This article started from a conversation with a friend, which I’ve now expanded in the hopes of making it more useful to more people in our community.
So, you’re trying to respond to multiple legislative attacks, some aimed at our community, and some aimed at the people and causes you love. You’ve decided that, for now, your still believe in the democratic process. You still want to partake in legal protest, even as the definition of a legally-sanctioned protest seems to shrink every day. You’re not ready to get arrested or engage in guerilla warfare.
Here’s what I’m doing:
- Every Friday, check the social media voices you trust for the latest affronts to our democracy
- Pick four or five of the issues that could really use your help; Send each of your government representatives a separate message about each issue
- Incorporate this routine into your weekly chores
Every Friday, check the social media voices you trust for the latest affronts to our democracy
Why Friday? In the days of actual ink-and-paper newspapers, I remember more than once hearing about a controversial vote being made, a bill being signed, etc… late on some Friday afternoon, after the weekend papers had already gone to press. Of course, because it had happened at that particular time, most people wouldn’t even be aware that anything had happened at all until much later —usually when it was too late to mount a response. Even now, when most newspapers are electronic, the “tradition” seems to continue, perhaps because the last thing on my mind on a Friday night is politics. Fortunately, in the era of social media, we have people and organizations who watch my government representatives more closely than I do, and send out alerts when something awful gets unleashed.
Which social media? For this purpose, it’s not the feed of the otherwise nice guy who reposts memes without any citations. It’s muckraking journalists who show their work. It’s scientists who link to data. It’s the watchdog groups for issues near and dear to your heart.
Be aware that everyone gets it wrong sometimes. Be aware that for events such as natural disasters and terror attacks, the earliest reports will probably contain errors. Be aware of the typical point of view for each source; It could tell what part of a story a source tends to focus on or emphasize.
I tend to trust groups who post corrections when they make mistakes. I also find it helpful to compare how a story is reported in the US with how that same story is reported in Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, and Spain. If all else fails, I can sometimes see if elements of a story have been rated on a fact-checking web site.
Does this sound like a lot of work? It was for me in the beginning. Through trial and error, I eventually found good, useful, generally reliable information sources for matters that concern me.
Pick four or five of the issues that could really use your help; Send each of your government representatives a separate message about each issue
Send a separate email message and/or voice message and/or letter about each issue to both of your US senators, your US representative, your state senator, and your state representative, as required by the issue in question. Please note that if one week you pick five issues of both national and state importance, that could mean sending out 25 separate letters, so keep them short and stay on point.
- US Senate Contact Information
- US House of Representatives Contact Information
- Example: Texas State Senate Contact Information
- Example: Texas State House of Representatives Contact Information
- Find Your ZIP+4 Code —Helpful for Finding Your Representative
Why separate? Why not just one message that lists everything going bad this week? After seeing the online web forms that most officials use in lieu of receiving direct email, I get the impression that this is how they prefer to get their communications: one issue per message. For all I know, it may be the only way their staff can handle all their messages. If you learn differently, do let me know. For now, I’m not going to take a chance that my message will be ignored or misrouted because I made it too difficult for for an official’s staff to sort out.
This should go without saying, but your message should stay respectful and maintain a civil tone. That means starting with “Honorable Senator / Representative So-and-so”, resisting the urge to curse at him or her regardless of his / her complicity in this week’s affront, and never saying anything that could be misconstrued as a threat. If you’re going to get put on a watch list, let it be for some spectacular defense of our democracy, not for a ranting letter.
Incorporate this routine into your weekly chores
Accept that you may have to give up something (more) to make room for this task in your life. Accept that for this period in our history, this un-sexy regular task both compliments and supports more dramatic actions such as marches, fundraising, boycotts, etc… Do things to make this task more efficient, such as:
Create a “cheat sheet” with the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses / web sites for your neighborhood’s state and national senators and representatives. Keep it in your notebook, phone, wallet, or all of the above.
Create a separate email address just to handle your messages with your government officials. Create separate directories in your email application for these types of messages, and set up rules to automatically redirect responses from government officials into these folders. More often than not, if you communicate electronically with senators and representatives, they will send you back a response. You’ll run the risk of getting demoralized after the 100th response, mixed in with your friends’ messages, that says something to the effect of “Thank you for contacting me, now let me tell you how I’m going to do the complete opposite of what you asked…” Also, count on getting back at least one message during your official’s re-election campaign.
