Saturday, February 24, 2007

The First Annual Liberal Pride Parade

by Sara

It's been fun watching the twists and turns of the comments and links discussing the "Why Protests Don't Work" post. There seems to be dawning consensus that the best way to revive the dying art of demonstration is to return to the first principles of direct action. We need to go out and be the change we seek, rather than plead with someone else to create it for us. Proactively seizing a bad situation and re-creating it to suit your ends evokes a self-sufficiency that strikes me as essentially American. There's also a decent argument to be made that when things get out of whack, this is exactly what the founders intended for us to do.

That's all good -- but, toward the end of that post, I threw out a small idea that's been looming larger in my head over the past day or so. I somewhat dismissively referred to the business-as-usual big street demonstrations that have become our banal protest norm as "Liberal Pride Parades," inferring a similarity to the Gay Pride events which are now held by the hundreds all around the world. The more I play with this idea, the more obvious it seems to me that inaugurating our own tradition of Liberal Pride festivals might really enrich our re-emerging progressive culture.

Nobody could deny the role Pride parades have been played in the development of the gay movement as a cultural force. At first, it was the simple power of merely being both literally and metaphorically out together in public - we're here, we're queer, get used to it. It was a street party; but it also put the community's growing institutional strength on display each year, established a forum for the sharing of energy and ideas, and educated millions of straight people (who, in turn, educated others). Doing this year after year gave local gay communities a reason to get organized, and stay organized -- so when trouble came calling, they could organize to fight it without a moment of confusion or hesitation.

Could it be time to adapt the idea, and start a national movement of Liberal Pride celebrations? Consider the potential benefits:

Building New Community -- There are a lot of corners of the country where the progressive spirit is just starting to stir again after 25 years or more of hibernation. Especially in small or very conservative towns, people who hew left of center are likely to feel pretty isolated. MoveOn, meetups, the growing network of Democratic 50-state organizers are all doing their part to fix this; but an annual Liberal Pride Day could accelerate the process exponentially. Even if the first one is just two dozen people having a barbecue in the city park, getting everyone together face-to-face is the first step toward creating a tangible liberal presence in an area. And, as the event repeats over the years, that presence will grow.

Showing The Flag-- Stepping out into the sunshine once a year will put the smug Republican burghers of middle America on notice that their efforts to make us cower in silence no longer work. We're new. We're blue. Get used to it. And if you try to defund the women's shelter, teach creationism at the high school, or sic the cops on the local minorities, you'll see us all together again at those meetings, too. They may find us annoying and cranky as individuals, but they're going to find out that we can be downright insistent in groups. (But civil. Always civil.)

A Marketplace of Ideas -- Even those of us who live in the big blue coastal cities don't often know about all the groups that are working in our own areas. For us, it's often not that we're so few, but that we are so many -- and doing so many different things that it's hard to keep track of it all. Just once a year, it would be great to get everybody together in one place where we can all see what's going on, and who's doing what.

Take Back Our Name -- It will rehabilitate the long-denigrated L-word in no time flat. Liberal pride. Say it loud, live it proud.

Joy and Hope -- These events should be massively, wildly, unapologetically fun; and fabulous PR for the cause. Without the Seriousness of Purpose required by a demonstration, a Liberal Pride festival can just loosen up and relax. It's a celebration of all things progressive -- and we do it right, the Biggest Asshole Rule kicks in when everyone in town realizes that compared to us, the conservatives are bunch of uptight, self-righteous stuffed shirts who couldn't throw a decent party if Reagan's resurrection depended on it.

And where there's fun, there's hope. People, we have gotten pretty dismal over the past 30 years. And I hate to break it to you -- but, as desperate as this nation is, nobody follows pessimists. We are not going to get our political mojo back for good until we remember how to find joy in this work again. Pride celebrations could be a place to start rediscovering the lost art of raising hell and having fun.

Stepping Up For Our Own -- There are a lot of big businesses now that depend heavily on progressives as the core of their market. Whole Foods, Working Assets, REI -- corporations like this have healthy event sponsorship budgets, and we might as well be getting our share of that resource. It's beyond time for progressive businesses to invest in their community as eagerly as conservative businesses have always bankrolled the communities on their side. And it's always good for local activists to know who the money people are: you never know when you might need other favors from them.

Restoring the Work/Play Balance -- Having an annual just-for-fun day would enable us to offload this social function from demonstrations and protests. It seems like a lot of people turn out for demonstrations because they enjoy the street party, and the sense of connection with the larger left community. Unfortunately, as I noted below, this diverse and celebratory atmosphere usually works against the intent of the protest, too often diluting the focus and message into utter incoherence and making any kind of real paradigm-busting direct action damned near impossible.

If we have annual events specifically dedicated diversity and celebration and scratching that street party itch, it might liberate our protests to evolve into other more creative, focused, and effective forms. Like King Bertram, when we work, we'll really work. And when we play, we'll really play. Both will be vastly better when we stop trying to conflate the two into the same events.

In Times of Trouble -- Probably the most important function of all: These events increase our security. In an era when eliminationist rhetoric against liberals apparently knows no limits, we shouldn't wait around for trouble to arrive to find out who our friends are and what they're capable of. An annual gathering of the local tribe would maintain the networks we'll depend on, giving us far more power to mount a fast, strong, effective defense if the right's inflammatory words should ever finally ignite into action.

Liberal Pride. Am I right about this? Is it an idea whose time has come?

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