Marching Banned?

All Over The Map | April 2018

Members of the GLSEN Phoenix parade contingent march in the 2017 Phoenix Pride Parade. Photo by nightfuse.com.

By Liz Massey, April 2018 Issue.

The first year I lived here, I remember the desire to bring back a Pride parade to the festivities, a component that had been missing for part of the ’90s. This year, Phoenix Pride expects more than 2,000 individual participants in the parade, and more than 15,000 spectators.his issue of Echo ushers in Pride season in Phoenix. In my more than two decades in the Valley of the Sun, I have seen our Pride organization grow from a sturdy volunteer group to a robust professional event management nonprofit.

Our city should be proud of the growth of Phoenix Pride – the organization puts on an amazing large-scale event and is able to benefit the community year-round through its scholarships and grants. But every year around parade time, there is at least a few discussions of how Pride events have evolved into celebrations from their roots as protest activities. These kitchen-table debates on whether that is a good thing or a bad thing take on a new significance in 2018, when LGBTQ supporters and others are taking part in marches and other protests associated with “the resistance.”

A few years ago, a social media contact of mine (temporarily) de-friended me because I didn’t agree with his assertion that protest marches were out of date and politically useless. I do acknowledge that the Internet has made it far easier to organize large demonstrations, and that without a coherent framework to fit a protest “event” into, marches can end up mostly being displays of personal self-expression, instead of powerful tools for promoting a desired social agenda. And not every mass protest march bears fruit: we can probably all name a “Million _____ March” from the past few years that failed to move the needle for its participants.

Despite this, I argue that the proliferation of marches and live protests we see popping up all over the country is a sign of health for our democracy, and a positive development for all marginalized communities, including our own LGBTQ clan. Marches continue to have a positive role to play in social change movements for many reasons.

  • Marches can rattle those in power, in a good way.

The 1971 May Day protests in Washington, D.C., over the Vietnam War and the 1975 Women’s Strike in Iceland telegraphed the message that huge segments of the population of these two countries were ready to force major changes. And both governments shifted their tactics to cope with the protests in a way that ultimately was more in the direction of the protestors’ desires.

  • Marches can provide touchpoints for an ongoing reform movement.

The early Pride marches reminded a world that we were here, we were queer and nothing – including AIDS, fag-bashing and attempts to enshrine anti-gay prejudice – would send us back into the closet. The worldwide anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s was sparked in part by the 1976 Soweto Uprising in South Africa. And the 1963 March on Washington was preceded and followed by many years of protests during the Civil Rights Era.

  • Marches offer a unique platform for meeting other activists.

Large-scale protests expose participants to new ideas and new approaches. When I spoke with LGBTQ people who went to the 1993 and 2000 Marches on Washington, they mentioned how empowering it felt to meet other queer people from around the country. Last year, the Women’s March activities in Washington, D.C., and in other large cities provided a much-needed place for people to focus their energy, and to discover how large the resistance really was.

  • Marches can provide vital and irreplaceable “framing moments.”

Martin Luther King Jr. had given parts of his “I Have A Dream” speech before August 1963 … but standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, it allowed the Civil Rights Movement to seize the stage and express the values of equality-minded Americans in a new way.

For all their power, marches are far from the only tool in our activism toolbox. LGBTQ community members have used direct action “zaps,” political theater, sit-ins, voter registration drives, and the cultivation of allies to achieve goals – like improved HIV+ care and ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – once considered impossible. But the symbolism of marches continues to resonate, both within and beyond our community.

As Nathan Heller, a writer for The New Yorker magazine, observed last year, “Why did [the Women’s March] matter? Because we were there. Self-government remains a messy, fussy, slow, frustrating business. We do well to remind those working its gears and levers that the public — not just the appalled me but the conjoined us whom the elected serve — is watching and aware. More than two centuries after our country took its shaky first steps, the union is miles from perfection. But it is still on its feet, sometimes striding, frequently stumbling. The march goes on, and someday, not just in our dreams, we’ll make it home.”