I remember the election season of 1984. At the 1984 Democratic National Convention on July 18 in San Francisco, California, Jesse Jackson delivered the Keynote address, entitled “The Rainbow Coalition.” The speech called for Arab Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, youth, disabled veterans, small farmers, lesbians and gays to join with African Americans and Jewish Americans for a political purpose. My lover at the time woke me up very early in the morning to tell me that Jesse Jackson had said the words “lesbians and gays” as part of his speech at the Democratic Convention. I started to cry and called my mother and she cried, too. We both cried. It was a moment I will never forget…because in that moment I as a lesbian existed on national television and in the imagination and spoken word of the country’s political system where I live and pay taxes—in a way I never had before—I was spoken out loud.
Before November 6th of this year I said repeatedly, “No, he [President Obama] is not perfect. But he’s my president.” I can honestly say that working for the re-election of President Obama, and voting for him was the very first time—ever— that I was rooting for a presidential candidate who actually felt like my president. He repealed DOMA and he publicly supported gay marriage. He is the first sitting president to support gay marriage. That’s light years from a candidate running for the primary uttering the words “lesbians and gays.” And—those light years of travel are where we went and where we are now in these United States.
The ethics of social change demands a lot from those of us who do work for change. We must be open to coalition building, to repetitive conversations that change slightly as we are flexible, sometimes intractable and always –it’s complicated. Sometimes the arduous business of talking and working together feels like you are working under Malcom X’s mandate, “By any means necessary.” Anyone who has worked in the circular, frustrating, rewarding and challenging field of creating coalitions, finding consensus and collective building knows what I mean. But bit by bit—by any means necessary—society does change. And as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” And sometimes yes, it feels very, very long.
This November however we elected a president in the U.S. who supports gay marriage—it bears repeating. Gay marriage became legal in three states. Women’s presence in the Senate went up to 20%. In California money was budgeted for schools. Voter suppression was curtailed in many states—and the first gay person, Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin—was elected to the Senate.
I don’t believe President Obama is “the lesser of two evils,” as many people on the radical left have said. I pray he is a radical change activist and that he does not prove me wrong. I also believe he is a not so perfect human. But– for my social change activist friends who I admire from the depths of my being I have this to say—it is OK to celebrate. Social change ethics means knowing when to push, pull – and when to take a break, rest and celebrate. President Obama is not everything we ever wanted. There are many troubling things about his presidency—not the least of which are the drone attacks.
But he is not “the lesser of two evils.” He is a visionary man and activist and the president. Social change ethics demands we allow him to push, pull and take a break, rest and celebrate– also.
The night of the election I made a bet at the election party I was at– that the President would mention gays and/or lesbians in his acceptance speech for the presidency of the United States at least once. And he did—and I won. The woman who lost the bet said she was never so happy to pay off a debt in her life.
Celebrate. The table just got a lot more crowded—more places have been set. Gay people are not just being talked about—we are also finally doing some of the talking. We are in the house and seated at the table of American politics.
Out of the bars and into the streets we shouted in the 70s and 80s. Out of the bars and onto the ballots is what we did this time around. And for right now, maybe just this historic moment….Out of the bars and into the streets! And then…back into the bars!
Just for this moment. Celebrate. We earned it.
Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.
10 thoughts on “Out of the Bars and Into the Streets and ….by Marie Cartier”
Blessed be. Your hope that Obama is a radical change activist is one I shared, but despite what he has done for gays and lesbians, he has done little for the environment or to curtail the military industrial complex, let alone to end war… My hopes were high… but I no longer believe in he is the change I can believe in. I agree with other progressives who have written that we cannot depend on him to do the work we think needs to be done. Which is why I wrote that women for peace must continue to take to the streets in my recent blog. Of course, I voted for him.
i agree with much of your reply, carol…the continued non-closure of guatanemo has been the most disappointing facet of the promise unfulfilled…and yet i do believe he is a radical activist in an entrenched system…as i wrote i hope he does not prove me wrong…thank you for your insightful comments.
Reblogged this on Adventures and Musings of a Hedgewitch.
thanks for re-posting!
This is super insightful, Marie.
I’ve struggled with my feelings about President Obama like many people…as Carol mentions, the environment, military industrial complex, plus free passes for Wall Street/gamblers crashing our economy, these continue to concern me.
But I think he’s smarter than people give him credit for and is building a strategy/long term vision that DOES make him a driver for change. Consider healthcare. Not only did his administration get comprehensive healthcare reform passed, but they planned for the legal challenges they knew were coming, and as a result the provisions of the Affordable Care Act are finally about to be enacted. It’s not the ideal model, but it’s got room for improvement and it’s ensuring that every single child in this country is covered, which is a radical change.
Another example is marriage equality/LGBT representation. I’ve argued with my friends that in this case, unlike healthcare which involved crafting intricate policy, he pushed the needle of the culture forward. I’m willing to bet Obama was all for marriage equality four years ago, and I’m willing to bet that repealing discriminatory legislation was sitting on his to do list waiting for the right time to gain the most traction. Now, that is not something any of us want to hear, because we all want our issue addressed right now, but it suggests that he is truly working for change that will stick. And in American politics, that is impressive. The President does not work in a vacuum, and even things he truly believes in have to wait for the most effective moment.
It is a great time to take a breath and celebrate. More voices are always a good thing, and it’s inspiring to see LGBT and women’s voices represented, not to mention how awesome it was to see other previously marginalized groups like Hispanic/Latino voters turn out to vote in record numbers.
thank you!! i really enjoyed your response.
I celebrated the election of Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin, and 20% women in the Senate. I celebrate the growing power of women reaching critical mass in the house and senate. I don’t want men making laws about my life, I want women to take our 53% of the vote and DO SOMETHING with it. I’m tired of trying to get men to do anything, I want women to do, women to be the majority we are, women to get other women into office.
That’s what I want. I don’t believe Obama is the lesser of two evils, given Romney as the other “choice.” Not by a long shot, but he is certainly no Hillary Clinton, not even close.
Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. Thank you so much for your comments and I agree he is not Hilary Clinton :-)
Turtle woman, i believe Hillary would have done more on foreclosure and issues involving women and the poor, but she is a “liberal hawk” as far as the military is concerned.
Thank you so much for your reply. Sorry it took so long for me to join the conversation! I very much enjoyed the dialogue.