In 1991, when George Bush began his war for oil (the other George, the other time), I remember vividly where I was: in an auditorium at the New School in New York City. When I heard that we’d begun bombing, I was still young enough to be astonished and furious. Without a thought I walked right out of the auditorium and headed north to Times Square.
There, for nearly three days, I stood in the street, or sat in it, or dodged panicked police horses’ flailing hooves. I screamed. I punched my fist in the air and chanted. I forgot to eat and drink; I wound up in the ER with a kidney infection.
I’d gone to dozens of protests and demonstrations before this one, but that was the last one for a long while. I didn’t think it had done a damn bit of good.
In the intervening years I married, moved, bought a house, had kids, settled down in a good job. I wrote a column when I wanted to mouth off, but mainly just kept my head down, fists close to my sides. I ground my teeth as we rolled over and played dead in the face of not one but two corrupt and stolen elections, shrugged bitterly as my government declared war on anyone who dared to stand between us and a buck, sneered in unsurprised defeat as the rich gave themselves more tax cuts—stealing funding from hungry people and old folks to pay for it.
Which is why I surprised myself when I decided to get up much earlier than usual two weeks ago to attend a rally at the state capitol in support of gay marriage. We were protesting the attempts of a few foaming-at-the-mouth fundies to amend our state constitution to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman, banning gays from ever marrying in the state of Minnesota, denying them even a chance at the same legal protections my husband Jan and I have (in case you’ve been living under a bucket for the past few months and didn’t know this already).
I’m not sure why I went, exactly. Perhaps I’d read one too many frenzied, illogical and misleading beside-the-point Katherine Kersten columns. (And the whiny follow-up: “I can’t be a bigot! Soccer moms agree with me!” Piffle. How dare you pretend to speak for the “Real America”?) Perhaps I had listened to too many politicians rationalizing their bigotry in measured and calm tones, using some of the exact phrases segregationists did in years past. Or perhaps I was getting tired of trying, in my fumbling way, to explain to my son why Jasper and Emmett’s mommies down the street can’t get married, but Mommy and Daddy can.
I think I just wanted to be in a room where a few hundred folks agreed with me. To feel less alone, less as if my country had been taken over by a horde of rabid lunatics while I was busy wiping toddlers’ butts.
At any rate, I went—with a friend who felt as conflicted as I. We half talked ourselves out of it the day before, thinking it wouldn’t do any good.
But we decided to enjoy ourselves, pointing out clever signs like “Love the bigot, hate the bigotry.” There were more of us than I’d expected: two thousand hollering and applauding—just being our homo-lovin’ selves.
The speeches were smart and rabble-rousing. Although I didn’t believe the organizers when they told us the senators would pay attention to our numbers, I left feeling rather cheerful—if fatalistic. I’m used to standing on the side of doomed causes; my only desire is that I’ll at least still be telling the truth as the ship goes down.
Then, yesterday, my rally buddy stopped by with the news that the amendment had died in committee.
“Look what we did!” she said, with careful ironic Generation Y self-awareness.
I smirked, muttering something cynical.
“But we got up so early!” she laughed.
I’m not sure what the lesson here is. I do not for a moment think this issue is settled—the Republicans will be shrieking for gay blood as long as there is an election on the horizon and they can distract us from the horrible mess they’ve made of things. I’m not even convinced our raised voices changed any votes.
But when I heard the news, although I rolled my eyes, I felt a tiny surge of happiness. And—dare I say it—hope.
Haddayr Copley-Woods, a writer and graphic designer, works and lives in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park neighborhood.