Last week thousands of lesbian and gay people and their friends filled the streets of California in peaceful protest. Outraged, these upright Californians chose to take action and publicly march against Proposition 8 and the LDS Church for financing the deceptive ads that helped it pass.
First, bravo to our California friends — their moral indignation is healthy and just. Second, hooray for those in other parts of the country who have begun to follow suit — let us not stop until every community has mounted sustained campaigns of resistance.
Despite our substantial legislative efforts, thirty states have now passed bans on same-gender marriage. That should serve as a wake-up call to our movement — one that forces us to consider what we might be doing wrong.
Discrimination does not begin in our courts or in our government — it ends up there. The fear and misinformation that drives unjust legislation gets its start within society, and the primary source of the problem is the sanctuaries, wealthy mega-churches, and powerful religious institutions of this country. With gigantic and captive national audiences, both Protestant and Catholic churches teach falsehoods that cause voters to cast their ballot against the constitutional promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for their gay and lesbian neighbors.
In this election, like so many others before it, the call from the pulpit was clear: We must stop the gays. As millions of gays and lesbians had their hearts broken, some religious leaders rejoiced in that suffering. The Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego County, told the New York Times “It was a great victory. We just saw the people rise up.”
It’s time for all of us to rise up like thousands are doing now in the Golden State and elsewhere.
We are tired of defeat, token change, defending ourselves against charges of moral inferiority, and being told to “wait” in the land we love while liberation occurs in other countries. Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged that real change takes time; yet he also warned against the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” and instructed the oppressed to demand equality now — not on the convenient time schedule of those doing the oppressing.
Nonviolent direct action strategies such as marches, vigils, demonstrations, boycotts, public protests, and civil disobedience, seek to create what Dr. King called “healthy tension.” This constructive nonviolent tension forces those who perpetuate injustice, and society as a whole, to pause, reflect, and consider the ugliness of their prejudices and the indecency embodied in their discrimination. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” Public protests empower us and educate those who are still the victims of fear and division.
It’s imperative that we remain nonviolent in our approach. Although it may provide short term emotional release, it’s ultimately counterproductive to scream expletives at those who have harmed us. We must refrain from damaging property or trying to destroy the character of others and instead approach those who promote discrimination in a spirit of nonviolence. As both Gandhi and King taught, we must avoid violence of the fist, tongue, and heart and remember that in truth we are challenging unjust systems, not people. In due course, we seek to be in community with those from whom we currently find ourselves divided.
So, start organizing now. Don’t wait on a LGBT rights group to take the lead. Most of the protests in California were organized by just a handful of people. You can do it too. Imagine the productive conversations around America’s dinner tables if the evening news was flooded with coverage of peaceful marches in the other 29 states that ban marriage equality.
In the wake of our recent losses, let’s rededicate our lives to speaking out with integrity and let’s reclaim nonviolent direct action as part of that process. Let’s understand that the vision of equality belongs to all of us and we are each responsible for taking direct action in pursuit of that dream. We all have the faculty to be powerful, influential, and prevailing. Let’s reinvest in our movement for social change, believe in our own capacity to affect that change, and allow the boldness and hunger for justice to grow and contagiously spread to others.
Let’s take it to the streets.