August 12, 2009

Who Should Lead the National March for Equality?

There is a lot of debating going on concering the upcoming National March for Equality scheduled for Washington DC on October 11. One area of concern, voiced in this essay by Steve Ault for the New York Gay City News, is the leadership that is putting together the march. Ault believes they have not learned from what has worked and not worked before, and shares examples in his essay. Here's an excerpt:

As one of the lead organizers for the LGBT community’s first two marches on Washington — in 1979 and 1987 — my ears perked up when I heard there were plans for a new one. I checked out David Mixner’s website where the “National Equality March” was announced, ostensibly for and by the LGBT community, although the name of the event was devoid of any such reference. The date was set, as was an overarching statement of purpose, but unlike the earlier actions, there would be no specific demands. Despite rhetoric invoking the “grassroots,” it appears the leadership already had been decided — Mixner, and a few self-selected others. The whole package was signed, sealed, very neatly wrapped, and then delivered to the LGBT community as a fait accompli.

To date there have been four national marches on Washington organized by the LGBT community — in 1979, 1987, 1993, and 2000. The first three were great successes; the fourth a fiasco marked by a huge event-day rip-off of participating small business people, followed by bankruptcy, lawsuits, and an FBI investigation — not to mention a turnout a mere fraction of the 1987 and 1993 marches. By no coincidence, the first three were run democratically, with grassroots involvement in decision-making and organizing; the fourth — the grandiosely named “Millennium March” — had self-selected leadership and a decision-making process closed to the community.

Briefly, here’s how our first three marches were organized and structured. The primary decision-making steering committee, national in scope, was comprised of delegates elected at regional meetings, assuring representation from all parts of the country while also mandating gender parity and inclusion of people of color. National organizations and spokespeople from unrepresented and underrepresented constituencies were added to make sure just about everyone had a seat at the table. The leadership was in turn elected from and by the steering committee. This decision-making process — admittedly contentious and chaotic at times — won acceptance as fair and inclusive. The ability to be both heard and represented motivated people from all over the country to commit time, energy, and resources to building these marches — a factor at the very heart of their success.

In each instance, when the big day finally arrived, we reveled in and were empowered by our accomplishment. The first three marches on Washington strengthened our movement largely because they were democratically-run grassroots efforts on a massive scale. They have thus become milestones in both our developing self-awareness and our history as a politically effective community. They have even served as models for other movements seeking social change. Some traditions are worth fighting for.

That’s not to say a future march must be organized exactly the same way in order to succeed. We should, of course, take full advantage of the many new social networking technologies available to connect us with each other. But these technologies cannot replace what is unique about face-to-face meetings and old-fashioned grassroots organizing — experiences crucial to building and sustaining a sense of community.

I've never organized an event anywhere approaching the size that the National March will be, but I have been and currently am in an area of leadership, so I will add this comment--the most effective initiatives I've been involved in have been ones that had wide participation in the planning and organizing where the foot soldiers felt they had a voice in the planning and weren't merely carrying out someone else's orders.

I believe the leaders of this event would better serve the LGBT community by seriously considering how they are approaching that and, as Steve Ault wrote, building and sustaining a sense of community, one which will go beyond the National March and build on the success of that event.

Click here to read the rest of Steve Ault's essay.

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1 comment:

  1. How much did Cleve Jones pay for the HRC endorsement? Where are the financial records? We need answers before supporting this event.