided to get on board after leaning against the march publicly, or in some cases, expressed outright opposition. There have been concerns expressed by many that it was/is shaping up to be a disaster, and other concerns such as those I expressed earlier this week over resources being spread thin.

If you'll follow me across the flip, I have some background on the March, and a general strategy question for you all.

Adam Bink :: You Made the Bed, Now Sleep In it (Alone)?
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

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.

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It's the wrong move if it's so badly put together that the broader community (0.00 / 0)
there aren't enough people there to term it a success. It would be preceived as the wider community is not supportive.  That would be a very bad negative outcome.

However the outcome then is dependent on how well it plays.

The same dynamic has taken place over time in the choice community.  NOW called a march...many times under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents.  Lots of us in the community questioned whether it's was the right strategy,  the right use of time, energy, money.  

But once called, they all pulled together and the marches were big and enormous.  So at least there was not a public perception failure....

Did the marches accomplish their purpose? I don't know. It certainly didn't get John Kerry elected in 2004.  I am not sure but I thought putting the time, energy and money into other ways to move the the choice agenda would have been a better use of resources.

But once it's on the THE AGENDA IT MUST BE WELL DONE

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

Moral hazard (0.00 / 0)
That presents an immense moral hazard question. Anyone with a decent microphone can call a march, get the permits, buy the porta-potties, etc. So eventually, we're all forced to sigh and get behind it, letting the organizers breathe a huge sigh of relief. Really, this applies to mass collective action that requires mass resources to be a success and will get mass media coverage.

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[ Parent ]
yes it made the community angry (0.00 / 0)
they have been none called for 5 years.

NOW of course historically has been and had been a big player in women's politics.....Not only historically but also institutionally. So saying no was difficult.  They had their own megaphone with the media.

Forgive me, but I don't know the weight the originating group has within the LGBT community or within the larger community or its clout with the media.  

But if you want to shut it it now.  

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
Other thought (0.00 / 0)
Keep it small...don't give it a big footprint or a big megaphone...if you don't think it's going to be good enough or big enough..then don't overblow it's importance

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
It is difficult (0.00 / 0)
To "shut down" anyone with a decent microphone. A solution you're perhaps proposing is that when Cleve announced his march, people who thought it was a stupid idea should have given it zero coverage. Bil should not have written his "10 reasons why the march is a bad idea" post. And so forth. That's difficult to do in a media environment (unless I'm misunderstanding your suggestion)

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[ Parent ]
No I mean the cat is out of the bag in terms of the march (0.00 / 0)
the event will happen....just play it up onlau as one among many events, one among many things the community is doing.

Don't make its so big a deal that if it's not a blockbuster  it will be considered a failure.

Don't blow the horm about it so much to the media....if it's not going to be a huge event.

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
Times are excrutiatingly tough. (0.00 / 0)
Unfortunately, with resources badly needed in other places, a badly organized and poorly planned march is not something people should be wasting time, energy, and money on.  Let the thing die, and focus resources on battles worth fighting.  This one, although it hurts a lot to let go of because of what it might mean for those trying to put it together, really isn't the sort of effort the LGBT community needs to engage in right now.  Resources are few and better allocated to efforts elsewhere that at least have the chance to succeed.

haven't been following this debate (4.00 / 1)
but it seems to me that focusing resources on Maine should be the top priority of the LGBT movement.  

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Totally agree (0.00 / 0)
This march is a bullshit power play by an irresponsible individual that responsible folks have been forced to endorse because they feel responsible for advancing LGBT interests -- while the originator gets to posture 'cuz he's ensnared people who prioritized protecting the larger movement over calling out an opportunist.

But there it is. This sort of behavior is far too common. Just remember ANSWER horning in on the anti-Iraq war movement.

And yes, any resources available should be going to Maine and Washington State where real gains can be won.

Can it happen here?

[ Parent ]
If you only have money to go to DC or Maine--GO TO MAINE! (0.00 / 0)
I simply can not endorse an action which has absolutely no likelihood of achieving its stated goal(s) of "full federal equality for LGBT citizens" when the rights of LGBT citizens are literally on the ballot in Maine, Washington and Michigan a mere three weeks later.

However, just because I refuse to endorse the March doesn't mean that other people shouldn't attend; we are a diverse movement and different people will analyze the same fact pattern and come to different conclusions. I respect that.


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We're Going (0.00 / 0)
I thought the march was an ill-conceived notion from the beginning, and I haven't really changed my mind on that.

An important notion in politics is, never make noise unless you're damned sure you can make a lot of noise. Never stand up in front of a camera unless you're damned sure they'll be a big crowd around you.

So, to help make sure there isn't an embarrassingly small crowd, we're going. I suspect others will do likewise, and maybe there will be a big enough crowd to get some attention.

I encourage others to do likewise. But I also encourage people to dig deeper into their pockets to do this, and not in any way reduce contributions of money or time to the critical battle in Maine.

It was a bad idea in June it's still a bad idea (0.00 / 0)
I was at Pride in Salt Lake when he announced the march.  I thought was a bad idea than, I still think it's a bad idea, driven by an irresponsibly egotistical person.  Let it crash and burn.  Maybe someone will learn a lesson.

These marches don't accomplish diddly, they suck up time, resources, and energy that could be better spent elsewhere.  That so many leading glbt folks are now saying it's a good idea tells me that glbt leaders don't have a strategy beyond fundraiser for HRC and are flailing around hoping for something.  That they completely screwed up the obvious openings for leadership in the last year was depressing.  That they're now hitching their wagons to Cleve Jone's fading star is just dreary.

A major, well organized, well planned well led march can work.  It requires a kind of tough minded planning glbt leaders seem reluctant employ.  First, go look at the march at which MLK delivered his "I have a dream" speech.  The marchers were dressed in their sunday best - they looked like they were there for serious business and they acted like.  It's not a festival, it's not a carnival.  This is the serious business of civil right, treat it as such.  Yeah, it's hot and humid in DC deal with it.  Tell everyone coming you expect them to in business attire.  We're about the business of civil rights.  Second, make damn sure your speakers give great speeches that inspire not only the marchers but the millions of Americans at home.  Make sure each and every speaker delivers a speech that focuses on the key message - each speaker addresses a different aspect of that message and the last speaker brings it home.  Don't just line up some celebs and big names and hope it goes well.  MLK's speech was a variation of one he'd been giving all across the country.  It was delivered brilliantly because he was a good, practiced public speaker.  Third, make damn sure you plan ahead - get the word out, work on the logistics, use it as an opportunity to lobby Congress and the White House.  Create a coherent and intelligent message and strategy.  That takes time and planning.  Fourth and finally, you have to make some tough choices - not every speaker is worth hearing, not every issue can be addressed and that's okay. Unless those things are in place, it's a waste of everyone's time and energy.

Resources are limited.   Is some march worth the resources?  Has the glbt community even had this discussion?  No.  Some march in DC this year will make some folks feel good and they'll pat themselves on the back but it's not worth the cost of time and money, especially with the half-assed planning that's gone into it.  

When the eagles are silent, the parrots jabber.  Winston Churchill


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