Sunday, October 31, 2010

The implicit lazy excuse of activists has to end

’’Don’t go on the fast, Alan. You’re our hero. We need you to do all the hard work for LGBT civil rights, so we don’t have to do the work ourselves.’’

In the last 2 weeks or so, I’ve maybe had a couple of serious conversations with Alan Bounville, a gay rights activist, who plans to begin a water-only fast on Election Day, Nov. 2. Mr. Bounville plans to begin his fast if Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) fails to either file the American Equality Bill before Nov. 2, or make a public statement of her intention to file the bill.

If passed, the American Equality Bill would add ‘’sexual orientation’’ and ‘’gender identity’’ to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and thereby end most major forms of discrimination against LGBT Americans.

I had gotten to know about Mr. Bounville from all the activities I’ve read posted about him on Facebook. I remember seeing a dramatic picture of his arrest at a protest in the New York City marriage license office earlier this year. Then, I remembered reading about what seemed like a national tour of duty he undertook this summer to further equal rights for LGBT Americans. I finally met him in person about 2 weeks ago, at a rally calling for a new hospital in the Lower West Side of Manhattan.

Since having first met him, I have spent a little bit of each night, visiting a vigil that he and Iana Di Bona had organised outside of Sen. Gillibrand’s campaign office. Because I have so much practise making YouTube videos about political issues, I started making YouTube videos about the participants of the QueerSOS! vigil, as it was called, and the American Equality Bill that the vigil participants were advocating. After I did my first couple of YouTube videos, I started to feel like I was now doing my part to support the extension of civil rights to LGBT Americans. I thought that doing my little videos was all that I needed to do, because I could count on Mr. Bounville and Ms. Di Bona to do all the hard work, like sleeping outisde Sen. Gillibrand’s campaign office, and taking all of the criticism that they are taking from other LGBT activists and allies for mounting the vigil, in the first place.

Within the first week of having visited the vigil, I wrote and sent a still as of yet unanswered letter to Jon Reinish, who is supposed to be Sen. Gillibrand’s LGBT liaison. I followed up with an e-mail to Sen. Gillibrand’s campaign staff, who, in reply, were only able to say that the Honourable Senator was working to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the lame duck. But no response has ever acknowledged the American Equality Bill.

Mr. Bounville then showed me how easy it was to organise an action. Around this time, I asked Mr. Bounville why was he intent on following through with the fast, and I remember he said something along the lines that it would inspire other people into action. I had had a separate conversation about the fast with Ms. Di Bona, and when I said how much we would lose in Mr. Bounville if he was hurt (or worse) as a result of the fast, Ms. Di Bona said that I was making a hero out of Mr. Bounville, and that, instead, I should be looking for a way to increase my participation in the movement, to, thereby, make a bigger difference.

Here I was, increasing my participation with the vigil, precisely to avoid the need for Mr. Bounville to begin the fast, and Ms. Di Bona told me that I should be looking to myself to show leadership, instead of hanging all my hopes on only Mr. Bounville. I didn’t understand what Ms. Di Bona was trying to say. I kept thinking that, through solemn communication with Sen. Gillibrand’s legislative and campaign staff, we could use logic, reason, and persuasion to demonstrate to Sen. Gillibrand that America was ready for the American Equality Bill. And once she became convinced, then the need for the fast would be moot. But nobody in Sen. Gillibrand’s office would acknowledge anything about the American Equality Bil, and the growing number of my YouTube videos were having no acknowledged impact within her offices.

Late into my second week of the vigil, after Mr. Bounville had directly addressed the subject of the fast in at least a couple of my YouTube videos, I decided I was going to spend a night at the vigil, to experience for myself the sacrifice that Ms. Di Bona and Mr. Bounville had been making.

I arrived at about 6 p.m. on Day 34 of the vigil, this would have marked the 14th consecutive day that I had visited the vigil since the first time I had encountered it. (I will recount my evening’s experience below.) After we all woke up to Day 35, either Ms. Di Bona and Mr. Bounville again mentioned the upcoming fast. And again, I said to Mr. Bounville that I did not agree with the fast. I think I had recounted to him what I had remembered what I had heard Cleve Jones mention at his public speech in Jackson Heights last year, namely, that the movement was looking for a focus, and an upcoming rally at that time was meant to connect various activists and to build a national community to the movement. (This is what I remember him saying, so I may be simplifying or summarising his message. Watch my first video in the series I made of his speech.) I told Mr. Bounville that the LGBT rights movement was in need of leaders with a vision, that his life was worth more to be here and present, to help the movement find a focus.

Then came the moment of truth.

That’s when Mr. Bounville challenged me. He said that my argument in opposing the fast sounded more like I didn’t want him to begin the fast, because I wanted him to do the harder work (or all of the hard work) in the LGBT rights movement, so that I could do softer work, or no work at all.

That’s when it all became clear for me. I did want to go back to doing my occassional YouTube video, I did want to go back to having no vigil to visit each day, I did want to go back to watching my Netflix movies and reading my vast amounts of unread books. I wanted Mr. Bounville to be the leader, because the kind of work that he and Ms. Di Bona do and have been doing are exhausting, activists like they open themselves up to criticisms by other LGBT activists, and they draw harassment from haters.

I had to admit that I did want Mr. Bounville to do the harder work, so I could be among the ones, who did the softer work.

