To Counterprotest or Not To Counterprotest: Courage, Integrity, Tact, and Cowardice

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In many conversations and writings lately, I’ve heard myself emphasizing the need for the LGBT movement to be more proactive. We do a whole lot better when we’re trying to get people to say “Yes!” (like in DC or Washington state) than when we are trying to get them not say “No” (like in Maine and California). At first, when I started making this point, I framed it as “more proactive and less reactive,” but the more I’ve thought about it, I really just mean more proactive.

You see, I think there is incredible importance in reacting. We need to stand up for ourselves. We need to create visibility for ourselves. We need to counter our opponents and their lie-riddled fear-mongering rhetoric at every turn. It’s a matter of integrity—a demonstration of our courage and our stamina. Alone, it’s not a winning strategy; you don’t win a game of chess if you only defend your own pieces. Still, it’s a vital part of our movement and our social well-being.

That’s why I am incredibly disappointed in Equality Pennsylvania’s cowardice in deciding not to counterprotest the NOM tour stop this Friday in Harrisburg.

The National Organization for Marriage has been driving around the US, rallying tens of people at their events, and then creating “breaking news” propaganda videos about how aggressive the counterprotesters are. It’s a devious tactic. Freedom to Marry and the Prop 8 Trial Tracker (“NOM Tour Tracker”), as well as bloggers like Jeremy Hooper at Good As You have been countering them at every turn, revealing the truths of their claims. They only have a few stops left, and on Friday they will be here in little ol’ Harrisburg, PA (it’s the capital!).

Equality PA released a statement explaining why they were not counterprotesting (emphasis in original):

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) kicked off their “One Man, One Woman” tour on July 14th. At each stop where there have been counter protests or attendance by pro-equality supporters, they have disrespected or mocked them and attempted to provoke them into screaming or yelling. Their goal in doing this is to make our side look foolish and hostile. We have also seen that they like to play a numbers game where if we have even a few less attendees than at their event, they will claim that the momentum is moving in their direction. We know from the recent polling numbers and the pathetic turnout their rallies have been recording, that this simply isn’t the case.

We are working hard to advance equality and will continue to do so long after they leave town. While we may be upset by their rhetoric, we can’t get caught up in retaliation when we need to remain focused on what needs to get done to win! Putting our energy into showing up at their event does not help to move us forward. What will help to advance equality in Pennsylvania is if we use them coming to town as an excuse to mobilize local activists and build our network.

So after NOM finishes their ranting and heads to the next town, we will be out there getting it done! We are holding a terrific event in Harrisburg on August 12, the night before they arrive, around a special showing of the movie “Stonewall Uprising” with a panel on youth activism afterward. We encourage everyone who can, to attend.

Click here for more information!

Not only is this a great movie, but this public conversation will increase our network and identify new volunteers and supporters. Please do what you can…attend, make a donation or just plain follow our activities. But please, ignore NOM when they come to town and don’t interact. Attention is exactly what they want, and why should honest people who hold equality close to their hearts be tricked into supporting their sad little charade.

This is an expression of cowardice. It buys into a “fight or flight” dichotomy that doesn’t reflect the reality of potential responses. The assumption is that we cannot respond to NOM’s rally without looking “foolish,” “hostile,” or retaliatory, ignoring the notion and potential of tact.

Is it possible to counterprotest NOM in a peaceful way? A way that creates visibility and builds unity for our community and our families? A way that makes sure that any media coverage includes stories of our experiences and our truths? A way that overshadows NOM’s message of discrimination without fueling their propaganda machine? It’s not easy to pull off, but such a way exists.

That’s why EQPA’s decision amounts to cowardice. Rather than take a risk, they’d rather not try at all. Maybe they should be ashamed, but maybe not. If they don’t think they have the resources or capacity to pull it off, I can totally understand why they wouldn’t want their stamp of approval on it. However, I resent the smugness with which they claim to rise above, ignoring the important catharsis achieved when our community rejects its own condemnation.

That’s not to say that EQPA doesn’t make some good points in their statement. It is true that NOM has been using their tour to paint a negative picture of activists, but it’s NOM. They’ll find a way to spin it their way regardless. Given that Harrisburg is the only stop that hasn’t had a major organization planning a counter response, I’d hate to see Central Pennsylvania spun as a bastion of anti-gay hate. I think EQPA is onto something with using NOM to mobilize local activists, and I think the film screening is a great idea. Educating about the movement’s history and raising the voices of queer youth is amazing, but it doesn’t undo the hurt NOM causes many by rolling into town to spout their incendiary drivel.

