Saturday, November 8, 2008

Righteous anger!

Wow, that's a lot of cop cars. I must be getting close. I pull over to the side of the road to let a convoy of 20 or 30 police cars, sirens blaring and full of cops, pass by me on Wilshire Boulevard. It's 5:30, the height of rush hour. Traffic is normally slow. But now it's completely stopped.

Fortunately, I know what's going on, and I'm on my bike. After a few minutes delay, I hop on my bike and resume racing down Wilshire, passing mile upon mile of stopped cars. It's exhilerating.

At this point, I still harbor vague illusions that I'll be able to make it back in time for class -- I've got an hour, after all. That's plenty of time.

Normally, my Thursday evenings are spent going to my billiards class and generally goofing off. It's a good way to spend an evening and let some stress off. And, as this week had been particularly stressful for me, I was more than a little excited to take my brain off of classwork and paper-writing to spend an evening hitting balls with sticks. But, alas, as I sat there idly writing code for a class project, my cell phone buzzed. It was a text from my friend J.

J: "Huge no on 8 protest on wilshire just past westwood. Bring a bike and your sense of justice!"

Me: "What're people doing?"

J: "Closed off the streets! We're marching west! It's huge, cops, news. We're stalled right now but people are trying to push through"

(Perhaps you have not heard of Proposition 8 -- although evidence suggests that's unlikely. It's an amendment to California's constitution defining marriage as being valid between a man and a woman. The measure was proposed to counteract the supreme court's egregious finding that discriminating based on sexual orientation was, you know, maybe not so cool. It passed, sadly, 52-48%.)

I'm not sure if I was motivated more by my anger at injustice or my desire to flake out on classwork. It didn't much matter. I hopped on my bike, muttered a quick goodbye to my officemate, and peddled furiously south of campus.

And now, here I am, on one of the most major streets in LA, and it's completely shut down.


Luckily, I have no trouble getting ahold of J -- he's at the tail end of the march when I meet up with him, and I hop off my bike and start walking. We're in a crowd of thousands, marching and chanting. Sometimes in unison.

"Where are we marching to?" I ask. "The Mormon temple." I know the temple. I used to live right across the street from it. It's huge. Mormon donors (many from out of state) contributed a significant fraction of the Yes On 8 campaign's funding. And the crowd is marching to their temple to vent. I'm ambivalent about this -- it's frustrating to feel like someone else's religious beliefs are being foisted on you, but I worry that targeting particular groups like this will only serve to foster divisions.

But I don't dwell on this too much. I'm too caught up in the swell of people, chanting "Gay, straight, black, white: marriage is a civil right!" at the top of my lungs, driving myself hoarse. I talk to a man who looks like a young, gay Jesus, whose husband was one of the lawyers that helped overturn Colorado's anti-sodomy laws. He seems nice.

We make it to the temple. The crowd stops. Puts signs up on the fences. Helicopters, ten of them, perhaps, are circling overhead, passing cars are honking at us, in (I choose to believe) support. The police are being remarkably decent: they're clearly not too thrilled with us, but they are extraordinarily efficient about clearing the roads, blocking off side streets, and keeping things safe.

A couple has an impromptu Jewish wedding in front of the temple. Not legal, of course -- I don't even know if they're really a couple -- but it's cute. Everybody cheers.

But then we're restless. The crowd's enthusiasm is waning, and people don't feel like milling around anymore. "March! March! March!" We have huge swaths of the city yet to explore, and we want to move!

We set turn around and set off north. And we keep going. We march through West Hollywood and into Beverly Hills. My feet are killing me, but I'm exhilarated. I yell, I start chants, I smile at befuddled club-goers on the sidewalks. I don't know if I'm here more to support the cause or for the pure pleasure of walking down the middle of major streets and basking in the attention. I don't care. I keep marching.

I can't really bring myself to believe this is going to accomplish anything. The measure was a constitutional amendment. Short of a federal-level constitutional challenge (unlikely) or another ballot measure to overturn it (very likely, but it'll be a few years), I don't see what can be done. Maybe this will raise attention to our frustrations. It's been getting press -- apparently our rally made it to CNN for a short while. I hope that we make the issue a little more tangible, a little more real to some of the people we pass on the sidewalks.

But I don't think about that now. I'm caught up in the emotion and the noise. I keep marching.


  1. You know, it seems to me a bit odd that in both California and Oregon an amendment to the state constitution can be passed with a simple majority.

    Something's constitution is theoretically supposed to reflect fundamentals. Really, really basic stuff that everyone believes. Stuff like "division of power is good," and "slavery is bad." Maybe I'm too much of an idealist (that has oft been the case) but it seems to cheapen the nature of state constitutions if they can be messed with just like any other kind of legislation.

    And good for you! Way put yourself out there for justice and stuff! It makes me sort of wistful that I missed this election season.

    As for targeting Mormon temples:

    First, religion is just like any other ideology or ideal in that it is changeable. It is not something inherent like race or sexuality, it is a way of viewing the world, and worldviews can be altered within both individuals and populations. Worldviews also affect actions and policy, and therefore must be subject to public discourse and scrutiny. People have protested for and against communism, democracy, fascism, capitalism, etc. throughout the twentieth century. Those worldviews have had to answer to public concerns. Religion isn't exempt from the scrutiny and rigors that other ideologies must endure.

    Second, the Mormon church actively involved itself in the Yes on 8 campaign. They pushed, and by all means it is legitimate and fair to push back.

    So, I have no moral qualms about targeting religious institutions for protest. My only misgiving would be a strategic one: Would a protest targeted at a religious institution alienate liberal members of other religious communities? That is, would more progressive theists resist mobilization because they see their own different but related ideology threatened? That's where the problem lies.

    Keep fighting the good fight, dude.

  2. Yeah, a simple majority for constitutional amendments is a horrible idea. Honestly, I'm a bit cynical about the initiative process in general. So many of the measures that show up seem to be poorly drafted and thought out, and just a waste of money to print out. And then some of them pass, anyway. As much as I dislike Measure 8, it seems like the kind of thing that should be in the initiative process: decisions about morality and values, rather than procedural issues. Medical marijuana should be up for vote. I'd rather not have to haggle about school funding.

    As for Mormonism: it's mostly pragmatism. There are Mormons who were opposed to measure 8, and it would be bad to alienate them (or people of other religious beliefs). Plus, I just wonder if it's a good idea to come off as directly confrontational at all -- I worry that it would put people off.

    On the other hand, a whole bunch of people just got told they were second-class citizens, and a big chunk of them had their marriages annulled. So the other part of me things they can be pissed off if they want to. :-)

  3. I certainly agree that it should take more than a simple majority to amend a state constitution. That said, I find the concept of using the initiative process to legislate certain moral issues to fairly offensive to core democratic ideals. I realize that sounds counter-intuitive, but what I mean is this:

    Deeply ingrained in America's concept of democracy is the idea that the majority must be restrained from running rough-shod over minorities. That is the essence of "equal protection."

    I am not ready to call out the initiative process as a whole, given it's solid progressive background. But it could certainly could be improved.

  4. Beau: I agree with your general sentiment that the majority shouldn't be able to run rough-shod over the rights of the minority -- after all, that's what I was out protesting, no? That being said, though, it's definitely the case that society's moral standards do change, and it seems more appropriate to me that decisions like that be made by society at large rather than a small group of people who try to interpret what community values really are. Things like funding projects seem to be problematic, though, since it's really hard for someone who's not enmeshed in the system to get a feeling for how to allocate (limited) resources, and how well-thought-out these bills really are.

    No matter what, though, you should definitely need more than 50%+1 to amend the constitution. Good lord.