If you ride public transportation and can check social media during your trip, start identifying issues on your Friday night ride home. Depending on the length of your trip, you might even be able to compose and send messages before you arrive.
If you and your friends go out on Friday nights, consider having a quick “letter writing party” before anyone steps out the door. The host just needs a “cheat sheet”, as mentioned earlier. If the host has a WiFi network, even better. Guests can contribute notepads, postcards, pens, stamps, etc… Everyone spends no more than an hour firing off messages. If you composed physical letters, drop them off at the nearest mailbox on your way to the restaurant / bar / movies.
The people arrayed against our community are counting on us to run out of energy, to become demoralized, to fight among ourselves; Don’t let that happen.
Consider doing this task as a group activity; It might even become fun. Consider doing something “extra” (e.g.: calling a Senate committee) when someone in your group can’t do his or her own task some week. Don’t ridicule someone who “hasn’t done enough”; ask how you can help.
Be aware that attempts will be made to get us fighting internally; I’ve lived through plenty of them. If all else fails, and you find yourself in an argument with a potential ally, try to remember that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and see if you can’t at least agree to resume the argument after we’ve survived —and hopefully won.
On Transgender Day of Remembrance, I was walking through the neighborhood when I noticed a message scratched into a fence, one I didn’t recall seeing the day before. It appeared as though someone tried to scratch over the original message to make it unreadable –good call– but I could still make out what our press euphemistically calls a “racial slur”. It seems that the incidents being reported in other parts of the country have now arrived in Dallas. If history is any predictor, then this is the harbinger of hate crimes to come. I really hope I’m wrong.
This describes an event that happened at the beginning of Pride Weekend in Dallas in 2015.
Word got out that a church group was going to harass our first ever Teen Pride on the eve of the main Dallas Pride celebration. It’s sort of sad to say we’re used to churches trying to wreck our celebrations every year, but something about them giving grief to a bunch of kids —who already have enough problems in their schools— really angered the community. As per standing orders for all vaguely-Liberal-aligned groups in the US, the organizers asked us “not to engage,” but to somehow find a way to keep the kids from seeing / hearing all the hateful stuff these churches usually do. I joined the people making a last-minute scramble to help out.
It was old hippies to the rescue! Tie-dyed sheets festooned the perimeter of the event in a psychedelic curtain. Bongos were passed around by Radical Faeries. Show tunes were sung, poorly but loudly. A few of our scouts confirmed that the kids inside were playing happily and couldn’t see or hear a thing, not even from the bounce house. Then the soldiers for Christ brought out their holy megaphones. Ravers to the rescue! An old-model Japanese hatchback rolled up, opened to reveal a subwoofer that took up half the trunk, and unleashed the power of House Music. A few kids came to peek through the curtain to see what was going on, but we encouraged them to get back to enjoying their party. Then the hatchback’s playlist shifted to Disco, a chubby white guy on our side of the line became possessed by the spirit of Gloria Gaynor, and he stunned everyone into silence with a lip-sync and dance rendition of “I Will Survive.” As he took his bows, the little car’s speakers blew out; but by then the DJ inside the event had assembled an impenetrable wall of Rap. Mission accomplished, us old folks clearer out. Lest you think things are so very black-and-white here in Dallas, Teen Pride was hosted on the grounds of a church, one that doesn’t have a problem with gay people; or, apparently, Rap music.
Best. Pride. Ever.
Unfortunately, that weekend marked the beginning of a series of hate crimes which have occurred almost every other weekend since the end of our Pride parade. The first, and one of the worst, happened to a lone man walking home from the parade. Community leaders estimate that —regardless of how they’re being classified by DPD— at least 30 people have been ‘bashed in the heart of the Gayborhood since September 2015.
As I typed this, I received word that the church which hosted Teen Pride had just been evacuated so the city’s bomb squad could examine several suspicious suitcases found in the building.
We live in dangerous times…
What follows is my recollection of an event that occurred in late June 2013, after a US Supreme Court ruling that recognized more rights for LGBT citizens at the Federal level, and which paved the way for the recognition we have today.
