06 March 2014

Save The Country (Part Two)

Rosa Parks

A lot of people criticized San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for sounding too defiant in a “No on 8” campaign commercial. He told California voters that, whether they liked it or not, the time had come for marriage equality! Too defiant? Compared to what? Would that most of us could be even half as defiant as he was!

If Conservatives get offended by strident denunciation of discriminatory public policy, tough t*tty! Lord knows, they've offended us often enough! Mayor Newsom's righteous indignation inspires me and reminds me of Rosa Parks. When she refused to give up her bus seat to a White man in 1955, she demanded of the policemen who arrested her: “Why do you push us around?” She put herself at risk of a beating, but she was too angry to care! Years later, she reflected:

It’s not that I was fed up (that day). I was fed up all my life, as far back as I can remember, with being treated as less than a free person . . . as long as we continued to comply with these rules and regulations that kept us crushed down as a people, then the power structure would always say: "Well, they are not complaining, and they accept this, so they (must be) satisfied with it.”

Mrs. Parks wasn’t satisfied! Mrs. Parks was cheesed off! Mrs. Parks felt entitled to equal treatment as an American citizen, and she wasn't shy about saying so. Neither are the Black, Latino and Asian advocacy groups who have filed Friend Of The Court briefs on behalf of Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and others who are challenging the legality of Proposition 8. Per Reuters News Agency reporter Pete Henderson, one of those briefs reads as follows:

The entire purpose behind the Constitutional principle of equal protection would be subverted if the Constitutional protection of unpopular minorities were subject to simple majority rule. This case is not simply about Gay and Lesbian equality. The history of California demonstrates with sobering clarity the potential for disfavored minorities to be subjected to oppression by hostile majorities.

Indeed, it does; the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II immediately springs to mind! (Wouldn't it be ironic if the same groups some White Lesbians and Gay men are blaming for Prop 8's passage end up supplying the legal arguments that convince California's Supreme Court to reverse it?)

Let me clear up a misconception here, one that has been given currency by a host of misguided Gay bloggers and op-ed writers: It is not necessary for a majority of Americans to approve of equal rights for LesBiGay citizens in order for us to exercise those rights! When women won the right to vote in 1920, did the majority of men approve? I seriously doubt it! And I know for a fact most White people weren’t thrilled when the Civil Rights Act passed Congress in July of 1964; White backlash against that legislation partially explains why the Republican Party took control of our southern States in subsequent decades!

As long as Pat Robertson and his ilk are allowed to ply their Bible-based heterosexism openly, we will continue being vilified by a sizable number of our fellow citizens! This doesn’t mean that their hatred will always be reflected in the laws that govern us, though. As proof, just look at current realities for women, Latinos and African-Americans. Social progress can and does occur despite lingering prejudice!

It’s not group popularity that wins struggles like ours. It’s perseverance! If you really believe your cause is just, then you won’t let legal or political setbacks stifle your activism. You use the courts whenever possible, civil disobedience whenever necessary, and you press your issue constantly until you achieve your goal or something close to it!

The incremental victories of the anti-abortion movement ought to teach us that much; three decades ago, the odds were stacked against "pro-life" activists, too! The level of tenacity they've demonstrated is something we should strive to match. Too many of us act as if LGBT equality isn’t worth having unless we can get it with relative ease. Duh! If it were easy to get, then it wouldn’t be worth having! Freedom is never easy to get. We can't lobby ourselves into full equality, and political candidates can't deliver it to us on a silver platter! We need to get serious, and get real! A successful Civil Rights crusade requires an awful lot of time and effort and courage.

Courage is what we’ll need most when the next batch of “marriage protection” ballot measures come down the pipe. We must have the courage not to respond as we have in the past! We must have the courage not to mount another no-on-whatever campaign. We must resist the urge to join the political crap shoot that’s stacked against us!

