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Thursday, June 21, 2012

How To Crank a Revolution


Linda Hirshman, author of Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution, on "What Stonewall Got Right, and Occupy Got Wrong," an excerpt:
This Sunday, as every fourth Sunday in June, the streets of New York will fill with prideful marchers celebrating Pride Month. There will be similar marches, too, in cities around the country. Sunday marks the forty-third year since the uprising in a Greenwich Village bar called Stonewall that supposedly started the modern gay revolution. The myth is that a few hundred angry people acted out in lower Manhattan, and the world changed. Maybe that’s where Occupy Wall Street got the idea that this is how it’s done.

It’s the wrong lesson. Stonewall was the product of a handful of brilliant community organizers applying basic principles of social organizing. Without them, Stonewall would have been nothing more than one of several gay-bar pushbacks in the late sixties, or another one of the non-gay street demonstrations that characterized New York in that tumultuous time. It was the dedicated strategizing of the men and women of the nascent gay movement that turned something unremarkable into the Bastille. Their achievement is a field guide to how to make a social movement, and also offers insight into why Occupy is failing.

Which reminds your Head Trucker - who naively used to think that demostrations just spontaneously happened, like meteorites or flatulence - of the time he was in D.C. for the display of the AIDS quilt in 1992, and somehow my first husband and I and our little group from the far South learned there was to be a kind of memorial concert one night on the Mall, to be followed by a silent candlelight march past the White House.  Being out-of-towners, we of course were the last ones to hear about this, and by the time we did, every store in the vicinity of Dupont Circle, where we were staying, had been ransacked and de-candled.  But we turned up anyway, and gratefully accepted some free candles a stranger was handing out, so we were able to stand and shine - even though we were so damn far away from the stage, if there was a stage, that we couldn't hear a thing but the occasional rumble of what sounded like distant thunder.

Still, we were there and we were queer and totally out in the open about it, which was a great treat for all of us.  (My husband and I walked all over the tourist parts of D.C. hand in hand, in broad daylight - what a thrilling feeling of freedom that was, something we'd never before in our lives been able to do out of doors.)  Eventually, though, the concert apparently having ended, the great crowd, like an enormous flounder, slowly began to scuddle along and pour itself onto a pavement that was headed in the general direction of the White House.  We oozed along with everybody else, proudly holding high our windproofed, Dixie-cupped candles amid the many thousand points of light flowing all around us, wrapped in a sort of speechless reverie at the thought that we were actually there in that famous place, doing these things.

What a surprise it was, then, to discover that during this supposedly silent protest march, there were lean, angry-looking guys with voices like a drill sergeant's, striding through the rows and files of marchers, eyes blazing, whipping us up into chanting "Shame!  Shame!  Shame!" as we approached 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Which I did, and I'm glad I did - we had good reason, and it was, forgive me for saying so, great fun too.

But country boy here made mental note:  Aha, this is how the world really works.


1 comment:

Wolf Warren said...

That was an amazing trip indeed. I will also not forget what it took to get us there.LOL Great times indeed,

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