All along I had been complaining to Mr. Bounville and Ms. Di Bona about why there weren’t more LGBT activists participating in the vigil. I’m not just talking about average LGBT activists, I was mentioning major LGBT activits that I know about. I thought about all of my Facebook friends, who have been seeing all the links, posts, pictures, or YouTube videos that I have been posting on Facebook since Oct. 17.

They must still be waiting for activists, like Ms. Di Bona or Mr. Bounville to do all of the harder work, so that they could just do the softer work.

What it was like to spend one night on the sidewalk with the QueerSOS! vigil outside Sen. Gillibrand’s campaign office.

I arrived at about 6 p.m. on Day 34 with 2 new, clean blankets that I had bought at a bargain shop, some basic necessities, and my computer case. I had with me my wallet, my Blackberry, and my computer. I had planned to start writing this blog post while outside, but it was too cold to type, I was visiting and talking to some of the activists, who had stopped by to visit the vigil, and then it became too late. At about 11:30 p.m., I laid down my blankets, and turned in for the night.

I spread out one blanket on the cold sidewalk for warmth and cushion, and I was going to use the other blanket to cover myself for warmth. I shoved my wallet into one of my front pockets, and, with a little string, I tied the handles to my computer case to my wrist. It wasn’t easy to lay down on my side, because I could feel the pressure and discomfort of the cold sidewalk all against my rib cage. I wanted to stay curled up like that for warmth, but I couldn’t stay like that for long. Eventually, I settled for that curled position and laying flat on my back, even though I felt more exposed and vulnerable laying on my back. I woke up many times during the night to change between these two positions.

I also woke up many times during the night, because of all of the pre-Halloween parties. There were many people out in their costumes on Saturday night, going to Halloween eve parties, drunkedly expressing themselves in their loud, young ways. When I woke up, at about 7 a.m. on Day 35, I had an urgent need to go the bathroom. My hands felt frozen, and I couldn’t find my gloves. One of my plastic bags (in which I had brought my blankets) was missing. I quietly gathered myself and went to a local Starbucks to use a public bathroom. As casually as I could, I pretended like the only reason I was there was for a short double soy latte.

Between two visits to the bathroom, I checked Facebook. I couldn’t really focus on the LGBT civil rights aspect of having just spent one night at the vigil outside Sen. Gillibrand’s campaign office, because I was more focused on what it was like to be homeless. As I wrote on Facebook, I was angry that we just awoke to Day 35 of the vigil, and still the Honourable Senator had yet to issue any public statement either about the vigil or her support for the American Equality Bill. It was unbelievable and a shock to the conscious of any reasonable man. After I returned to the vigil, that was when the convesation leading up to the moment of truth happened. Sleeping outside Sen. Gillibrand’s office is certainly not easy work, and it is not pretty. It is hard on the body, and I could see how it could be frustrating if you keep expecting some kind of honourable communication from Sen. Gillibrand’s office, one that hadn’t yet come in 35 days. She claims to support LGBT civil rights, but expressing empty words of support mean nothing if she is incapable of showing leadership to introduce legislation that would do something about actually extending civil rights to 30 million Americans. It is almost always in the news that some municipality or state has passed another law that codifies de jure discrimination against LGBT Americans. Sen. Gillibrand, with friends like you ….

The shocking thing is that after midnight tonight, Mr. Bounville plans to begin a water-only fast. I only hope that Sen. Gillibrand does have an honourable conscious, because she is going to have to do a lot of soul searching to discover her capacity for integrity, courage, and leadership. All we are asking is that she file the American Equality Bill today, so that we can start mobilising to make sure that it passes tomorrow. It is a very simple request to made of an ally. I invite you to call Sen. Gillibrand’s office, and ask her yourself when is she going to file the American Equality Bill. Dial 1-212-688-6262.

Flyering in Union Square ; batch of flyers at the LGBT Center on West 13th Street

As I gathered my belongings to leave the vigil and return home, I found myself shifting some things out of some bags and into others. I’d seen homeless people do this before, and I realised what the importance of shifting your things is all about. It is a way to take an inventory of what you still have, and it is also a way of keeping track what is in what bag. After I came home and showered, I went to Union Square, where I was passing out flyers about Sen. Gillibrand’s gay rights record. I was accosted by two people, one who said that biology made it unnatural to be gay, and she should know, because she studied biology. And the other person told me that he new how to fix the gay problem in American. « The cure for gays is hate » he said. After some time, I walked across town and left some flyers in the news room of the LGBT Center on West 13th Street. On my way home, I stopped by briefly at the vigil, to check in. Ms. Di Bona had found my silver ring, which had apparently slipped off my cold and numb hands during my visit on Friday night. I kept my visit as brief as possible, because the fast is practially here. I am completely uncomfortable now, out of my safety zone, and I feel like I am all of a sudden having to do some of the harder work, and as of midnight tonight, I won’t have Ms. Di Bona or Mr. Bounville to turn to for guidance. Once the fast begins, they are going to limit communication with everybody.

The only communication that will make any difference at all, as it well it could have or would have during the last now 36 days (as of this morning), is any communication to come out of Sen. Gillibrand’s office. Mr. Bounville will begin the hard work of his fast, I will continue with the harder work in my Where is Kirsten ? campaign, others will continue to do the hard work that they are doing, and still yet others will be moved by the fast to do other harder work. And the whole world will be watching.

This post is in the process of being re-edited for clarity and typos, I rushed the post for the sake of trying to make a difference today.

No comments:

Post a Comment