We must boycott the vote on principle! What principle? The one that the aforementioned Black, Latino and Asian organizations articulated in their legal brief: Citizenship rights cannot be voted up or down! This is something that, theoretically, even those who oppose marriage equality can relate to. I'm not saying we should sit at home on our asses and veg out in front of the TV while hetero-bigots target us. Not at all! We must make withholding our votes a cause celèbre, complete with media blitzes, press conferences and protest rallies. Not only that, we must urge our Straight allies to withhold their votes, too (especially our Straight allies of faith)!

What will happen? No doubt the ballot measures will pass, but that was going to happen in any event. This time, we won’t have squandered our resources in vain! Instead, we can put those resources behind ballot initiatives of our own design (tax rebates for disenfranchised minority groups, perhaps?) and the very necessary court challenges to these exclusionary amendments.

Right Wing conniption fits over “activist judges” notwithstanding, the courts are exactly where this fight should be waged! That’s where the odds are more in our favor. It’s high time that we viewed marriage equality as the Federal, Constitutional issue it always has been! I know some Gay Rights attorneys are apprehensive about doing that, but even they acknowledge that this issue will inevitably end up at the Federal level. We can’t be afraid to go there!

To be sure, Supreme Courts don't always live up to their mandate of dispensing justice; it's painfully obvious that the Constitutional protections I cited earlier haven't been fully enforced. Given the partisan justices two President Bushes have seated, we could very well come out on the losing end of an important lawsuit!

However, American history shows how a loss at the Federal level doesn't necessarily spell defeat; on the contrary, such a loss can be turned to a movement’s advantage! The Dred Scott vs. Sanford decision (1857) was a devastating setback for the anti-slavery movement. It defined Black slaves as chattel instead of human beings! Yet the outrage it sparked among Northern abolitionists lit a white-hot flame under their crusade. That flame raged into a horrible Civil War, and a President was assassinated, but America emerged from the carnage a more just nation; the Thirteenth Amendment, passed in 1865, finally outlawed the American slave trade.

Sometimes, it takes an injustice most glaring, like a Dred Scott decision, a Prop 8 passage, or a Savior’s crucifixion to set the stage for positive change. Good can eventually come from bad, provided the bad is bad enough!

This case is not simply about Gay and Lesbian equality. So true! What's more, marriage rights for Gay people aren’t the most important concern here. We should be far more concerned about our democracy, and the way these unconstitutional ballot initiatives eat away at its inclusive definition!

That doesn't mean LesBiGay issues aren't central to this matter; they absolutely are! Homosexual love is no longer a criminal offense, yet those of us who practice it are still being punished. Punished, I hasten to add, in the absence of indictment or jury trial, which violates yet another Constitutional protection! Therein lay the core injustice of anti-Gay ballot questions: They are a means of skirting the judicial branch of government, of re-criminalizing people who've been exonerated! In other words, we’re getting the same kind of "justice" Jesus Christ got, and getting it from the same kind of self-appointed moral guardians! It's hard to imagine a more appalling abuse of the electoral process, and of the United States Constitution.

As my excerpts from our nation's founding documents prove, the United States Constitution is where Gay Rights protections lie! This fight isn’t about adding them, but affirming them, and mandating their enforcement. Any attempt to weaken our Constitution threatens those inherent protections! Such attempts deserve the vigorous and concerted opposition of every patriotic American, regardless of ethnic background, religious affiliation, political persuasion, sexual orientation or gender identity!

Let's face it: When polling places are used to express animosity between groups of citizens in the form of punitive laws, it's not just unpopular minorities that need saving from society's worst impulses. It's the whole country that needs saving!

Come on, people/Come on, children,
Come on down to the glory river!

Gonna wash you up/Gonna wash you down,
Gonna lay the Devil down!
Gonna lay that Devil down.
I got fury in my soul!
Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal.

In my mind, I can't study war no more.
Save the people!
Save the children!

Save the country!
Save the country!

Originally published during Christmas 2008.
*Excerpt from "Save The Country", 
words and music by Laura Nyro, 
copyright ©1972 EMI Blackwood Music (BMI).

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