New Faces For Equality

A Student Uprising for Gay Marriage in California

picture-110Dave Valk, a political sciences major at UCLA (and Queerty’s inauguration correspondent) found himself, like many other his age, transformed by the Prop. 8 decision and protests. He looked around at the people his age and realizing that they had passion, but lacked organization, decided to create what he calls, ‘a moment.’

That ‘moment’ became 1Fest, occurring this Sunday (April 19) at the UCLA campus in Los Angeles from 12pm-6pm (full details here). Part concert, part grassroots organizing rally, the goal of the day is to “create a platform for student and political speakers from every community to express their support for marriage equality.”

We spoke with Valk about what it takes to put together an event this size, why, like every civil rights movement before it, gay rights needs student organizers and how many of the traditional LGBT rights groups have failed young gays– and why it’s time for the youth to take over the movement.

QUEERTY: What kind of groups have come on board?

Dave Valk: There’s a lot of different groups. The whole point of 1Fest is that it’s a student-initiated, student-run event, so we have students from all across California coming to this. The majority of the student groups that will have the table space– First of all, I should tell you the point of these tables is to be action booths. What that means is that they won’t just be passing out information, but will have some sort of issue or cause. And they will be asking people to do something– sign a petition, call a legislator, something that’s going to develop real results at the end of the day.

They’re not just LGBT organizations. They represent different communities and different issues. They represent different social issues…

There are groups that don’t normally work together. When we say it’s a time for people to come together, we really mean it. There are groups like Bruins for Israel and Students for Justice in Palestine who never work together– ever– and they will both be at 1Fest and they’re trying to coordinate something towards working towards a mutual equality within their own communities for LGBT people.

I think we’re going to see a lot of really good things that come out of 1Fest that we haven’t really seen before.

Watch Dave Valk explain 1Fest:

What was the genesis of 1Fest? I mean, I know a little bit…

It’s funny that you asked me this. Don’t you remember? Maybe you should be the one that’s getting interviewed. We had a conversation and I was telling you some of the ideas I had and I said “We need to have some sort of event to bring people together” and it was basically the idea of making a Woodstock, that’s what we used. Not just an event, but a place where a lot of people could come together and have a good time, but also do a lot of good stuff at the same time. It was literally from that conversation.

Well, I think a lot of people have had those conversations where you say “Oh, we should do something and here’s some ideas”, but you’ve certainly taken it and run with it. There’s a world of difference between talking about something over a drink and making it happen.

Yeah, but talking over a drink is how you get it started. It certainly helps if there’s that drink part.

So, tell me how you pulled all this together so quickly. It’s been maybe four months…

Well, I was working with a few other people in the grassroots and do some activism and we were trying to do something about getting marriage licenses. I noticed a couple things. One, we couldn’t get anything done because we got a ton of flak from people who were established in doing this and doing it for 30 years and they were saying, “You can’t do that, because that’s not how we do it.” Which was incredible. These are supposed to be some of the most progressive and open-minded people, but that’s absolute baloney.
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Who was saying this to you?

Well, there were people who were planning things at the marriage license offices for February 14th and we wanted to do it in January as a prelude. We literally lifted it and wanted to make it something that young people could get involved in and get more people involved statewide and nationwide in February. It never happened.

The problem is that these grassroots groups didn’t have two things: They didn’t have central leadership, because everyone was being polite and saying “I think this, I think that”, but there were too many cooks in the kitchen. And they had no resources, no money, no backing. It’s the God’s honest truth. It’s hard to do anything without the resources that we later got.

…We started a group called Won Together and it gave is access to incredible resources. We have the UCLA name behind us. We have an adviser, we got our venue for pretty much for free. And we got access to students, which is the most important part.

It all goes back to changing the dialogue and that has a lot to do with the imagery. It all comes down to who’s standing in front of the camera. No offense to the 70-year-old ladies who have been fighting to get married forever, but the truth is, you have to stop putting the 70 year-old ladies in front of the camera and start putting the 26-year-old ladies in front of the camera. If these girls are saying, “Listen, we just want to get married. It’s not that big of a deal”, that changes things.

The point of 1Fest is that we have young people from every different community coming out and able to have their own voice. They get to speak through their own communities about why these issues matter. I think it’s a changing of the guard.

Well, let me ask you, did you reach out to any of the older, more mainstream LGBT groups like the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center to get a response from them?

Yes we did. We sent them our sponsorship packet, so they could sponsor a table.

Did they?

They did not. There were a couple of things. We were offered money by one of these groups, but of course, there were stipulations. For me, it was absolutely paramount that we maintained an independent student voice. If we didn’t do that. If we attached these big name gay organizations: The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Task Force, EQCA, HRC, we wouldn’t be what we are. It would have been just another event that they’re putting on and that’s not what we are. We approached them to be involved by asking them to sponsor and we didn’t get a response.

Another thing we did, there was an article in The Blade about the salaries of 30 gay rights organization leaders and we wrote personal letters to all 30 of those people saying, “Listen, we’re putting on 1Fest. We want your personal support.’ Never heard back from anyone. It’s too bad.

Do you see 1Fest as being a grassroots alternative to these mainstream groups and if so, why make that distinction?

Well, I should back up. This makes it sound like we’re trying to alienate these mainstream groups– I can’t believe you’re calling them ‘mainstream’, that’s incredible– these organizations. But, these people screwed up royally. We don’t even have to go into it. No, we will go into it. The way that they screwed up royally is that they didn’t reach out to young people.

That’s the bottom line. How in God’s name could Barack Obama run a national grassroots campaign upon the foundation of young people going door-to-door asking people for money and support? But the No on on 8 campaign, not only did they not incorporate young people, they shut them out, because they made it completely hierarchical. It’s the end of the system. The system completely died. In ten years, someone’s going to write a paper about what happened [in the last few months.]

jones-cleveI think these larger organizations are basically lobbyists and fundraisers. They do a great job at what they do. A lot of money, they know how to push it where it needs to be pushed. However, at the end of the day, the most valuable commodity in creating social change is the speaker. It’s who you put in front of the camera– and that person has to be a young person,. You can’t put that 70 year old lady on TV anymore. It doesn’t work that way anymore. If you want to change the mind of that person in Bummfuck, Wherever thinks, if that’s what you want, you have to change the imagery.

How does 1Fest fit into that?

Well, we’ve invited a lot of media. It’s not like we decided, “Oh, we need to put this person on stage”. It happened organically and it’s a reflection of the fact that it is young people who ran and created this thing. I hope to God that these [large LGBT orgs] come to 1Fest and say, “Holy Crap”, because the reality is they could never have put this together. You can’t pay young people to do this. We’ve been working 24 hours a day for three months to put this together.

So, why should someone reading this go to 1Fest?

It’s not an event. It’s a moment. It’s a very rare moment when different social movements are coming together. You have Cleve Jones, who led the LGBT movement who is now with the labor movement. You’ve got Dolores Huerta, whose part of the United Farm Workers and who worked with Caeser Chavez and you have the students. You have all these different organizations coming together and this is a catalyst. It’s the day we came together. We have to expand the us’s. That’s how you win shit– at least in California.