I just returned from the protest I mentioned yesterday -- Ithaca, New York's version of today's national protests against California's proposition eight, and for equal marriage rights for all citizens, straight and gay.
It went well, I think. There was a very good turnout -- more than a hundred, easily (I was up near the front, and couldn't easily see the whole crowd). This was impressive given the weather here: most of today has seen a heavy November rain, although it let-up for (most but not all) of the rally itself. (I was planning to bring a camera, but the rain dissuaded me; if I find any links to others' photos, though, I'll link. Update: here's a photo I swiped from the Facebook page for the event. (I'm in the second row, behind the woman with the "you can't amend love" sign.) More photos at the link.)
There were more than a half a dozen speakers -- three members of the "Ithaca 50", 25 local couples who sued (unsuccessfully) for marriage rights here; two of the organizers (one of whom identified as a Catholic "straight ally" with a gay father and transgendered cousin, and spoke movingly of her wish that her church support marriage rights); a local Tompkins County board member; two who read other people's testimony from the net... and maybe another one or two I forgot. We had the (apparently) nation-wide moment of silence at 2:00; lots of people waved signs. The sign I brought (pdf link) said "equality for all families", with little icons of three couples -- one straight, one gay, one lesbian.
Unusually for these events, I didn't strongly disagree with anything any of the speakers said; I wouldn't myself have waved all of the signs there, but most of them seemed reasonable. There was a pretty good avoidance of issue-drift -- a problem that some people have with left-sided protests in general -- in the speeches and the signs; and a strong appeal at the beginning for tolerance within the movement, and peacefulness and non-violence in protest. The strongest speakers -- unsurprisingly -- were the three members of the Ithaca 50: having a personal connection to an issue always adds a lot to a speech regardless of its content, and all three speeches were moving.
The one thing I would have liked to see was a greater focus on marriage equality in New York state. (It was mentioned a lot, but not focused on.) While the march was motivated by the defeat in California, it was about the issue generally; and New York is where we live. Also, as it happens, New York is arguably the new central front in this struggle: after the highest court here kicked the issue back to the rest of the state government, the state house passed an equal marriage rights bill, and the Governor said he'd sign it; the hold-up was the state legislature. Well, last week Democrats got a majority in the NY state senate for the first time in more than four decades (although not, alas, by defeating any of the anti-gay legislatures who represented this area). So, in theory, New York state should now pass -- in both houses -- equal marriage rights, and the Governor should sign it.* So I would I have liked more focus -- rhetorical and practical -- on trying to make that happen.
But a good protest.
I must admit these events bring out the cynic in me. Left-wing rallies have a very ritualistic feel to them, and it's not a ritual I always find easy to take very seriously, however much I support the cause. Additionally, I wonder about their efficacy in recent years (as opposed to in the 60's, say) -- the anti-war rallies in 2003 were IMS the largest in history, and had no visible impact whatsoever. I think that as a practical matter new strategies need to be devised -- and as a cultural matter, much of the feel of such events is silly. When one of the speakers started a chant about "the power of the people", I found my cynicism making out: wasn't it the power of the people that just voted against us? Isn't this -- alas -- a matter of justice in the face of popular opposition to it? I think the cause is just, and that we will, thanks to good demographics as well as changing minds, have a majority on the side of equality before long. But chants about power to the people felt like a really silly piece of misplaced 60's nostalgia (changed, ironically enough, by a 22-year-old who might have well been my student, since I taught at Cornell while he was there). And it's hard to get around the feel that these events are a ritual which always bring out the usual suspects, particularly in a town like Ithaca...
On the other hand, my wife recognized someone she knew, a law student at Cornell, who said it was her first protest -- ever, on anything; she'd come to support a friend of hers. And Ithaca being a small, liberal town that is practically a physical instantiation of silly misplaced 60's nostalgia, it probably isn't a good place to see the efficacy or importance of such events even if there was lots of it in the other marches today.
And, in the end, none of this matters: it's an important issue, an issue of justice and equality, and I think that going there was worthy, an act of political speech that has moral worth in and of itself, apart from the issue of efficacy or my cynicism about the culture of these things.
So I'm glad I went.
Now let's start pressuring New York to be third** after Massachusetts and Connecticut -- and the first state to establish equal marriage rights legislatively rather than through the courts. That'd be a landmark worth achieving.
And, of course, it's the right thing to do.
* Yeah, we have a new Governor since then, but he's said he'll sign the bill if it's passed.
** Alas, since it should have been fourth, had California done the right thing...