Sunday, November 21, 2004

On the self perpetuation of activism...

One of the things that i have been growing more aware of recently is that "activism" is not presently very effective in America.

I think, as i so often do, i know why.

What it comes down to is that activism groups have stopped pushing toward equality, or whatever it is their stated goal is, and rather toward a certain set of politicies and so forth that enable the groups themselves to gain power. In other words, they have replaced the groups they are explicitly aimed at assisting with themselves. No longer do these self-perpetuating groups work toward whatever it is they're supposedly interested in: the groups themselves are now the ultimate goal.

Such groups, inevitably, will never effect true, lasting change as the only things they work for are themselves.

My attention was first drawn to this phenomenon in response to the Republicans stringing along the various Christian extremist groups and then sabatoging any gains that would otherwise be made; for instance, the lack of an exception for the birth of the mother in the case of the recent "partial birth abortion" ban. However, it now seems to me like this is happening more often. Most notable (to me) are the few instances where one minority group will exclude another with the hopes of becoming more politically "palatable" and therefore gaining more political leverage for themselves. I'm not going to name any names, here, and guessing who i have in mind isn't very productive. However, i think that paying attention to this phenomenon is important.

I think one thing that is contributing to this that isn't immediately obvious is the lack of a unified purpose due to a number of groups banding together in order to combat more powerful opposition on a number of fronts. This can be seen most clearly in the case of issues where a number of different groups of people band together to oppose something but cannot agree what to do about it. Since there is no consensus the groups merely work "toward the future" by ensuring the groups themselves stick around.

I think this situation is most damaging to the most vulnerable minority groups in this nation: those who have grown up under the effects of brutal opporession. Notably women and GLBT people living in extremely conservative areas- many of whom grow up to be the most vicious opponents to equal rights. The failings of various advocacy groups are most notable in these areas.

Clearly, for instance, the civil rights groups of the 1960s and 70s were most effective not because they "picked their battles" and only fought those that were in the most "liberal" areas of our country but rather through taking the fight right to the heart of the problem and into the areas of ugliest discrimination. Gay pride parades in New York City are good publicity, but poor strategy.

(Update)

I want to add onto this because i don't think i did it justice. Specifically, i want to make a suggestion i feel is important given what i said.

I think the traditionally accepted version of protesting is pointless.

Sure, filling up the streets worked when the standard response was to turn fire hoses on the protestors and set dogs loose on them. These days, however, the bigots are more clever than that. "So a bunch of queers," or whoever, i'm going to use GLBT people here, "want to march down Main Street? Fine, let 'em! Then tell them to quit blocking the streets afterward!" No dogs, no firehoses: just a polite "do what you want, we're not listening."

This misses the entire point of direct action.

Again, let's go back to Martin Luther King Jr. and his Letter from a Birmingham jail.

"In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through an these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation..."


Get that? He didn't go to Birmingham because it was where the civil rights movement had strength but rather because it was where the gravest inequalities existed. It's all about non-violent confrontation, not (as the current GLBT groups think it is) about non-confrontational appeals to The System. King also writes about how the dominant groups rarely give up privilege voluntarily (which is what the GLBT lobbying groups are requesting) but rather they must be driven into it. I could go off on a whole tangent there, but let's read more...

"...We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community... 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.


It isn't about telling people they're wrong as they will, as pointed out, just ignore you. Direct action and protest is about making people address injustice or making them uncomfortable. That's why it at its most effective when the actions of oppressors are at their most brutal, evil, and vicious. That's why it is ineffective when you are ignored. The entire goal of "direct action" is to make people pay attention to injustice. If they can respond by ignoring you more that isn't effective.

Now the next question is "With that in mind, how do you suggest the GLBT community utilize direct action to create change in society?"

I think it can be done relatively quickly. I think that, if there were a will on the part of our leaders to do it i think something like same sex marriage could be achieved within a couple years on a national scale.

My suggestion would be to follow the lead of those who did create change: rather than aimlessly wandering through the streets with signs and chants we should aim straight at the heart of the problem. Luckily for the GLBT community there's a very obvious place to strike. Consider the problem carefully.

I would suggest the most obvious target of direct action aimed at changing America's policy on same sex marriage would be local courthouses and other areas where the machinations of discrimination are vulnerable by their availability.

Remember when various places in the country "went rogue" and started offerring marriage to everyone? One of the things that i noticed right away was that the gay people who were showing up to get married totally shut down city hall. Consider, then, taking one thousand couples in (let's say) New York City. I know that's one of the places i said protesting wasn't going to work, but i'm changing something vital in the formula. Almost everywhere in America is equally bad on the issue of same sex marriage. There are distinctions, of course, but the law of the land (which is what needs to be changed) is similar in 48 of 50 states.

Then we take those thousand couples and line them up in front of city hall, or wherever it is marriage liscenses are handed out. Each couple says they want to get married and wants to know if that is possible. When they are turned down they go to the back of the line. How long do you think it would take before people started paying attention? Probably not too long.

Sure, the police will probably move in or something like that, but that's okay: it's a vital part of the process. "They got arrested for wanting to get married? What sort of medieval society do we live in?"

And if people like Fred Phelps show up? Fine. We'll beat them up and steal their signs i mean ignore them. Phelps has an ugly trick of bullying his way into everywhere and queers getting arrested while Phelps sits around unmolested would play real well on national TV, yes?

Of course, this requires real leadership. But it's probably the first step toward real marriage equality.

Anyway, i'm going to propose something: if you think this is a good idea then link to it in your own weblog or whatever. I know i only have like five readers right now but if each of you have five readers yourselves and if each of those have five more...

And, of course, i'm open to suggestions.

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