• Neff: Come march for equal rights on Oct. 11

    August 24, 2009 3:40 pm 9 comments
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    Thirty years ago our community marched on Washington to demand equal rights.

    Again in 1987, 1993 and 2000 we marched on Washington to demand equal rights.

    Send / ShareAdd CommentThe themes changed. The routes changed. The organizers changed. The speaker lists changed. The celebrity lineup changed. The priorities changed. The vocabulary changed. The heroes and the enemies changed — for the most part. And even the symbols changed.

    But with four marches and hundreds of thousands of citizen activists there was one constant demand — a demand for equal rights.

    Now, on Oct. 11, our community again will march on Washington to demand equal rights. Participants in National Equality March will celebrate the strides over three decades, the leaps in 30 years. We certainly are not marching from the same place we were in 1979.

    But marchers also will make known that their governments treat them as second-class citizens and that they are challenging unconstitutional laws and questioning unacceptable policies for our military, our workplaces, our schools and our families.

    You might hear arguments that the march being planned will divert resources from the fights in the states.

    I remember hearing similar arguments nine years ago and perhaps even repeated them before I arrived to the National Mall April 30, 2000, to be wowed by the crowd for the fourth march.

    The argument of limited resources is deeply flawed.

    We, as a movement and community, have not begun to tap our full potential. How can anyone seriously claim that if a person goes to Washington for a weekend in October that he or she is spent out and has nothing left to give a state gay rights organization or a local GLBT center?

    I would argue the opposite.

    Marches energize some, radicalize others and connect many to people and organizations and campaigns and causes. I would guess that few returned home from D.C. in 2000, 1993, 1987 or 1979 drained and tapped out.

    For all the feuding, fussing and misdirected focus on celebrity and flash, the 2000 march helped drive a community through eight long, hard years of painful losses and tremendous victories.

    In 1993, marchers left for home committed to meet the challenge issued by Urvashi Vaid, former director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “We have got to match the power of the Christian supremacists, member for member, vote for vote, dollar for dollar,” Vaid had said. “I challenge each of you to not just buy a T-shirt, but to get involved in your movement. Get involved. Volunteer. Volunteer. Every local organization in this country needs you. Every clinic. Every hotline. Every youth program needs you, needs your time and your love.”

    The 1987 march, which introduced America to the AIDS Memorial Quilt and included the first mass marriage protest at the Internal Revenue Service, helped build a national coalition for civil rights. The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr., told marchers, “Let’s find a common ground of humanity.… We share the desire for life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, equal protection under the law. Let’s not dwell on distinctions.”

    And the 1979 march — inspired by Harvey Milk who famously said “Rights are not won on paper. They are won only by those who make their voices heard” — moved so many to carry on through a decade of so much personal and community loss and hardship.

    And, on Oct. 12, marchers will return to their hometowns, their home states, the districts and territories, powered to campaign for the demand made on Oct. 11.

    The march will be the forum for issuing the demand for equal rights. The demand will not be won that day, but in the days that follow, with our community nourished for the fight.

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