In unprecedented numbers this year, Americans—including, specifically, members of the queer community—are expressing eagerness to get involved in the political process in what almost everyone agrees will be a milestone presidential election.
Here in New York, opportunities to make a meaningful contribution may seem limited—Democrat John Kerry looks to have a lock on this state’s electoral votes and likely those of neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut as well. Volunteering to help pile up Kerry’s margin here is unlikely to inspire much passion.
Still there is much that can be done, beginning with the protests planned for the Republican National Convention that convenes at Madison Square Garden August 30 through September 2.
The major event planned for that week will be the mammoth anti-war demonstration on August 29, the eve of the convention, shepherded by United for Peace and Justice, which has been mobilized since before the U.S. entered Iraq in the spring of 2003. Lincoln Anderson reports on page 6 of this issue on the latest developments in UPJ’s push for maximum visibility and operational freedom—the group’s renewed demand that protesters be given space in Central Park for a rally following a march from Madison Square Garden.
During the past month, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists have been meeting every Tuesday evening at the Community Center to form a Gays Against Bush brigade for the UPJ march and rally. Gay and lesbian leaders—including longtime activists Leslie Cagan and Bill Dobbs—have assumed a prominent role in steering UPJ, but queer visibility at the rally is still vitally important to our long-term political goals. Progressive Americans and the media should understand that we are a part of the anti-war, anti-Bush effort. The overwhelming vote last week in Missouri in favor of a state constitutional amendment barring gay marriage has pundits’ tongues wagging about the new-found poison in that issue; our community doesn’t have a moment to spare in reaffirming our commitment to the cause.
Gays Against Bush holds planning meetings every Tuesday night at the Center from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit gaysagainstbush.org.
The day after the UPJ event, on the day the convention opens, at least three dozen advocacy groups for people living with AIDS or challenged by poverty are planning their own action directed at the Republicans. Organizing under the mantle of the Still We Rise Coalition, their plans are still in the infancy, but more information can be found by calling the group, care of the New York City AIDS Housing Network, at 718 802 9741.
Beyond early September and the confines of this city, there are other ways for New Yorkers to get involved this year.
Options include making political donations, or participating in out-of-state phone-banking, such as that being planned by the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (glid.org), but the immediate question that arises is which group should be the beneficiary of your largesse and/or volunteer time. For LGBT people, campaigns to defeat referenda likely to be held in roughly a dozen states on constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages will undoubtedly attract interest. Yet, the misfortunes of those who opposed Missouri’s referenda last week gives one pause, and make strategic thinking necessary.
National groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, are putting resources into supporting local efforts aimed at defeating these odious measures. The national groups, in very short order, must telegraph to the community how they will focus their efforts in the short time between now and November. Will priority be given to those states where the opposition has the best place of turning back the anti-gay effort? What kind of polling has even been done in the states considering ballot measures this fall?
If HRC and NGLTF are unable to answer these questions, would it make more sense to research the local efforts on the ground in each state to learn which ones are most worthy of support? Are we more likely to be competitive in more urbanized states such as Michigan and Ohio than in Montana or Arkansas?
The fact that both Michigan and Ohio—universally recognized as key battleground states in the presidential election—are likely to hold marriage referenda raises another critical question. At the end of the day, does the queer community do itself better by pushing to beat back the marriage bans or by electing John Kerry president? A lot of course depends on your assessment of the chances that any of the referenda can be defeated, though there is also the matter of putting up a good fight, even in defeat, to be considered.
To pose a more specific political question—where will an extra dollar make a bigger difference: in turning out more opponents of gay marriage bans or in bringing additional Kerry voters to the polls?
And then there is perhaps the most disquieting question that we have to face—will pulling out more Kerry votes do anything to help build our numbers against the efforts of the anti-gay forces for adverse constitutional change?
These questions are critical as we think about contributing to meaningful change in America this year. As a community and as individual citizens, we have no time to waste in making the wisest choices that we can.
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