Monday, November 17, 2008

Postcard from Chicago: March for Equality

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the passage of Proposition 8 here in California. While I pull my thoughts together (and try to carve out the time to write the post I want to write), here's an email I received this morning from a friend who marched in Chicago.

Subject: I marched this past Saturday...

Some of you have asked me what happened in Chicago, so here it is.

I went to the Chicago equal rights event Saturday. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever done. About 5,000 - 8,000 people jammed into Federal Plaza. The police had barricaded the plaza to a point where we only had half the space. It was shoulder to shoulder.

Across the street the religious right numbered about 20 and held the usual hateful signs we've seen for years at every gay pride event. Suddenly however, like divine providence, a huge gust of Chicago wind blew their signage into the street just as a huge city bus ran over the messaging, grinding their placards into the oily wet gutter.

When we started to march the police tried to cordon us to the SIDEWALK. A group of over 5,000 was told to walk only on the sidewalk. It was ridiculous and people started getting angry. Finally we broke through the police blockade and took over the street. As we walked by the Palmer House Hilton, the entire street filled with protesters, a woman in an SUV tried to pull out into the crowd from thef ront of the hotel. A cop jumped in front of her and hit her hood. She rolled down her window and he shouted at her to stop because she was going to hurt someone.

"I'm late for a wedding," she shouted at him. Everyone who heard her burst into laughter at the irony. I've known people who've been late to their weddings for over 20 years, I thought.

We marched to Michigan Ave and Grant Park - the site of the 1968 demonstrations - and it felt like history was being made again. We brought traffic to a standstill as we marched northbound. The police tried to use horses to push us back on the sidewalks but we turned and headed back into the streets, over the Daly Plaza then back to State Street past Marshall Field's/Macy's and up to ABC studios, where the crowd came to a halt in front of the cameras.

Tom chatted with a very elderly man who was from Poland. He told Tom it was amazing to see gay people be able to march like this. "In Russia, in Poland, in Germany, this never would have happened."

We marched north to the river and once again the police tried to get us to turn back into the loop where there was little traffic or people. But the crowd pushed in the opposite direction and we walked along Wacker Drive and then turned up Michigan Ave.

Up the avenue we march. Everything brought to a standstill. From the sidelines some people looked fearful or disgusted, but mostly we say people smiling and cheering us on. Cars were honking in support. At one point we passed a group of mothers and their daughters out for a day of shopping. They collectively started cheering and chanting along with us. It was amazing.

When I reached the John Hancock Center I turned back and looked down Michigan. As far as I could see, I saw flags and signs. It was incredible.

As I walked to the train I felt empowered. After years of having our lives controlled by other people, we for at least a few hours controlled several streets. It reminded me of the activism I hadn't seen since the AIDS crisis. People are angry and people are motivated and people are tired of passively taking this crap.

While sitting on a bench in the L tunnel, I overheard the comments of a family from out of town who were next to me. They were talking about the freaks on the streets. Laughing and making disparaging comments. It was a rotten thing to hear after feeling so upbeat. But at the same time, it reminded me there's a long way to go.

Check out Join the Impact. Over 1 million people have signed up to be part of the nationwide fight for equality.


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Dana Fredsti said...

The support that's manifested to repeal Prop 8 is truly inspiring. Sadly there will always be the assholes who call gays 'freaks,', but I like to think their numbers will eventually shrink.