…And so this social revolution taking place can be summarized in three little words. They are not big words. One does not need an extensive vocabulary to understand them. They are the words “all,” “here,” and “now.” We want all of our rights, we want them here, and we want them now.
Now the other thing that we must see about this struggle is that by and large it has been a nonviolent struggle. Let nobody make you feel that those who are engaged or who are engaging in the demonstrations in communities all across the South are resorting to violence; these are few in number. For we’ve come to see the power of nonviolence. We’ve come to see that this method is not a weak method, for it’s the strong man who can stand up amid opposition, who can stand up amid violence being inflicted upon him and not retaliate with violence.
You see, this method has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his morale, and at the same time it works on his conscience, and he just doesn’t know what to do. If he doesn’t beat you, wonderful. If he beats you, you develop the quiet courage of accepting blows without retaliating. If he doesn’t put you in jail, wonderful. Nobody with any sense likes to go to jail. But if he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. And even if he tries to kill you, you’ll develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.
~Martin Luther King Jr., Speech at the Great March on Detroit, June 23,1963
On Friday, March 18th, 12 of the 13 activists who joined together for a direct action on the White House fence met for a court date in Washington DC. The 13 of us who’d handcuffed ourselves to the White House fence on November 13, 2010, were a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community military service veterans and LGBT community activists — we wanted to see Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) repealed.
The 12 of us who were at the courthouse (1 of us was ill and couldn’t make it) and our 2 attorneys agreed, before going into court, to go to trial over our arrest. There is an issue for the 12 of us — we as a group perceive that the U.S. District Attorney representing the federal government is too aggressively prosecuting this case. There is a free speech issue that appears to be at play here, and the zealous prosecution by the federal government appears to us to be one of message censorship.
The facts of our case aren’t in dispute. The 13 of us handcuffed ourselves to the White House fence, chanting “I am somebody” and raising our free fists to send the message that the President and Congress needed to act to repeal DADT, and allow lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers to serve openly.
In previous direct actions by GetEQUAL direct actions at the White House — as well as other organizations that have protested other issues about the vicinity of the White House — those involved in the direct actions and protests have usually been charged under the District Of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) under the Disorderly Conduct or Failure To Obey A Lawful Order (given by a law enforcement officer) have been given the opportunity to “post and forfeit” bond to resolve their/our cases. There is no history of a conviction with this action.
This time the federal government has charged the “GetEQUAL 13″ under the Code Of Federal Regulations (CFR), and pleading would result in a federal conviction on one’s record.
Our bottom line was that in unanimity the 13 of us were ready to go to trial, but that decision has been postponed until May because we still aren’t sure what the final charge against us will be. If there is a trial — or even if we end up pleading to lesser charges that have us ending up with no federal record — the next court date set for either of those two outcomes will be September 19, 2011.
To transport those of the 13 of us to Washington DC who need financial assistance to get to DC, along with the GetEQUAL staff required to handle logistics and pay for representation, is about $5,000.00. That means that the November 15th direct action by the GetEQUAL 13 has cost about $10,000.00. Besides the human cost of being sent to jail for the ordinary equality of LGBT community members, there has been real financial costs as well.
But the 13 of us who spent time in jail for this direct action spent time in “a haven of freedom and human dignity.” I believe our efforts helped move LGBT community closer to the ordinary equality we fully deserve.
Do we in LGBT community believe “that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for”?
Ordinary equality for members of the LGBT community is going to take sacrifice. That sacrifice is going to include engaging in sit-ins, pickets, direct actions, and direct actions where participants are willing to be arrested and mistreated — as well as costing us something financially. We should all already know that it’s going to take more effort than just lobbying alone to see the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) pass into law. The question has really become how much we, as a community, are willing to sacrifice — are going to sacrifice — for ordinary equality.
In this world it is possible to achieve great material wealth, to live an opulent life. But a life built upon those things alone leaves a shallow legacy. In the end, we will be judged by other standards.
If you want to help GetEQUAL cover the costs associated with the actions of the GetEQUAL 13, please consider donating here.
As a head’s up, GetEQUAL is in early planning for direct actions in support of an ENDA without added bathroom language. Just as the logistics of the DADT direct actions cost money, so will logistics around ENDA direct actions. Donating to GetEQUAL will help the organization fund multiple ENDA focused direct actions in the coming year that will specifically be targeted at changing public discussion around the “bathroom bill” meme.
Autumn Sandeen is a provisional board member of GetEQUAL. She’s pretty obviously biased in favor of direct actions and GetEQUAL.