Nina Simone was once quoted as lamenting the civil rights movement of the 1960's warped into disco in the 1970's. The quote may be false, the observation is very reasonable. This weekend Long Beach hosts the second in the country's LGBT Pride celebrations, following Las Vegas, and preceding by a few weeks those in Los Angeles and San Francisco, which will mark its 40th.
Has the Stonewall Riot of 1969 warped into a weekend of commercial booths, non-profit outreach, and lots of men and women dancing to Martha Wash?
From one view, we do not in fact have any progressive or radical institutions to turn to. Those the LGBT community does have are fine, middle-of-the-mainstream-road agencies. They seem singularly focused on gaining marriage equality. The Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, and many local state groups and LGBT centers have doggedly pursued this civil right. And it is a civil right as long as the state makes it available to some and not to others.
But from another point of view, Simone's observation misses the motives of governments who rightly want to diffuse the growing assault against it by large sectors of its populations. These growing assaults persist, in fact, to this hour. Not only in turbulent Greece but also in the UK, where a coalition government seeks to perpetuate itself in power for five fixed years, or in Spain whose socialist prime minister is instituting austerity measures against popular demand. In the US it continues to rebuff the popular will - be it in health care reform or foreign, costly wars - for what the establishment want.
Our rhetoric often confuses the governments' desires, which have become further anti-democratic, against that of the populations, which support social programs and an end to Mideast wars and occupations.
This not-so-new trend against the people became clearest to me when poll after poll in the UK showed its citizens resolute in their opposition to US-led wars in Afghanistan and toppling Iraq and the quagmire that followed: yet, this had little effect on the members of Parliament whose support is directly connected to the government of the day. Tony Blair and his government should have fallen, and he didn't. Gordon Brown should never have succeeded him, but he did.
As the queen herself is accurately quoted saying "there are forces in this country about which you do not know."
Indeed, not only is the ruling class obscured but also our radical histories are hidden to us, and from us. In most Western industrialized countries you can go as close as your local library and discover the radical roots within the LGBT, Black, Latino/Chicano, Asian, Native American, and women's movements. But you will scarcely see evidence of them at Pride celebrations.
Quiz yourself now, and ask what you know of them? Do you know that Harry Hay, the founder of the first gay rights organization modelled the Mattachine Society from his organizing work with the Communist Party USA? Hay was a lifelong communist radical, and when he saw the Simone's proverbial Disco set in, he balked, critiqued, and was ridiculed into silence. So he went off and formed the Radical Faeries.
Did you know that Rosa Parks, despite that horrid mythology of the seamstress who refused to give up her seat was trained as a labor organizer by the communist party at the Highlander School in Tennessee? She then became executive secretary of the NAACP and organized to end segregation on buses.
These labor organizers and their communist, socialist, and anarchist backers were virtually liquidated by the US government. Interestingly, as a young college student, US Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, wrote her senior thesis on the eradication of the socialists from New York City in the 1930's.
Carrots and sticks being what they are, succeeding generations may have felt a natural sense that something is not quite right, but they had few in the community to learn from. The radicals had either been killed, had gone underground, or had been thoroughly house-broken.
The Black community offers two interesting worlds.
On the one hand, we have the narrative of Blacks migrating north, as if this were the most natural thing to do. But a hundred years ago, while the US government condoned Jim Crow brutality in the South, it encouraged strike breaking in the north. Northern labor organizers were winning rights in factory after factory, again with no small help from the US Communist Party. The bosses lured cheap, Southern, Black labor north to break these newly formed unions in the exact same way cheap labor from across the "border" is lured in to lower wages and keep labor organizers firmly in check.
Yet at the same time Blacks were used as scabs, other Blacks like Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Harry Haywood, Paul Robeson, Rosa Parks, Richard Wright, and Angela Davis organized with the Communist Part USA to build broad coalitions and win labor rights for all workers.
If you attend any of the Pride celebrations this spring and summer, you won't see any of the radical history behind that movement. Harry Hay was ostracized until he was near death, and, of course after death he may be listed here and there as an icon. But I remember when this man was vilified by the LGBT press.
While it is progress in itself that gay men and lesbians can come out in the open, dance, cruise, and have fun without the local police rounding them up as they did as recently as the 1970's. That's real, measurable progress that must be appreciated.
But despite the hard organizing work done by our predecessors, I daresay the achievement of being able to dance under the golden sun reflects the limited LGBT goal of the Closeted and the Conformist. They would not join LGBT-rights pioneer Harry Hay and the activists-organizers but remained in the shadows in fear of being exposed. Their limited agenda of simple assimilation, ironically, seems to have won the day: they've become a commodity along with the other commodities our capitalist economy nurtures.
It's about your income, your wealth, your disposable income. So when new ground began to be broken for LGBT's in the early 1990's it was framed as a community with buying power: we were young, we had no children, we had money.
But like any community, this misses the vast majority - as vast as those European populations no longer represented by their governments. That LGBT majority is forced into wage-slavery, low income, no health care, housing issues and sees a leadership advocating marriage equality and not housing rights, the enumerable benefits to marriage and not worker empowerment, stories about partners denied inheritance benefits not guaranteed single-payer, universal health care for all.
No doubt as I write this, there are other radical LGBT writing and organizing, but who has time for that when there's a party?
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