There is a riddle I heard when I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 :
"What do you call emptying the bars, closing the shops, blocking traffic on Market Street and marching on City Hall?"
A San Francisco first date.
And it's true. I know of nowhere in the US where it's just SO easy to become part of a protest. They happen spontaneously.
When B and I lived in the Castro District in SF, we had to have contingency plans for getting home from the Walgreens four blocks away if they closed Market or Castro Street.
And we've been walking down those streets when the call went out - "Out of the bars and into the streets! Out of the bars and into the streets" - after a local politician had just announced on the radio that he was vetoing some kind of LGBT thing.
Wham. Instant protest. Traffic snarled. People stranded. Things set on fire. Just add water and stir.
And I have lain on Market Street, I have shouted "no blood for oil!", and I have seen rotting Christmas trees set ablaze on the curbs of Haight-Ashbury as we marched against injustice.
Protests were unifying and revelatory - they were cathartic and fulfilling. Protest was passion - protesters linked up, hooked up and shacked up, until the cold grey light of dawn illuminated furtive departures and mumbled pleasantries, ending with an uncomfortable train ride home.
Now - I protest by writing checks, blogging, e-mailing and debating in the informal yet rarefied salon of our circle of friends. Oh, and of course, by voting in every single election.
I no longer have to worry about a sudden protest disrupting my tranquil suburban neighborhood. Nor do I have to be concerned that protesters might close down the mid-Hudson bridges, preventing me from getting home from my job.
Or do I?
Are we on the brink of a new age of activism? I believe we are. And I - for one - am very excited at the idea.
Major social change only happens when radical and overwhelming events precipitate change. And I can think of no more likely sudden and radical topic-at-hand as the marriage equality debate.
Post Proposition 8 protests and backlashes are breaking out all over the nation. A unified, nationwide protest will take place this Saturday, November 15th.
From the Join the Impact site:
"Every day since Election Day, thousands have protested up and down streets in cities across California, including in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento. A national, grassroots coalition of LGBT activists have followed in their footsteps.Wow. Just wow.
On Nov. 15, 1:30 p.m. EST/10:30 a.m. PST, in large cities and state capitals across the country, Pro-Equality supporters will raise public awareness of the need for LGBT equality in marriage and in other civil rights."
Do I think it's right that Americans march? Hell, yes.
Do I think that it's right for us to march on and/or boycott institutions that fund or mobilize activities designed to prevent ANY American from having equal rights and worth under the law - even if it is a religious institution? Double hell, yes.
Anti-LGBT activists have bullied and boycotted businesses for years - some have folded under their pressure, others have not. We have as much right to turn the tables and boycott and protest against those who would seek to press their morals and beliefs on us through the passage of oppressive legislation, singularly designed to prevent a segment of the American public from having the full rights and privileges as those who wish to pass the law.
Will I march this weekend? Not likely. We'd have to schlep to Albany, get a hotel room, find someone to take care of the dogs...you know, the crap that old former protesters have to deal with. If Kingston or New Paltz had one, I might stay up late enough to participate.
What I will do, however, is begin to ask questions locally - and find information on who supports what and who donates to whom. And base my support of their products or services on whether they believe - or not - that I should have the same rights and privileges as anyone else.
I have already dumped my former chiropractor, after finding out through public records that he was donating thousands of dollars a year to the Republican National Committee. Not with my office fees, you aren't.
There are restaurants and diners here in our city where we will not eat and farmer's market vendors from whom we will not buy. They have made their affiliations and beliefs known.
And from now on - if I don't know - I will ask. It may seem rude to some, but the time for the good little gays and lesbians to stay silent and smile and be patient is over.
Melissa Etheridge's recent statement reflects how I feel. If I am to pay my taxes and support my community as a full citizen, then you had damned well better be prepared to make and support me as a full citizen -- and not put legislation in place to prevent me from being one.
Quiet time is over for the status quo. Consider yourselves warned.