By Billy Hileman
Organizers for a proposed Millennium rally DC in the year 2000 are moving ahead despite sharp and growing criticism from grassroots activists from across the country.
In response to the outcry, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and other organizers finally admitted the process is severely flawed and pledged to be more inclusive--but recent events surrounding the proposed rally demonstrate that only the rhetoric has changed.
In a completely closed process, the Millennium Rally organizers have hurried every major decision regarding a national civil rights event. At the same time they have been shamelessly mouthing the rhetoric of "inclusion" and "grassroots" organizing. At this point, if they offer you a seat at the table, it is simply to employ you to get people to Washington in 2000, where they will pass their collection plate around the Mall.
In spite of lofty words of inclusion, there is no public Millennium rally organizing structure. We have heard rumors about a central decision making committee and a mythological 14-page Millennium rally organizing proposal. However, what we do have are: a theme, - "Faith and Family; a date - April 30, 2000; a title - "Millennium March for Equality"; logistics - a rally, no march; a platform - no demands; a merchandising plan - T-Shirts, etc.; an official travel agency; and 10,000 rooms booked in Washington. This is why they aren't in any hurry to open up the process. They don't need to except for their PR purposes.
The dishonesty of Millennium Rally organizers raises serious questions about the health of our movement and the agenda of the two largest and richest organizations the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC). Amazingly, each time the Millennium rally organizers are called on the carpet for their secretive closed process, they pause to reflect and then proceed, unrepentant for the tactics used. What follows are some examples.
The Millennium Rally (a.k.a., the "Millennium March," even though no March is planned) was announced by HRC and UFMCC in early February. Their initial press release listed a handful of endorsers, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum (NBLGLF). But you won't find NGLTF or NBLGLF on any current endorsement lists. The reason? In February, HRC called the leadership of several organizations and told them they had only a few minutes to sign onto the Millennium event. They were sending out the press release immediately.
Flustered and frustrated, NBLGLF, NGLTF and others signed on. But later, after the insult of HRC's strong-arm tactic set in, NBLGLF and NGLTF took their names off the event. NGLTF is concentrating on the 50 state action "Equality Begins at Home" slated for 1999 and HRC's arrogance may have lost the Leadership's Forum's endorsement for good.
In April, at a NBLGLF town meeting, representatives of NGLTF and NBLGLF challenged HRC's Donna Red Wing and the Millennium rally's Executive Director, Robin Tyler about the closed process. Red Wing, asserted that the process was being fixed, that it would be opened for community input.
At the same meeting, Robin Tyler, tried to explain away the elitist and exclusionary process by claiming to be a political novice unfamiliar with proper procedure for launching a march. It would be laughable if it were not such a sorry manipulative lie. In an attempt to win sympathy for the organizers, Tyler described how she came up with the Millennium rally idea in her hotel room at Creating Change last November. It never occurred to Tyler and company that she and our elders didn't discuss how to create a forum to decide if we should march on Washington (even though they were at an conference with 2,000 activists from around the country).
The rest of the April NBLGLF meeting didn't go well for Red Wing or Tyler. The criticism didn't seem to break through HRC's wall of defense and Red Wing's promises proved to be a hollow attempt to silence dissent. But it didn't matter, the real work was completed by HRC's Elizabeth Birch at an Executive Directors' meeting where détente was reached between organizers of the 50 State action and the Millennium rally. Apparently, Birch managed to convince her peers - who included Kerry Lobel (NGLTF), Dianne Hardy-Garcia and Paula Ettelbrick, (Co-Chairs of the Federation), Joan Gerry (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), Jubi Headly (NBLGLF) and others - that the process would be opened up.
At the end of April, without any forum or process for community input, HRC and MCC announced that the date of their event would be April 30, 2000. But, the coup of the Millennium occurred when the Federation, whose 50 state action was nearly derailed, and certainly crippled by the HRC/MCC plan, sent a press release with glowing comments about both events. The executive directors of the two important Millennium rally endorsement holdouts, NBLGLF and NGLTF, are quoted along side Elizabeth Birch. "The 'Equality Begins at Home' actions enjoys the full and enthusiastic support of the organizers of the Millennium March," said [Birch], ...These two events will complement each other as together we build the momentum to achieve equality in the next century."
As part of the empty public relations campaign to "open up" the process, June 9th and 10th meetings have been scheduled in Washington to discuss the two projects. The June 9th meeting will discuss the Millennium rally, while the 10th is reserved for the 50 state actions. Why not the other way around? Well, it appears the Millennium folks foresee a problem with the 50 state action meeting happening first. If it did, there would be 50 state action folks sticking around for day 2 the Millennium rally meeting. But, the meeting to "open up the process" is by invitation only. So, to avoid the embarrassment of excluding people from opening up the process, the Millennium rally meeting will happen first.
There has been a lot of work, a lot of learning, and a lot of pain experienced by people active in our civil rights movement since Stonewall. Much of the struggle around sexism, racism and classism, has been a struggle to create an open, inclusive, respectful decision making process a process that should be the soul of our civil rights movement. Everyday since the Millennium rally was announced in early February the organizers have displayed their contempt for their own communities. Everyday they have aggressively employed an organizing strategy that emulates the arrogance of power that we struggle against as persecuted minorities.
Closed door, closed process, closed minds are the friends of racism, sexism and homophobia. The irony of HRC and MCC's process is too stark to believe they cannot see it for what it is. Calling the Millennium rally the 4th national civil rights event of our movement is an insult to the principles upon which the three prior events were founded. Our community must continue to watch and speak out about the organizing process of the Millennium rally. But, if your only interest in the Millennium rally is to attend a big queer party in D.C. in 2000, your duty to the civil rights movement may be fulfilled by making a hotel reservation. But if you care about the way our community organizes, the agenda we set, and what we teach the next generation of queer civil rights activists - stay tuned.
Billy Hileman is a Pittsburgh based activist, publisher of Planet Q, and was one of four national co-chair for the 1993 March on Washington.