We won't win our rights by asking nicely
March 19, 2004 | Page 4
Dear Socialist Worker,
When I argue this to friends or fellow activists, I hear, "I see your point, but one of the two parties is going to win the election, so it's not realistic to try to work outside the electoral system." Well, is it realistic to think that the Democrats, who know that gay and lesbian organizations are actively campaigning for them already, would have any reason to back gay marriage and risk alienating voters who don't?
Not only is that not realistic, it's a-historical. The Democrats have never moved to the left without real organized pressure from activists. The New Deal was not a gift from Franklin Roosevelt to working Americans. It was a solution to a crisis when mass strikes across the country were starkly posing the possibility of revolution. John F. Kennedy didn't back civil rights legislation until there were riots breaking out and jails were overflowing with Black children.
And anyone who thinks that John Kerry won't support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is fooling themselves. Lesser evilism always pulls politics and activists to the right--never to the left!
The bankrupt strategy of lesser evilism is partly the result of the 1990s, when gay organizations refused to abandon Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party, even as the administration implemented "don't ask, don't tell," which required gay military personnel to remain in the closet--and then passed the Defense of Marriage Act, the biggest obstacle facing gay marriage supporters today.
This contradiction of asking us to stand behind a party even while it legislated discrimination against us has completely disarmed the grassroots movements. So now, gay groups that provided organization in the 1980s and early 1990s--such as ACT-UP and Queer Nation--in effect no longer exist.
Only when we stop asking nicely, and start making demands and winning our allies in the working class to stand in solidarity with us, will the scales tip in our favor--and this will take socialist politics.