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City Sees Most Significant LGBT Rights Demo in a Decade

Over 5000 LGBT people and allies rallied in Federal Plaza Saturday and then took to the streets in a wide ranging, 4-1/2 mile march against California's Proposition 8 and other anti-gay ballot measures that passed in early November. The event led all of the early evening newscasts and launched a firestorm of coverage in the blogisphere.

In one afternoon (preceded by countless hours of volunteer time) we accomplished far more for marriage equality in Illinois than years worth of lobbying.

A HUGE "THANKS" go especially to Corrine, Nik and Missy of www.JoinTheImpact.com, who jump-started the effort and very kindly invited the Gay Liberation Network to join them in organizing the project. And of course, the whole effort required the participation of thousands of gay and non-gay people swelling the crowd despite very nasty weather!

Since so many have already told the story of what happened Saturday, we will confine ourselves here to drawing out the political lessons of the moment, and clarify the legal hassles that one of the organizers now faces in the aftermath of the protest.

First the political conclusions:

1. Our event and the other events in over 200 cities, all 50 states, Puerto Rico, DC and six other countries sent a powerful message to the California State Supreme Court to reject the bigoted and unconstitutional Proposition 8. From a legalistic standpoint, the most significant bone of contention they will rule on is whether or not Prop 8 is merely an amendment to the constitution versus or a broad revision of it. Propositions are prohibited from doing the latter, and what could be a broader revision than the taking away of important rights from a whole class of people?!?

The far more important political reality is that courts do not operate in a political vacuum, but are subject to the political pressures of forces outside of them. The passionate protests across the country told the courts that people are very angry about potentially losing their legal equality. The protests will likely be far larger and angrier if the court rules in favor of inequality.

2. A look at the broad participation in Saturday's event – gay and non-gay, people of all races – shows that pro-gay forces are rejecting attempts to scapegoat racial minorities for our (hopefully temporary) defeat in California. The failure in California was a failure of the political organizing model used by the LGBT leadership in California and nationally, including its failure to adequately reach out to racially oppressed communities (and virtually everyone else, for that matter).

Despite a generous outpouring of funding from pro-equality people, the established LGBT organizations ran the same top-down, corporate campaign with a kid gloves message that has failed in referendum after referendum in dozens of states before it. You would think that after literally more than two dozen failures, they would have learned something. California's defeat was a particularly bitter pill to swallow given that just two months before the vote, our side had a huge lead in the polls, and then blew it.

The huge out-pouring on Saturday, proceeded by passionate protests in California and here in Chicago a week ago, was a firm repudiation of the failed organizing model of the "mainstream" political organizations in our community. Ironically, around the country, most of Saturday's protests were put together by people who had no previous organizing experience.

In this respect, they duplicated on a much bigger scale the organizing model that StopDrLaura used to successfully put the kybosh on the broadcast career of hate radio and television hostess "Dr." Laura Schlessinger, and a generation before that, the grassroots campaign that defeated orange juice queen Anita Bryant. As in these previous campaigns, the political "novices," with next to no funding, ran circles around the amply-funded political "pros."

3. Saturday's protest represented a qualitative leap forward for the marriage equality effort here in Illinois. Full legal equality, rather than "separate but equal" civil unions, was firmly put on the agenda. With the Illinois Republican Party in complete disarray, and every significant statewide body dominated by the Democrats, the Democratic Party's failure to support LGBT people by supporting our legal equality has become glaring.

Saturday's protest was not just in solidarity with Californians and those outsiders who married in that state – it was a passionate demand to make Illinois the next marriage equality state. When people on the 4-1/2 mile march spilled into the streets shortly after leaving Federal Plaza, it was a slap back at a government which has disrespected us by refusing to concede legal equality. We will no longer settle for the kind words of Illinois Democrats saying that they favor our legal equality, but just can't do anything about – it's their government, they control it lock, stock and barrel. The only thing that will appease us is action.


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