We have a serious problem if our movement isn’t willing to stand up to our opponents. I don’t think anything has been more compelling than the media appearances Olson and Boies have been making since last week’s Prop 8 ruling, unabashedly defending the truths of our lives and obliterating our opponents. That sort of visibility and education is exactly what many of the counterprotests have accomplished with their truth squads. It’s the kind of work an organization like Equality Pennsylvania should be prepared to handle without compromising their other proactive work.

Standing up for equality means standing up for equality whether it’s convenient or not. Even if it’s not on our playing field, we have to show.

That’s why I will be participating in a counterprotest on Friday at noon being organized by a group called Justice League – Activate. I will stand against NOM with my family, document their efforts, and speak on behalf of Pennsylvania gays and lesbians who still are subject to state-sponsored discrimination. If none of my friends will stand with me out of solidarity with Equality Pennsylvania, that’s their choice. However, I will not let preachers of discrimination control the media for the day without some visibility from the people they unflinchingly discriminate against.

While I still argue that proactive activism demands greater priority, reactive activism is important for our community’s maintenance. We have to be strong enough to rebuff our opponents AND push forward in spite of them. To ignore them is forfeit and I’m already tired of feeling like I”m on a losing team.

I hope you’ll join me Friday to show Central Pennsylvania that we are here, we are queer, and we care about marriage too. We want the same safety and security that marriage provides. We are proudly standing up for all families who just want to live their lives as happy members of their Pennsylvania communities.

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There are 7 Comments to "To Counterprotest or Not To Counterprotest: Courage, Integrity, Tact, and Cowardice"

  • Buffy says:

    I’m inclined to agree that the real purpose of NOM’s current tour is to draw counter-protesters so they can spin every stop into “OMG we’re being so persecuted by the Radical Gay Activists!1!1″ I don’t think Equality Pennsylvania was implying that the LGBT community couldn’t protest peacefully, but that NOM is incapable of being truthful. Think of the stop where men stood quietly with umbrellas, and NOM hyped it as if they ravaged a woman (OMG that poor innocent nursing mother!!!) because her view of the rally was blocked. At another they made up some BS about one of the men threatening to kidnap a child.

    NOM is incapable of being truthful. The very presence of protesters at their events gets spun into “We were attacked, bullied, threatened”. If we don’t engage they have nothing to spin–except the numbers of pasty, pudgy, elderly bigots who attend their rallies.

  • Sean says:

    Zack,

    I agree with you. This is the same sentiment that is fueling The Big Commit.

    And let me tell you, pulling of a peaceful, yet powerful, counter event that highlights families and tells the truth is awfully hard. But that’s exactly what we are poised to accomplish on sunday!

    I hope you can get out the word on the event, and attend yourself!

    http://www.bigcommit.org

    See you there.

  • ZackFord says:

    Thanks Sean! I would be in DC this weekend if I didn’t already have travel plans in upstate NY. I wish you the best for the event; I’m very excited by the visibility it is amassingt!

  • Demand Equality says:

    As an experienced organizer (trained by the now infamous ACORN before they were infamous) I tried to explain to Equality Pennsylvania that the tyrannical theocRAT tour is an opportunity to get marriage equality voices heard, and if they looked at it that way, it changes the POV – to being proactive. This was on their facebook page. The response I received was the concern about the turn out. and how they are working with their political allies to move equality forward. I suggested to them that they invite their allies to join them in rallying for equality. I also explained that this is a great opportunity to energize the Pennsylvania LGBT community. My suggestions fell on reluctant ears (or eyes).

    What I learned a long time ago is that when people get dug into their positions they get stuck there, and sometimes back themselves into such a tight corner than there is no way out, as far as they can see.

    Fortunately, the rallies for marriage equality are national now. The numbers of people who show up is terrific but its the message not how many messengers there are that matter. You will all be giving support to the people of Pennsylvania and I think that’s just as important as proactively getting the message of equality out on the blogosphere and the airways.

    In Spirit & Solidarity for a More Perfect Union Always

  • Mark L says:

    As someone who actively demonstrated against Prop 8 (both before and after the election), I can tell you that it is incredibly empowering to join forces with a throng of like-minded proponents of decency and fairness and speak out peacefully against injustice. The crowds that have stood up against NOM at every stop demonstrate to NOM, their supporters, and those who see our passion that we will not be stopped until we reach full marriage equality. These rallies strengthen the resolve of the GLBT community and our allies to speak out and speak often. I think EqPA is missing an important opportunity to work towards full marriage equality.

  • Ahab says:

    Excellent commentary. I’m delighted that people will be standing up to NOM this Friday. I too plan to attend and peacefully voice my displeasure at NOM’s homophobia.

  • Kelly says:

    I WILL be joining you in Harrisburg. I posted my own Facebook event for the same purpose. I agree with you. We have been hiding in dark movie houses for decades now. It is time to sing and dance in the sun and rain and be visible. Thank you for your blog entry.

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