Back in college, I got heavily involved for a couple years with RESULTS, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to creating the political will to ending hunger around the globe. RESULTS argued that the resources already existed to wipe out malnutrition and hunger-related diseases; what was missing was (and is, to this day) was the commitment, by political leaders, everyday citizens, and policymakers, media figures, NGOs, and the like to transform well-wishes into concrete actions.
I'm remembering my time with RESULTS, as I get ready for Boston Pride tomorrow, and as I've watched the new administration juggle the Great Recession, the Afghan-Pakistan War, Iraq, Guantánamo, North Korea, health care, and green jobs on the one hand, and its hesitant approach to LGBT rights on the other. Sure, lots of us want to see marriage equality, the repeal of both the Defense of Marriage Act and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (at the top of my own priority list) and LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation, immigration reform that allows same-same partners to actually both live in the U.S., the revision of the Health & Human Services Department policy that still bans immigration to the U.S. by HIV+ individuals, and a host of other laws that collectively guarantee equal citizenship for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status. (Of course, while there's no pro-hunger movement, there is a well-organized and well-funded movement opposed to the agenda outlined here)
I don't see the political will to make this happen, though. I'm also reminded as well of the quote frequently attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who when pressed by labor and civil rights leaders to support their agenda, reportedly replied, "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."
Who is making Obama do the right thing? Who is pressuring conservative Democrats, especially in the Senate, to support this agenda?
There's a lot of teeth-gnashing and anger out there in the LGBT blogosphere and web of social networking, some of it very justified, some of it perhaps exaggerated and disproportionate, grounded in the Administration's foot-dragging and lack of followthrough on LGBT rights -- the silence on marriage equality victories in Iowa, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire; the mixed messages on DADT, and today, the Department of Justice's filing to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act -- a completely standard DOJ procedure and yet an entirely tone-deaf and insulting message standing on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
I keep wondering, though: who is making Obama do the right thing? Where's the movement to create the political will to support a pro-LGBT agenda? There are tireless activists, national & statewide organizations, and others working on all these issues, of course, but I get the sense that much of the anger out there online is not in fact dedicated to organizing a movement that holds the White House and Congressional Democrats accountable. There is, of course, the building movement to overturn Prop 8 in California, but (and I mean no disrespect to that campaign or to LGBT and allied Californians) for the nearly 90% of us Americans who do not in fact live in the Golden State, many of us seem to be mistaking one (significant) piece of the puzzle for the entire picture. A March on Washington could, theoretically, be a tool in building that movement, but the call for such a March this coming October 11 seems wildly ill-conceived (see this critique and this set of suggestions of what to do instead).
I can't help wonder if some folks expected Obama's victory to solve all our problems. The campaign to win last year was critical and wonderful -- but it was the pre-game show; now the work really begins. I'm reminded of Frederick Douglass' stirring admonition: power never concedes anything without a struggle -- it never has, and it never will.
Some of you are working hard to build this movement up. But to the rest of you, I hope you turn your anger into action. Do you think that Human Rights Campaign is out of touch, or elitist, or transphobic? Fine, but don't let that be an excuse for inaction. Donate to Lambda Legal, the amazing group working for LGBT rights and the rights of HIV+ people through the courts, and to the Victory Fund, the group dedicated to electing LGBT people to political office. Look up when your Congressional representatives are back home, and lobby them. Check out how Immigration Equality is lobbying for the Reuniting Families Act. Go to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference in Dallas next February. Attend a Wellstone Action training to learn how to lobby your elected officials -- or run for office yourself. Find your statewide organization through the Equality Federation website and see what's happening locally. See what PFLAG and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network are doing to support LGBTQ youth, teachers, and parents, and to pass safe schools legislation. And when you act locally, chances are opportunities will open up to lobby national policymakers as well.
If you're angry, great, but don't let that anger go to waste. Democracy isn't a spectator sport, after all; it's messy, it's nasty, and, as the old lottery commercials told us, "ya gotta be in it to win it."