Thursday, November 13, 2008

March on Washington 5.0: It's Time

Did you know that there have been four Marches on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights?

I've attended two.

The first, in 1979, was before my time. A small crowd marched for the first time for gay rights. Appropriately enough, it was a response to the Harvey Milk assassination and the Anita Bryant anti-gay crusades. An historic and important event, and pre-AIDS, it presaged the activism of the ACT-UP generation and was, perhaps, the starting point of introducing lesbians and gays to the broader culture.

The second march, eight years later, in 1987, was a response to AIDS, and the lack of attention it received from the Regan administration. I attended this one, along with half a million others, where the AIDS quilt was unveiled. It was amazing seeing so many gay and lesbian people there: we were all in our "Queer Youth" heyday, wearing our rainbow rings, jack boots, and rolled-up t-shirt sleeves, proudly queer and counter-cultural. Yet it was somber, as the AIDS crisis was fully raging, and so many were dying. The quilt was deeply moving, and anyone who visited the panels for the first time as they were laid out on the mall couldn't help but feel that we were losing an entire generation, and but for the grace of God, there went I. It had the feeling of a real war. This march inspired a generation of activists, ACT-UP and Queer Nation, and really did lead to more awareness and real attempts to begin to address AIDS. One might call this our most successful march.

Six years later, a third march was organized, in 1993. This was, I would say, the "Clinton" march: the march to proclaim political assertiveness. Finally, we had a Democrat in the White House. Finally, this time, it looked like things would change. And yet, Clinton had badly stumbled, fumbling his attempt to integrate the military and instead producing the odious "don't ask/don't tell." In response, and yet still with hope that the Clinton administration would deliver something to us, the gay community drafted a plethora of demands and grievances, practically a convention platform. Lesbian and gay service members were rounded up to give speeches and tell their stories, and show the world we weren't just sick queers dying of AIDS: we were macho and patriotic, too. Military paraphernalia became all the rage, and hot Marines graced the covers of many a photo spread. Over a million people attended this march (though the park service would only acknowledge 300,000, you could clearly see a million people in the mall on C-SPAN), and finding your state group, mingling with crowds on the subways, shouting to other cars on the highways blaring their club music, was revelatory and fun, without the somberness of 1987. But, it seems, little came from our long list of grievances - other than, perhaps, the even more odious DOMA, and memories of one huge and amazing national party weekend.

Seven years later, in 2000, it seemed it was time for another March on Washington. There was no particular political backdrop for this march - other than, perhaps, we should have one every seven years or so. I call this the March of the Great Gay National Lobbyists, or the Human Rights Campaign march. The HRC called it the "Millennial March." I didn't attend - I think there was something I wanted to watch on TV that weekend - and at any rate, I didn't really know what that march was supposed to be about. Not many did, because it was roundly criticized, but then, not knowing what it was for, I don't really understand what it was criticized for, either, other than for not clearly being about anything, or anything that anyone could agree on, at any rate. Apparently, eight years of a Democratic administration had lulled our leaders into operating under the illusion that they were part of Aaron Sorkin's West Wing, and it seemed the most critical thing about this march was who the band was going to be. Let's call this the march of the movement that had lost its way.

Ok, folks. In just less than two months, it will have been nine years since our last march on Washington.

Not only is that WAY TOO LONG (I mean, according to our cycles, eight years has been the max). The Proposition 8 fiasco certainly gives us a very clear and focused message: stop messing with our rights, and give us equal marriage, now! Maybe this time we can get our straight friends and family to come along; maybe this time we can shoot for something closer to three million.

So...has anybody started planning this thing?


Julie Joyce said...

Yes, it is time, Marty! I too was at the emotional March in '87.

Smart blog. I hope our paths will cross again someday :-)

Jen said...

I have heard talk through message boards of a march on the 40th aniversary on Stonewall this year!!

Anonymous said...

Check out "The Dividends of Dissent: How Conflict and Culture Work in Lesbian and Gay Marches on Washington" (2008, University of Chicago Press) for a study linking infighting to march on washington organizing (and also for a sense of why so many are gun shy for 5th march).

Anonymous said...

check out "the dividends of dissent: how conflict and culture work in lesbian and gay marches on washington" (2008, university of chicago press) for a study of infighting linked to march on washington organizing -- and for a better sense on why so many are gun shy for a 5th march (esp in light of what all happened in the 4th march).