A New March, a New Movement
by Jennifer Vanasco
First published in the Chicago Free Press on October 14, 2009
The Equality March was a success.
I didn't think it would be, honestly. I was worried about the lack of publicity, a sense of organizational disorganization, the tepid response from our trusted national organizations.
I was worried that the March would wind up being a few shirtless guys and a megaphone.
But I was wrong.
Thanks partly to Barack Obama deciding to speak the night before at HRC, the March brought positive national press attention to our issues. And enough people came — perhaps 200,000 from across the country — that it strengthened our sense of community and unity.
But perhaps most importantly, the March showed that we are now a different movement. We are a movement that knows what it is doing. We are a movement that will win.
The gay civil rights movement has slalomed through many iterations over the past 40 years. There were the Stonewall days, when we were trying to stop police harassment; the lesbian separatism of the 1970s; and the ‘90s era of identity politics, when we were determined to celebrate — and make the country accept- our distinct culture.
But the feel of the Equality March was very different.
"The March showed that we are now a different movement. We are a movement that knows what it is doing. We are a movement that will win."This wasn't about outsiders seeking visibility. It was about ordinary people wondering why we weren't being treated like everyone else.
Despite the sunny weather, men weren't marching with their shirts off. There was no lesbian fire eating. No boas. This wasn't about a celebration of individual flamboyance or the acknowledgement of sub-identities. This was about showing Washington and the world that we are serious about our rights. That we will not be silent. That we will not back down.
Sure, there were groups of Christians and bears and anarchists and an amazing number of straight supporters. But by the end, the crowd mostly flowed together, with couples with children marching beside a guy in a chicken suit and everyone stopping by the White House for a photo.
Marchers carried signs that expressed rights-fatigue: "Tired of carrying signs," one said. "I got married. Why can't my moms?" said another.
We have spent the year protesting and marching thanks to the fallout over the passage of Proposition 8 last November, and all that activism shows. Even are young people are no longer new to this. We know what to say. We know what to do. We chant, sure, but mostly we walk, holding our rainbow flags high, making a statement through our peaceful presence.
There were a few celebrities, most notably Lady Gaga. But even they were about protesting, not performing. This wasn't a march to express our buying power or our party power. It was about our staying power. It was a march that said, "No matter how tired we get, how long we've been doing this, how much our feet hurt, we will stay the course."
Washington was empty over Columbus Day weekend. No Senators were looking out their windows to see the human river below. The White House was quiet. The center of DC felt almost deserted. There were none of the Pride Day crowds; no beer-swilling gawkers. No thump of dance music.
There was only a sense of determination. Of public will. Of the fierce belief that we deserve equality and if we demand it loud enough and long enough, we will get it.
The Equality March was less about who we are and more about what we can — and will — do.
The Equality March said to the country: We are not outsiders. We are Americans who were born equal. And it is time Washingon recognizes that.