Waiting for It: As California Marriage Hangs in the Balance, Activists Decide How to Respond

robindiane_march4_dayofdecisionSometime between now and June 3, an email will be sent out from the California Supreme Court announcing it’s made a decision on the Prop. 8 lawsuits it heard earlier this month. Twenty-four hours later, that decision will be announced. When Proposition 8 passed last November, gays and lesbians took to the streets in a spontaneous, free-flowing outpouring of anger that spread across California and the nation. This time, they won’t be taken by surprise.

Two ad hoc groups, Day of Decision and Meet in the Middle, are planning demonstrations to respond to the Court, no matter how it rules. The two groups, their different strategies and purposes are useful snapshots of where the gay political movement is today. Unsurprisingly, neither demonstration is being putting together by any of the usual gay political groups. Also unsurprisingly, they both mainly exist as Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. What is a surprise is that one of them actually seems to have a plan.

“Day of Decision” is the sort of broad outline of a protest you expect. Created by Robin Tyler, a marriage activist whose been married more times (to the same woman, Diane Olsen) than we can keep track of, the event is really just a vague idea: After the Supreme Court announces its decision, gays and lesbians should make themselves visible. Tyler’s organizing partner Andy Thayer explains the value of DoD by saying, “By organizing now, we are also sending a message to the Court that people are watching what they do, and that if it’s a bad decision, our community will not go softly into the night. We will react with a justified anger at one of the worst, and most cowardly court decisions of our era. If we win, these actions will be celebrations, and an attempt to push the momentum of a California victory to other states and regions.”

picture-118Meet in the Middle has a narrower, though more organized focus. Organized by Robin McGhee, the mother who was booted off her child’s PTA committee after they discovered she had marched in a Prop. 8 protest, in conjunction with the Courage Campaign, Meet in the Middle is asking gays and lesbians and their allies to meet in Fresno, California, the Saturday after the Supreme Court decision is announced. Why Fresno? Organizers explain that they’ll be making a subtle dig to Day of Decision:

“After the Prop 8 decision is handed down, people are going be looking for some kind of public release of whatever emotions result from the verdict — good or bad. Chances are, somebody will get the bright idea to march on the Capitol — because that’s what we always do.

Capitol marches have been done to death. They’re predictable. They’re boring. The news coverage of them just bleeds together into one big, uninspiring, droll.

Let’s do something different. Let’s meet in the middle of California—Fresno.

While we spend our time protesting at state capitols and marching around our gay ghettos, middle America is systematically stripping us of our rights at the ballot box and they’re doing it with impunity most of the time. While we’re off marching in SF, LA, and Sac — communities that supported us or came darn close–towns like Fresno, who vote 65-70% against us get off without clearly seeing the results of their ballot bashing.”

So, which approach is right? Should gays and lesbians step out from their workplaces and have a spontaneous Howard Beale moment come Judgment Day or should they pack up the Mazda and head to the hinterlands to take the Prop. 8 battle to unfriendly territory? Or is there such a thing as too much protest?

The question is, where do we focus our energy?

If there’s been one sustained criticism of the initial outbursts of protest following Prop. 8 it was that activists were marching in circles, quite literally. Organizers of protests casually accepted routes that took them through abandoned streets, far from anyone who actually disagreed with them and while groups would inevitably refuse to stop marching and did ultimately travel to areas where there were people to see the march, by the time they got to wear they were going, they had significantly dwindled in size.

At the same time, these protests were undeniably effective. Even if they only merited a 30-second mention on the evening news, spontaneous marches make for interesting news. And as we say here at Queerty, when it comes to gay rights, there’s no such thing as bad visibility.

picture-215On the other hand, Meet in the Middle’s plan is smart on a number of levels. First, it gets gays and lesbians outside their comfort zone and also gives them a chance to work together, even if it’s just to organize a road trip to Fresno. Protest marches are not just about visibility; they also serve as giant networking sessions for like-minded people. By putting the march in a city that overwhelmingly voted for Prop. 8, the LGBT community is responding to attacks that it only protests from the safety of their own home—though, to be fair, Los Angeles County voted for Prop. 8 as well.

The question is, where do we focus our energy? As we’ve written here, we believe the Supreme Court is likely to uphold Proposition 8. There’s a plan for the day after that decision—and the weekend after that, but where do we go after the crowds have gone home?