So, about that whole Supreme Court thing…
I got word when I was in the middle of super-hectic-day-three of my brand new job, and didn’t get much time to think about the impact to us here in Texas. In fact, I barely had time to jog home from the train station after work, ditch my tie, grab a few pride flags, and run to a neighborhood victory rally that started just as I arrived. I’m sorry to say that I can’t even tell you the exact words of the rulings yet (I’ll read them this weekend) and only got the gist of them from the speakers and from conversations in the crowd.
And, oh, what a crowd: We overran the little park housing a monument that the speakers climbed, spilling us out into the street. American flags, Texas flags, and every flavor of pride flag was being waved. A transgender African-American lady minister did some old-school Southern testifyin’; A gay theologian with a rainbow rosary reminded us that we were still in the middle of the place with the highest level of anti-gay hate crimes in the state; A young Latino political activist pointed out that it’s ten years to the day when the Supreme Court ruled that girl-on-girl and guy-on-guy was not a crime; A leather couple who got arrested last year for trying to get a marriage license were greeted with wild applause; My own hubby got up and admonished the crowd to share their personal stories with everyone. When the rally ended we marched down to the streets to the heart of our neighborhood, and well, hit the bars.
My man and I had a celebratory drink, then went and got some celebratory pasta, and then called it a night —because I usually need to be up by 4:30 these days. I’ll be skipping the gym tomorrow morning and doing lots of caffeine. Besides keeping us up late, I think the effects of today’s ruling will eventually help us get some level of legal recognition and legal protection, even in Texas, but not right away.
That’s OK for tonight; It’s a big step in the right direction. After all, just 44 years ago tomorrow, the Stonewall Riots began. Look at us now.
“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
What follows is my recollection of an event which I recorded on 28 June 2009.
I just witnessed history repeating itself, 21st century Texas style —and that’s not a good thing. Forgive me if the rest of this message rambles and such, but I wanted to get all this down while it was fresh. Here’s what I witnessed:
This weekend, as many of you know, marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, and the beginning of the modern Gay Liberation movement. Today was the “Million Gay March,” which was meant to be held, not just in Washington D.C., but also in every major U.S. city at the same time. The theme was not just to remember Stonewall, but to call out the President, for first going back on his promise to advance GLBT equality, then throwing us an insulting scrap from his table: An executive order that expires the second he leaves office and gives *some* equal recognition in *some* matters to federal employees. Um, thanks?
John and I intended to participate in the Dallas march, and John was going to speak at the rally after that, but from the moment people started to gather at the starting point for the march, the event was overshadowed by a rumor churning through the crowd: at the opposite end of the metroplex in Fort Worth, police had raided a Gay bar and hauled people away around 1 a.m.-ish this very morning. I know, how surreal. This being the iPhone/Blackberry era, many people were trying to get some actual facts. This also being the era of blogs, the local Gay newspaper started up a blog thread to collect relevant information. A flash-mob action was already in the works by the time our march in Dallas began and solidified by the time the rally started: Gather at the Fort Worth bar that had been raided, then get to the front steps of the main downtown courthouse, demanding answers from the mayor and chief of police.
Fast-forward to this evening, when I arrived at the Rainbow Lounge (gotta love that retro name) after following a map I’d made by googling what little I knew of the bar. A cowboy in a sleeveless western shirt with rainbow-flagged shoulders was addressing a growing crowd outside the front door while the local media filmed us. Then we moved out of the 100-degree day to hear from the bar owner and several patrons who where there last night / this morning. While the bar’s TV was playing police statements on the local news, the people who were there were correcting the official story. To whit:
- The Fort Worth PD claimed that this started as a normal liquor-license violation check and that this was the first time they had ever been to the bar. Several patrons were able to confirm that the police arrived with a paddy wagon all ready, and had plenty of plastic handcuffs already on hand when they entered. In addition, one patron said that he had seen the police casing the bar from the parking lot the night before.
- The FWPD claimed that they only arrested those who were staggering drunk, in violation of the local public intoxication laws –Say what? No getting drunk in a bar? Welcome to Texas. Anyway, one patron who was just out of custody said he had never moved from his seat until he was cuffed –no opportunity to stagger. About 15 people were arrested.
- The FWPD claimed that one patron “groped” an officer. The consensus from all witnesses was “Eeew! I don’t think so.”
