May 21, 2013
Why We Won’t Wait
Posted on Apr 19, 2010
By Scott Tucker
False friends and regressive “progressives” are giving gay people bad advice. The mere fact that they are paying attention marks a degree of progress. Every movement for social change reaches a stage when it attracts the attention of social climbers, niche market advertisers and career politicians. In this respect the lesbian and gay movement is no exception. We face the classic problem of maintaining a vision of justice and community at a time when careerists of all sexual persuasions are keeping their eyes on the prize of corporate paychecks. Inevitably, newspaper editors deeply indebted to status quo politics have been giving editorial advice. An April 14 editorial in the Los Angeles Times typifies the usual messages delivered from the heights of congressional, corporate and editorial offices to the folks below:
“Too bad Proposition 8 won’t go away this year. Every day that lesbian and gay couples cannot marry is another day of discrimination against homosexuals, denying them the basic right to form families with equal stature to that of any other family. That said, we never thought 2010 was the best time for a new vote on Proposition 8. It’s too soon after the original, divisive election, and we worried about the potential for a costly, well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful effort.”
The editors at the Los Angeles Times are wearing 3-D glasses and watching their own neatly crafted home movie about social change. Thus they imagine they understand the real cast of characters in all their dimensions. This is an illusion. Position really is perspective, but they also lack a sense of irony. They fail to underscore the fact that the biggest blunders in the early media campaign against Prop. 8 were made by some of the biggest and best-funded gay organizations. These are the very organizations that are most entranced by corporate power and publicity. And the top-down strategies came from corporate boards of directors at groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), headquartered in multimillion-dollar real estate in Washington, D.C., and from Equality California (EQCA), whose executive director, Geoff Kors, has all the instincts of an advertiser rolling out the next big product.
The very groups that spent the biggest bucks on lousy TV ads are promising bigger and better TV ads the next time. In the first campaign, those ads came too late, nearly scrubbed actual gay couples from the picture, and were altogether too high-minded to have any practical traction on the ground. Now EQCA has hired more expensive publicity agents and claims to be cultivating the grass-roots communities of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. EQCA and Kors took immense heat from community activists, so they learned to make populist gestures while going on with business as usual.
The same boards of directors have come around again asking for donations for their next campaign, though their timeline for social change is tailored to the desires of Democratic Party apparatchiks and the biggest corporate donors. There is not an inch of daylight between the corporate boards of the wealthier gay organizations and the editors of the Los Angeles Times. I do not suggest any conspiracy. They all simply share a reflexive sense of class solidarity. So the message of the editors is not addressed to EQCA and HRC, but is rather meant to spell out the rules of the game to anyone who didn’t learn early lessons from playground bullies or from more paternalistic bosses in later life:
For my money, the editors of a Titanic newspaper (sinking fast) are in no position to give a movement for justice any advice about what they call a “smarter strategy.” That strategy simply comes down to spending corporate dollars on a timeline that will not agitate career politicians. Look, if corporate donors want to give big bucks for social change, then community activists would be fools to turn them down. Sure, take the money and run. But let’s run in our own chosen directions, according to our own strategies and timelines. Otherwise, no deal. Otherwise that money comes with all too many corporate strings attached. Then, by default, we become corporate puppets, walking billboards and neon logos.
Speaking of “limitless funds,” the editors at the Times need a sharp reminder that corporate donations for social change are always highly calculated bets and often amount to spare change. If a handful of ethical community organizers got a fraction of the money spent on banking and corporate bailouts, that money would do more direct good than a thousand spare-change grants from a thousand corporate boards—because that fraction would amount to serious money, and because the “market value” of ethics has proved to be so low in recent years. Corporations know the market value of publicizing their own philanthropy. But a simple rhyme from William Blake will point up the problem with all charity from on high: “Pity would be no more / If we did not make somebody poor.” The main interest of corporations in any “sector of the market” (including gay people) is the fond hope that we, too, will become “good corporate citizens.” For many decent people, that is a paltry ambition. And for any democratic socialist that is no ambition at all.
Truth in advertising would require every organization in the business—and I do mean business—of corporate philanthropy to spell out in plain public print which strings are attached. But truth and advertising are barely acquainted, so there is a very high price whenever we allow corporate donors and governments to dictate the goals and timeline of any movement for social justice.
Let’s not be too finicky about money and power. Sure, everyone deserves a fair share. But there is a world of difference between a movement for justice growing from the ground of class-conscious communities and a movement of social-climbing entrepreneurs banking on new markets. Those two kinds of movements should be in dialogue, but they are also in conflict. Since corporate boards of directors are intensely class-conscious, simple justice dictates that working people have a right to class consciousness as well.
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