Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The real divide in activism is between those who are involved and those who aren't.

The debates about what kind of activism is needed to advance equality are multiplying. Some are calling for direct action in the form of protests, marches, civil disobedience, etc. Others continue to rely on lobbying and a sort of detailed government relations approach. Those are probably the two ends of the spectrum. I've spent most of my time on the government relations approach, but I've protested a few times--certainly when a local hotel fired people for being gay. When Kroger and Harris Teeter dropped Out & About Newspaper from their stands, we organized a successful save-your receipts from their competitors campaign that resulted in enough pressure to reverse the decision. I have no doubt that we'll use similar tactics again.

I worry about two aspects of these debates. The first one relates to data. People take up their approach to activism based on some combination of passion (usually anger), experience, and a hypothesis about what they believe will work. I do, too. What we really need is data on what works and I wish it took into account different situations such as regional differences and the type of policy target--e.g. a non-discrimination ordinance vs. a marriage ballot measure. But there really doesn't seem to be much. So I would describe myself as a bit agnostic when it comes to absolutist statements about activism. I have my hunches about what works, but I can't say that I know for sure that something else wouldn't work.

And it is because of that uncertainty that I think we should continue but contain the debates on our approaches to activism. Hence, my second concern is that I think we're missing the real divide, which is not between the direct action folks and the government relations folks. If we step back, we realize that it's between those who are involved and those who aren't. Our task really ought to be bringing more people into the fight for equal rights. And with a diversity of approaches available now there ought to be roles for everyone. I hope that this is where our energy takes us in the new decade--bringing more people into the movement.

-Chris Sanders

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