Making Beautiful Trouble
By Liz Massey, January 2017 Issue.
Well, we lost. I mean, Donald Trump didn’t just become President-elect on Nov. 9. Notorious gay-hater Mike Pence became Vice President-elect, and the GOP achieved majorities in both houses of the U.S. Congress. This, combined with GOP successes in down-ticket races, could mean significant threats to LGBTQ advances toward full equality gained during the past eight years – including marriage equality, the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” bans on anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy for underage minors, anti-discrimination statutes and much more.
The bad news is that many members of our community are scared, and rightfully so, as they stand to lose healthcare, benefits, relationship recognition and more, if the most draconian projections of the Trump Administration prove accurate.
The good news is that we have more allies in our fight for equality than ever before. Suddenly, millions of Americans from all walks of life and across a good chunk of the political spectrum are realizing that the only way to avoid the political scapegoating promised by Trump as a candidate is to organize and fight together.
Some of our newfound allies are very inexperienced in the ways of nonviolent social reform. As I see it, two of the largest threats to this emerging resistance are that these folks will either 1) lose heart when they realize that this could be a long, difficult, and nasty fight, or 2) lose their way because they aren’t able to figure out how they’ll work with a variety of groups toward a common goal.
Luckily, our predecessors in America’s social reform movements (including previous LGBTQ battles) have left us plenty of guidance on how to fight the good fight. Here’s a small sampler of things we can do to create a world that values diversity, respects the promises of the U.S. Constitution and creates liberty and justice for all.
We Won’t Go Back: How to Resist Injustice, in a Nutshell
1. Understand the big picture.
This election is different. This election cycle was far more frightening than most, with ethnic, religious and other forms of scapegoating taking center stage. Since no one is just their religion, their skin color or their sexual orientation/gender identity, it’s important to become familiar with the concept of intersectionality and why unjust targeting of one minority threatens all marginalized Americans. Another part of understanding the big picture is ensuring that the information we receive from the media is accurate; it’s imperative that we now become discriminating news consumers and support quality journalism outlets with subscriptions and donations.
2. Claim your personal power.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t end segregation by himself. Harvey Milk didn’t stop discrimination against gays alone. Gloria Steinem hasn’t advanced women’s rights in a vacuum. Each one of these leaders was supported by a huge network of ordinary people who stepped up and participated in direct actions, lobbied elected officials, voted, marched in the streets, and/or helped organize other activities that moved society toward greater justice and equality. The way you tell your personal story … the choices you make when you shop … the letters, emails and phone calls you chose to make … and how you present your cause when you’re interacting with friends and loved ones can all accelerate positive change.
3. Know your game plan.
Social justice activists need a strategy to guide their actions, just as the groups they work with do. Connecting with like-minded others on social media is great, as is attempting to persuade and inform via those platforms, but most of our activism work will take place away from these arenas. If you want to do some self-education on the best ways to engage for change, there are websites such as Beautiful Trouble, a toolbox for revolution (beautifultrouble.org), and Actipedia, a wiki for creative activism (actipedia.org), that have detailed information on resistance strategies that have worked in various contexts, and your library can supply you with books and documentary films about past social reform efforts that can inspire you.
4. Remember you’re descended from a long line of activists.
If you’ve been involved in the LGBTQ or allied community for any length of time, you’ve heard the stories of how our tribe cared for persons with AIDS when there were no medicines to treat it, fought back when we were being bashed and no one would protect us, and celebrated our relationships when no one else valued them. It’s in our DNA to resist injustice and press forward, demanding equality every step of the way. If you’ve never considered yourself “political” before this, now is a great time to start!
The coming years may prove more daunting to our community than anything we’ve experienced since Stonewall, but the future also holds the potential for building incredibly durable alliances that could significantly strengthen our movement.
To rise successfully to this challenge, each one of us will need to commit to leading positive change, the sort advocated by Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of Pakistan and the first woman to lead a Muslim-majority nation.
“Ultimately, leadership is about the strength of one’s convictions, the ability to endure the punches, and the energy to promote an idea,” she said. “And I have found that those who do achieve peace never acquiesce to obstacles, especially those constructed of bigotry, intolerance and inflexible tradition.”