by Jessica Carreras
Plans are in full swing for the Oct. 11 National Equality March on Washington, D.C., and local activists in Michigan are beginning to develop arrangements to take around 100 Michiganders to the capitol for the historic event.
National Equality Marches have been held in 1979, 1987, 1993 and 2000 and have drawn from 75,000 people (at the first march) to up to an estimated one million in 1993. This year’s event, first announced this spring by longtime activist Cleve Jones, will be held in conjunction with National Coming Out Day. Unlike previous marches, which listed specific rights LGBT people were asking for, this march simply demands “full equality for all LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Now.”
The Michigan Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus is planning to take two busses to the march with up to 100 people. The tentative plans are to leave at 10 p.m. Oct. 9 from a yet-to-be-determined location in Ann Arbor and return from D.C. around 8 p.m. Oct. 11.
Caucus organizer Duane Breijak said other details, such as the cost of travel and hotel arrangements, are still being worked out. “We’ll have the official price for our tickets set Sept. 1 because we need to get donations and see how much we think we can fundraise before we set a specific price for tickets,” Breijak said.
$10,000 raised would cover the entire bussing of people, but Breijak said that may not be possible. “That would be our ultimate goal, but right now we’re looking at probably between $50-70 a ticket,” he said.
Spots on the busses are first-come, first-serve, and Breijak said the group thinks there will be no problem filling the 100 or so seats. Getting a third bus “would depend on how much we can raise.” A bus ticket without help from LGBT Caucus funding is about $120.
None of the possible prices listed by Breijak include room and board, although the caucus currently has 30 beds set aside at the William Penn House in D.C. and plans to arrange for more rooms. “A lot of us already know people out there that we’re going to stay with,” he explained. “But for everybody else, we want to make sure they have a couple of options.”
Updates on arrangements for the trip will be posted on the LGBT Caucus Web site at http://www.mdplgbt.org.
The grassroots approach
Like many national LGBT organizations, Michigan non-profits are not discouraging people from attending the march – but they’re not helping with planning or funding, either.
Neither Michigan Equality nor the Triangle Foundation plans to help send people to the march, although members from each organization are expected to attend. “Michigan Equality currently is sort of short on funds and Triangle, well, the MDP LGBT Caucus and Triangle don’t communicate on a lot of things,” explained west Michigan activist Adam Taylor, who is helping with the planning. “As far as I know, no one else statewide is planning anything. (The LGBT Caucus is) the only one we know of.”
Triangle Foundation Executive Director Alicia Skillman released a statement on the march encouraging activists to focus efforts on local action – but to attend the march if they wish to.
“We will not actually oppose the march – we do understand the importance of such an event to activists and we think all activism is a good thing,” the statement read. “But instead, we will encourage activists to take specific actions in Maine, in Kalamazoo, and in their own states.
“So if there are people who want to attend we will let them know about the Democratic LGBT Caucus (planned trip),” Skillman added, “but also ask them come back home ready to work in Kalamazoo.”
Indeed, this March on Washington appears to be largely driven by grassroots activism, including large numbers of participants across the U.S. coming from advocate groups like One Struggle, One Fight and Join The Impact, the group that staged the protests against California’s Proposition 8.
Many dissidents fear that the detachment from national LGBT groups will hurt both the organization of the event and the turnout. Huffington Post blogger Bil Browning even wrote a column titled “10 Reasons Why a LGBT March on Washington is a Bad Idea.”
But activists like Taylor don’t see the grassroots base as a problem. Any people showing up, he said, would be a success. “If we have 50 people show up from Michigan saying, ‘We want to know why you’re not voting on this,’ that’s a large constituency of people showing up at once from outside of your region showing up to your national office,” he said, referring to the idea that out-of-state activists could meet with their legislators while in D.C. “That’s a powerful voice, followed the next day by possibly tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of GLBT people from across the country (at the march).”
Moreover, Taylor disagreed with the idea that the effort would take focus away from local actions – a point brought up by many naysayers. “I’m sure that we will take some people’s attention away (from local matters), but … there are still going be some National Coming Out Day events that weekend, so we’re not at all stealing,” he said.
“When 100 constituents show up in D.C. from out of state, those people have taken time out of their lives to travel that far on their incomes with this recession to voice their opinion,” he added. “It’s going to be a very loud voice that you need to pay attention to the grassroots level at your home.”
To learn more about the National Equality March on Washington, D.C., visit http://equalityacrossamerica.org.