This post was generated live at Netroots Nation 2011 in Minneapolis, MN.
As groups debate the best strategy for moving an LGBT equality agenda, there is often a perceived conflict between the “insider” private negotiating and the “outsider” public direct actions, blogging, etc. As I’ve listened to the dialogues this weekend, it seems to me that the conflict is, in fact, perceived. While various groups, leaders, lobbyists, and bloggers might not agree with each other’s strategies, that disagreement does not mean that the strategies actually conflict. In stark contrast, the diverse strategies can actually create an incredibly synergistic movement if strategists use each other’s tactics instead of just worrying about distinguishing themselves.
Unfortunately, egos on both sides and the absence of an orchestrator for the meta-movement seem to prevent this synergy from being fully realized.
I thought that Heather Cronk from GetEQUAL made this point most eloquently in a panel Thursday morning about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act. When GetEQUAL did direct actions at the White House fence, it might have superficially looked like a rebellion against the insider tactics of “Gay, Inc.” lobbying that a group like HRC traditionally does. But the two are not mutually exclusive. As Heather pointed out, “moments of chaos help cut through the political bullshit,” and actually create more space for the HRCs of the movement to exert more power. They can go into the meetings and say, “Look, we’re trying to make this work, but we’ve got these ‘crazies’ acting out, so you have to give us more to work with.”
Some might not buy that argument, but as we realized in the LGBT strategy session yesterday, there is another very important benefit to those kinds of direct actions. Even if the action does not directly benefit the political negotiating, it indirectly supports the movement by generating media stories. Often times, there is very little happening in the news to sustain coverage of a particular issue (e.g. ENDA). Blogs cannot drive any coverage to the mainstream media if there are no stories to cover. Introduce a well-executed direct action, however, and we get breaking news, several days of coverage, follow-up for arrests and trials, and more importantly, personal faces on the issue. Even if insider groups cannot use the direct action in their negotiations, those negotiations still benefit from media attention and the shaping of public opinion on the issue.
The outcome, inarguably, is synergistic momentum, and I think the DADT effort exemplified the way it can work. While some may try to paint a revisionist perspective, there was a sharp divide in early 2010 between activists and the Obama administration about what approach to take on repeal. The administration was opposed to pursuing any legislative repeal until after the military survey was complete, rather than concurrently. While it’s hard to argue what-if’s, I think there is a compelling case to make that direct actions by GetEQUAL and SLDN’s blog-promoted campaign of letters from servicemembers advanced the campaign that made sure repeal happened before the end of 2010.
Regardless of our roles in the movement, we all need to get to a place where we see the difference between “I wouldn’t do that” and “We shouldn’t do that.” There might never be an orchestrator to “conduct” the movement at a meta-level above all of its players. If, however, we can trust each other and play off each other instead of playing against each other, we can truly work in concert toward the LGBT equality we all believe in.