A Report from the Los Angeles March
November 16th, 2008
Saturday was both exhilarating and annoying, encouraging and exhausting. What follows are some of my personal observations.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the police reported that between 10,000 to 12,000 of the 40,000 anticipated people attended the rally and march at City Hall. (Personally, I find the LA Times story disconcerting. You don’t have to have “balance” by repeatedly printing the opinions of the Yes on 8 Campaign Manager. Unless, of course, you’re going run opinions from gays every time you run a story on religion. Any why, oh why, did the Times’ videographer find the one and only drag queen – a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence – to focus half their video on?)
The Time’s count may be right, but it certainly felt like more and I heard reports of as many as 30,000 (which was also likely an over-exaggeration). Many of the participants were so far away that they couldn’t see the stage and could only just make out what the speakers were saying. And by my estimation it would be impossible to double the size of the crowd and fit it into the streets that were cleared.
There were a surprising number of straight folks there. I rode the subway with a young couple with a stroller sporting the sign, “my family doesn’t need protection from love”.
I couldn’t help but notice that those who showed up were overwhelmingly white or Latino. The lack of a strong black participation suggests that there is still disconnect in reaching the African American community, both gay and straight.
There was also a counter-protest consisting. The following isn’t the best picture (phone camera) but I think I got all five in the pic.
The day started with some inspirational speeches, but it soon morphed into politicians and “leaders” boring the socks off of you. Nonetheless the crowd was charged up and excited to be part of a national event. The mood was less about anger and more about resolve and determination. (Lisa Derrick has video at her site).
Eventually the march started. And everyone was excited for a while. We chanted “What do we want? Equal rights. When do we want them? Now” and merrily waved our signs.
But then a sense of uncertainty entered the march. Participants began to ask “where are we going?”
Downtown Los Angeles is pretty much dead on the weekends. So there was not that much hope for visibility anyway and we knew that disruption of traffic would be minimal. But it was troubling that the march route led from City Hall, down obscure back streets, across a freeway, and out of downtown in a route that seemed designed mostly to minimize the inconvenience of others.
Yet we all dutifully marched behind the glorified police golf cart.
The only time we saw anyone was briefly along historic Olvera St. and when we waved signs as we passed over the 101. (I will admit to feeling a rush when I heard the horns of semis blaring in support).
As we got further and further from Downtown, I suddenly had the sense that this march was less like a protest of injustice and more like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The police marched all the protesting gays right out of the city.
Disbelief turned to incredulity when we finally ended up in a “park” that had no access to roads or pedestrian traffic or overlooking buildings. Complete invisibility. At the far end there was a stage set up so we could all enjoy some more speeches. Goody
The Cornfield (as this park is nicknamed) is not a lovely shaded green space shared by neighbors and community. It is a big flat dirt lot with no shade. A marcher next to me answered a call from someone back in the march as to where we were going, “Joshua Tree“. It may well have been a great site for a rock concert – so as not to disturb anyone – but it certainly wasn’t effective as a protest venue.
A woman next me looked in disgust, turned around and started chanting, “Take the march back to the city!” This seemed like a good plan to me – or certainly better than standing in the dirt in 90 degree weather listening to someone read a prepared message into a microphone – so I joined her chant. The two of us turned and immediately those around us started walking back out of the Cornfield. Soon, as best I could tell, the entire march had turned around.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anywhere to go. The police had reopened the streets and they took measures to corral the crowd onto the sidewalks. While this wasn’t effective, I did seem to lead to the group splintering into smaller marching groups in different directions.
Eventually, what should have been a very effective effort at visibility ended with most folks just going home. But by then it was 2:00 anyway and we were tired and hungry. As a friend said, “This could have ended well with them marching us through downtown in a circle and back to city hall for a final speech. Instead its just chaos and no one knows what they’re supposed to do.”
Some marchers indicated a desire to keep marching through Hollywood, but there didn’t seem to be cohesive leadership and the numbers had dwindled. Maybe they went, I don’t really know. And although I’m not sure, I think some may have stayed in the Cornfield to bake in the sun and listen to activists.
Nonetheless, I have to say that overall this event was a success. We did put on a show of unity and joined the national protest to let our neighbors know that we are not taking their vote on the 4th as a final answer. And that we will continue to fight until we have achieved equality under the law.