June 19, 2013
Why We Won’t Wait
Posted on Apr 19, 2010
By Scott Tucker
When organizations claiming the legacy of the civil rights and social justice movements decide that the best way to fight corporate culture is to become corporations, the justification is always some version of the adage that you fight fire with fire. Well, sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you fight fire with water, or by clearing dead wood away from your dwelling. The conflagration of our national economy is, however, not a natural disaster. This disaster was made in corporate casinos by gamblers who placed high bets using the hopes, wages and pensions of other people. They did not simply indulge in the more or less solitary vice of betting small sums out of private pockets. They were spinning the whole corporate Wheel of Fortune, and they became the biggest thieves in history. They were often cheered on in the boom years by wholly owned subsidiary players on editorial boards and in high office, before the whole spectacle went bust.
The editors at the Los Angeles Times are peculiarly unaware that their own ideology has any causal relation to the firestorm of our current economy and public life, and they may be quite surprised that the shelf life of the corporate nostrums they are peddling expired long ago. An old-fashioned devotion to news on paper (which I share) hardly requires any sentimental attachment to the hucksters of corporate civilization. In their own editorial realm, they collected tons of dry tinder and played with matches, and now the blaze is bearing down even upon newspaper offices. That is news fit to print, though not by editors at the Los Angeles Times.
Likewise, the moral and political horizon of those editors offers no clear view of the world at all. Proposition 8 was not simply an assault on the human rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. It was also an assault on the separation of church and state, heavily funded and promoted by fundamentalist groups, as well as by the Mormon and Catholic churches. It was thereby also an assault on secular values in public life and undermined the foundations of the republic. Who came to the defense of Dreyfus, a Jewish officer of the French army? Not the big businessmen of France, not the clerical reactionaries of that time, and not militarists with an ax to grind. No, the fighting camp of Dreyfusards consisted of radical republicans committed to secular equality. Those are historical lessons we should call back to public memory in these times.
Prop. 8 was not simply a legal move to enshrine the existing status quo. No, because there had been a brief period when the state of California affirmed the legal right of gay couples to marry in the same manner as any other couple. My husband and I chose to do so. Now we are left stranded as “exceptional cases” since Prop. 8 makes legal marriage impossible for other gay couples. Prop. 8 was a reversion to discrimination after a brief episode of legal equality, and the net effect is that painfully gained legal rights were stolen away. The political lesson is that the communities most at risk cannot count on politicians or corporate donors to defend their rights, not just in the seasons of progress but especially in seasons of reaction.
The time to fight injustice is always now. The “big donors” and politicians like to jump to the head of a parade once other people have taken the real personal risks of creating a social movement of resistance. A simple tribute to those who stepped forward without big bucks is therefore in order. I will mention only two among the many community groups that did so. Restore Equality 2010 did not agree with the “pragmatic” timeline and pressed to put Prop. 8 back on the (November 2010) ballot for defeat. Plainly it lost that effort, but it won the more important moral and communal battle. Likewise, Love Honor Cherish, a grass-roots community group that lacked the big budgets of more traditional groups, deserves great credit for daring to fight the good fight without any guarantee of winning the immediate legal or legislative battles. It set the high standard of not waiting for justice, and of building its campaign from a base of real communities. Love Honor Cherish understood that in a long social struggle we can expect to lose, to lose, to lose ... and then to win.
No one can predict the ideal timeline of events, least of all career politicians. In real time, gay community members took the initiative and began conversations with friends and neighbors. They trained volunteers with strong ideals to gather signatures, whereas better-financed groups hire part-time labor to do that job. Their door-to-door campaign was not wasted. Truly, they tilled the soil and planted seeds that will bear fruit. They were not able to rack up the number of signatures needed to put Prop. 8 on the November ballot for repeal, but in every other way they covered themselves in glory.
Corporate liberals, unsurprisingly, give corporate advice. But even on the democratic left (generously defined to include people inside and outside the Democratic Party), there are some people who are now giving the most regressive advice possible. They like to flatter themselves by saying queers think only of their own small petty cause, while they themselves have their eyes on much wider horizons. We’ve heard all that before. Gay people recognize this as a more genteel form of anti-gay bigotry, sometimes dressed up in Marxist guise but more often encountered in the usual bogus pragmatism of the Democratic Party. Some of these “progressives”—yes, the word must be braced in cold iron quotation marks—even advise waiting beyond 2012. They, too, advise queers to wait in line behind their preferred agenda and timeline.
The old debate about marriage versus civil unions has become strictly academic. So let’s grant the most obvious point and the most secular premise up front: If we had divine powers and were making the world from scratch, no state would be in the business of regulating marriages at all but would simply attend to common justice and civil unions. The ceremonies that “sanctify” a marriage would be left strictly to personal faith, and to your local mosque, synagogue or church. Those marriages would have no special privileges and no higher standing in secular law.
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