by Dan Savage
on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 12:08 PM
I didn't say anything before Join the Impact's "Light Up the Night for Equality" protest—a nationwide candlelight vigil that took place on Saturday night—lest I be accused of fucking the event up or pissing on well-intentioned local queer activists. But I thought the event sounded weak: participants were asked to bring only candles, not protest signs, and refrain from chanting as the vigil was officially silent.
"That's all good and well as long as passersby have some inkling what you're silently doing," wrote Rex Wockner. "Unfortunately, that did not seem to be the case" at the vigil Wockner attended in San Diego.
There was no way "Light Up the Night" could match the energy or size of Join the Impact's November 15th protests in Seattle and across the country. And there's no way Join the Impact's protests at all US state capitols planned for January 10, 2009, will be able to match the energy of November 15 or December 20—and hosting a series of increasingly smaller rallies and protests would serve only to create the impression that energy is draining out of the movement. It's a bad plan.
Plus, I wondered, where are the goals? Where are the specific, achievable demands? Besides repealing Prop 8 and legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, of course. But those goals, as huge and worthy as they are, are long-term goals. If you want to keep people coming out into the streets they need to have something to show for their efforts besides the satisfaction of having participated in a protest. Except for a small handful of protest junkies—constantly mistaking means for ends—marching isn't enough and it's not the point. People want visible results, observable change. Results, even if they're incremental, gives 'em—what's that word again? Oh, yeah: hope.
Which brings us to a problem with our new, leaderless, Internet-powered gay rights movement (or Stonewall 2.0 as it has been dubbed): Not every idea is a good one. As personally upsetting as it can be to hear, "Um, no, we're not going to do that...", it sometimes needs to be said. By someone. It's a movement, after all, not the special Olympics. Sure, it would be nice if everyone got a medal, but boosting the self-esteem of all involved isn't the point. Or shouldn't be. Bad ideas—ideas that squander the energy the movement should be trying to harness—have to be shot down. By someone. And if there's no one involved at Join the Impact who can or will do it, then writers and bloggers are going to have to stop holding our fire.
Momentum is a bitch. It’s probably the hardest thing to maintain in any activist movement. Join The Impact, the new web-based group that organized the remarkable nationwide anti-Prop 8 rallies on November 15th, is learning this hard truth pretty quickly. Their three actions since then—a postcard campaign, “Day Without A Gay”, and Saturday night’s nationwide “Light Up The Night” demos—failed to live up to this group’s early promise, or its justifiably glowing press coverage (see their New York Times profile).
This is not meant to be a dig. I’m in love with this group’s energy, youthfulness, and commitment. I haven’t felt this inspired by gay activism since the days of ACT UP. But I’m also a big believer in learning as you go, and doing honest postmortems. Any movement that only pats itself on the back after each action it takes is doomed to failure. So at the risk of having my head bitten off, I’d like to humbly offer the following advice.
Peter's advice? Besides those honest postmortems ("This worked, that didn't...") Join the Impact needs to drop nationwide, broad-focus events in favor of small, targeted actions with clear, achievable goals. It also needs to get people into a room together to hash out strategy and shoot down bad ideas. It's good advice, Join the Impacters. Read the rest here.