- The FWPD claimed to have Rainbow Lounge employees in custody. The bar staff did a head count and all were accounted for. I know, minor stuff, but I hope this helps illustrate the gulf between what was being seen by the public at large on TV, and what had been witnessed by the people who were there.
- Not mentioned, at least not in the news segment we saw, was the fact that one of the patrons was in a hospital in the ICU, in bad shape.
- Not mentioned was the fact that the bar manager / DJ said that in all his years of working in Fort Worth bars, he had never seen the police behave in this way at any other bar, in any other “violation check.”
The contradictions continued, then JR (don’t snicker, that’s a mighty fine name down here) the bar owner told of how he was given grief at every turn when he first tried to get this bar started, from the construction to the liquor and dance licenses. The Rainbow Lounge had not been open one week before it was raided. He thanked everyone who had given phone calls of support, and had organized this impromptu action on behalf of the Fort Worth GLBT community. He also promised that they were still open for business, and asked everyone to come back tonight when their drag queen in residence was still hell-bent on putting on her show.
As statements of support and press releases from local Gay leaders were read off of iPhones, young kids had cleared the pool tables to make protest signs, someone walked in with a crate of bottled water, and everyone with reception was calling, blogging, texting, and twittering to get more people to meet us at the courthouse. The last press release someone read off some news site stated that the Fort Worth chief of police intended to make an apology of some sort –too little, too late. We left for downtown.
When the time came, I made my own way there, and showed up just before the local media left, which means they only counted those who had made it to the courthouse early, not the whole crowd that eventually filled the front steps. Queer Liberaction, with their enthusiasm and megaphone, MC’ed as different well-dressed, well-spoken people –Fort Worth Gay leaders, I assumed– talked in measured tones about how we needed to have an investigation into the whole matter, and that if a violation of police procedure had occurred, the officers should be punished and/or suspended. The first openly Gay elected official in the county spoke, then the FW “human rights officer” (?) spoke, then another bar patron. This gentleman tried to stay as calm and objective as possible as he tried to logically lay out why the police behavior betrayed a targeted, discriminatory attack on the community. Unfortunately, just as he was making his case, one of the Radical Faeries had had enough with all the politeness, and started yelling over him, insisting that the police shouldn’t be suspended, but prosecuted. Another person called for blood. Half the crowd turned ugly while the other half tried to “shush” them. Eventually, one of the Queer Liberation people offered the Radical Faerie a turn with the megaphone, and he and the crowd calmed down. Later, he changed his mind about addressing us. The penultimate speaker was the rainbow-shirted cowboy, who reported that the patron in ICU had regained consciousness long enough to hear about what was happening and thank everyone for their support, prior to taking a turn for the worse.
Queer Liberaction wrapped up by asking us to come back next week, same time, same place, with everyone we knew, to keep the pressure up on the mayor; another QL member suggested meeting at the convention center and filling the streets of downtown as we marched back to the courthouse. QL’s URL was given out were we could check the finalized details for next week, and the mayor’s phone number was given out. As people added the mayor’s number to their cell phones, people called out for his direct line, cell number, and MySpace account.
I called it a night. Curiously, during my entire time in Fort Worth, I hadn’t seen a single police officer, except for one bike-cop near the party district on my way out. He was taking a complaint from an older, white, well-to-do, apparently heterosexual couple who were complaining about all the Gay people at the courthouse. I resisted the urge to do something that would get me arrested.
So forty years to the day when police raided a Gay bar and lit the fire that started our modern movement, it’s hard not to feel like we’re back at square one. To be continued, I hope.
“I ask you men…what are you so afraid of?
If I am equal to you in power, does that diminish you?”
—Rita Mae Brown
In the years since I wrote this, the overall situation of Fort Worth’s LGBT community has greatly improved. Last I’d heard when I asked, the cowboy who’d been hospitalized had lived, and was mostly himself again. The Rainbow Lounge is still open for business, and when I find myself in Fort Worth, I try to stop in.
What follows is my recollection of an event that occurred in early April 2006, and is the sort of thing I would have posted, had I been posting stories back then. It tells of the Dallas “Mega Marcha” response to House Bill HR4437, a piece of (anti)immigration legislation.
