This is an old post I wrote about Proposition 8 and its subsequent failure.
Protests are always a crapshoot. The weather could blow, the turnout could suck, the keynote speakers could fall flat, the donated sound system could break, or, even worse, the protest could be a raging success. The disaffected people, the proletariat who have left their houses, traveled in solidarity for a common cause, they could be whipped into a chaotic frenzy, marched to a second destination, then… left to disband. This feeling of isolationism and confusion that drove them to seek out a group, that forced them to have a voice, it’s now worse before, now that each protestor has been exposed to the notion that there are OTHERS like him, that there are OTHERS who feel the same, that there are OTHERS willing to fight against the preservation of the status quo. But those others are riding the subway home. Those others are at Whole Foods getting lunch. Those others, whose names you don’t know, whose phone numbers you don’t have, they’re hitting the 3:15 showing of Madagascar 2. That dissipation of energy is the comedown off the heroin protest high, and it’s an all too familiar feeling for the modern dissident.
I remember in 2003 attending the largest anti-war protest in the Pacific Northwest. A sea of people rivaling the nearby ocean. Shouts, cries, speakers, energy, posters, tears. Change. And the rally happened, and I got chills, and I got angry, and I shouted along with the man holding the bullhorn, just as I was instructed to do. But that night, I went home and I sat with my friends and we searched for what we had changed, what we had done. And the war happened. And people died. And we forgot.
Today, I took part in a protest against the passing of Proposition 8 in California, along with thousands and thousands of like-minded individuals. It was an ingenious idea— organizing simultaneous protests in every major city across America. 10:30 in Los Angeles, 1:30 in New York, god-knows-when in Alaska (for the 8 people who wanted to be there). The power of the internet had been harnessed yet again for social action. The turn-out – amazing. The signs – hilarious, touching and resonant. The speakers, aside from a few shrill voices – measured, intelligent, honest. It was a good rally, a meaningful protest… but I found my body reacting in a strange way. I wasn’t angry… I was… something. Tears sprang to my eyes at the echoing chants and beating drums. I was caught off guard and quickly yanked my sunglasses down. Tears? At a protest rally? This was a time for militant action, for shouts of anger, fists of fury. And I looked around me. And I saw a sea of people protesting for equality, yes. But more importantly, I saw people protesting for love. The gay rights movement is, at its base, about equality for men and women of all races, creeds and color. Yes. But this particular movement, this protest filled with 60-year old lesbians holding hands, terrified that their marriage was going to be voided by the state, by lifelong gay partners who simply wanted their love sanctioned… it was different than anything I’d ever witnessed. They were people protesting in defense of basic civil liberties, yes, but all under the umbrella of a simple, yet indescribable, human emotion. The signs showed wedding pictures, the banners listed names of couples with the length of their unions beside them. 16 years. 25 years. 40 years. These couples, these unspeakable loves, they finally had voices, and they were loud.
Protecting innocent life, granting equal educational rights to minorities, denying NAFTA’s inexorable approach into our political system—these are rallies filled with righteous indignation, with anger, and with drive. Today’s protest… was different. It was tinged with sentimentality and sadness… the notion that men and women had to fight for their right to love another human being was strange, shocking. The facts and figures and arguments curled up and blew away in the face of these elderly couples fighting, not for themselves, but for their partners, their friends, their lovers.
And we marched. And we dissipated. And we rode subways, bikes, cars back to our houses. And we sat down and we thought. Today’s protest wasn’t just about rabble-rousing anger. It was about showing our numbers. All votes are counted equally, sure… but I think we just might have meant our votes a lot more than the opposition. When I arrived, there were about fifty anti-gay protestors waving signs and Bibles and hollering slurs at anyone who walked past. And I entered the crowds of couples and I forgot about them. An hour later, I realized they were gone. And that’s when it struck me that today really was different. Because hate and anger, they’re just two sides of the same coin. They fade. They dissipate. They lapse. But love… well, that lasts a lot longer.