To be fair, activist David Mixner — one of the original backers of a march on Washington this fall — has a pre-existing engagement in Africa that may keep him from attending October 11’s National Equality March. Also to be fair, Mixner (pictured, below) originally wanted a march in November … so he could attend. But then Cleve Jones & Co. took the reins on the project, pushed it to National Coming Out Day, and now has about two months to pull the whole thing together. Steve Ault, who coordinated the first National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights in 1979, sees a big problem with this.
Having witnessed the success of democratically-organized marches in the past, Ault only sees trouble with how things are being handled for this October’s March. For all this pomp and circumstance about how organizers are grassroots-ing it, they’re really closed door-ing it.
He writes in Gay City News:
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.
So how is that different from this year’s march? Besides Dustin Lance Black joining the steering group?
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 be sure:
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.