So, when Jesus H. Christ walked out the front door of a building named after his mother, looked right at me, and gave me the Chicano Power sign, atheist or not, I had to acknowledge it, and I power-signed back, to him and all the palm-waving Passion Play-ers standing on the front steps of Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral in downtown Dallas. The crowd around me roared “Viva La Raza” as we marched past. Responding to text messages, phone-call-chains, posts on message boards, and word-of-mouth, countless Latino immigrants and their descendants filled the downtown area.
We may not agree on much, but threatening to bust nuns who give water to strangers or threatening to deport grandma is enough anger any of us. I, who think most protests are no longer effective tools for positive change, was moved to join in by a talk radio jerk calling for the burning of Mexican flags. “There are people in this nation”, I thought, “who need to know who they’re messing with”; discussion over.
Most messages said to wear white, to symbolize the peaceful intent of the march, and US flags, to symbolize that Latinos are part of American life. There was a lot of Tommy Hillfiger on display, along with custom-airbrushed lowrider-style t-shirts made just for the occasion. There were Norteños with their straw hats, elaborate belts, and boots. There were young toughs wearing athletic gear from high schools far outside the Metroplex. There where entire families with children, with babies, dressed as if they were going to have their portrait taken at Sears.
There was an old woman, who didn’t even reach my shoulder, brown as coffee beans, with a thick silver and black braid that dropped past her waist, whose bird-thin fingers held the massive biceps of two young men that supported and escorted her, tiny step by tiny step, like a queen, while two more protected her at point and rear. There was an old man in a walker, exhausted yet unstoppable, with a look of the Mexican penitents who climb hills and circle monasteries, all on their knees. There were men in work pants and boots, with signs reading “Dallas housing boom? Who built YOUR house?”, “Who built this city?”, and “Quiero papel” (loose translation: I want to be a documented worker). Several women carried holy banners, like Roman standards with crosses instead of eagles, that held the elaborately embroidered images of the Virgin Mary, Saint Lourdes, and others.
Along the route, I saw kids on top of their cars waving Dominican, Ecuadorian, Argentine, Colombian, Peruvian, and Mexican Flags. Maids came out of their hotels. The odd non-Latin student in a Che Guevara t-shirt appeared. Cowboy-cops on horseback blocked us from the tourist zone and private security guards practiced their tough guy look as we passed high-end stores. Downtown dwellers power-signed us from their rooftops. At least five helicopters with cameras circled the city center. I wondered how good their facial recognition software was, and if the video would be compared to with the photos police took of everyone on the trains that brought demonstrators downtown.
The general plan had been to start at the cathedral, circle downtown, and end up at City Hall. Somewhere near the big turn at the tourist zone, things became fragmented, and huge columns moved down multiple streets back to City Hall. A sea of humanity ended auto traffic for a good chunk of the afternoon. At the end, I couldn’t even get close enough to whatever stage or dais had been set up to hear what was being said. I only caught a few lines of Neil Diamond’s “They Come to America”. I called it a day, forsook transportation, and just walked home.
What happens next? Along the march I heard talk of boycotting the patron companies of any Senator or Rep who votes for any law akin to House Bill HR4437, of a nation-wide work stoppage in May, of retributive actions with concrete consequences. Being a bottom-up, almost leaderless “movement”, this happened as two separate events in Dallas and Fort Worth, a day ahead of when most groups planned their demonstrations. Oh well. On the plus side, arresting LULAC won’t stop this, bribing the Council for La Raza won’t stop this, and killing any real or media-appointed “leader” won’t stop this either.
‘Till later. We are living in interesting times. Start practicing your “He was such a nice quiet man” speech now.
“The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president
and senators and congressmen and government officials,
but the voters of this country.”
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt
I have been a witness to history. I have been a participant, however small, in the history that has shaped my world. But sometimes, when I read the official histories, the authoritative histories, the most repeated histories of my own life and times … they don’t match what I saw.
I hope to make this a record, of small moments and unknown people which sometimes get dropped from descriptions of larger events, of small changes which sometimes contribute to larger trends, and of what I witness from my own perspective.
This is what I’ve seen.
I plan to use this space for more complete stories and Twitter for more immediate observations, but I’ll hopefully be able to link back and forth between both story-telling platforms.