Originally published: June 6, 2011, 4:08 p.m.
Updated: June 11, 2011, 8:10 p.m.
The arrests of three gay activists on June 2 following their protest on the floor of the North Carolina House of Representatives has sparked varied responses and levels of support from across the country and within the state.
Obviously, GOP leadership in the North Carolina legislature isn’t happy. Republican Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, who represents Charlotte’s northern suburb of Cornelius and other portions of Mecklenburg County, called the protest “another disruptive and disrespectful display that will not be tolerated in this House.”
Reporters with the legislative press corps said state Sen. James Forrester (R-Gaston) was also upset. He stopped by the legislature’s press room to complain about “homosexuals protesting my bill,” according to WRAL’s government reporter.
What’s more telling of the sheer ineffectiveness of the June 2 outburst on the floor of the House is the response of politicians who have been outspoken on their own opposition to the anti-gay marriage amendments.
Mecklenburg County Democrat Tricia Cotham declined to comment directly to qnotes, but tweeted about the protest as it occurred.
“Scared the ____ out of us in the back,” Cotham wrote on the social network.
Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, also spoke out via Twitter, writing, “Attention all potential protesters please find a better way than busting thru the front door of the chamber #notcool #ncga.”
Anyone with knowledge of history and understanding of movements for social justice knows that non-violent resistance and direct action, including civil disobedience, have been key components of every successful movement for social change the world over. Those same people also know that such tactics must be used intelligently and strategically and carry a clear message.
Unfortunately, the June 2 protest on the floor of the state House was not intelligent nor was it strategic, and it certainly didn’t have a clearly articulated message.
Brandon, for example, said he wasn’t even aware that protesters were aligned with a pro-gay group.
“You didn’t even know what they were protesting because it was so disruptive,” he told qnotes the afternoon following the protest. “I had no clue until now what they were protesting because it was such a disruption and it’s so scary; the only thing I was thinking about was, ‘Do I need to duck under my seat or what?’”
The protest was organized by the North Carolina chapter of GetEqual, a national direct action group that has held protests and other civil disobediences across the country. For the most part, GetEqual’s actions have fit the usual mold of strategic, non-violent resistance. What happened here? Was there no planning? No strategy session?
I’m no stranger to non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. Like others with passionate beliefs, I, too, have “been to jail for justice.” Each time, however, the direct actions were planned weeks, if not months, in advance and had a clear goal and objective in mind. Additionally, the direct actions in which I’ve chosen to participate have each been timed and planned strategically in order to benefit, rather than hinder, those particular goals and objectives. What goal did these three gay rights protesters seek to accomplish? Do they realize that they might have just sealed their own demise?
GetEqual’s actions in Raleigh have stirred the hornet’s nest. They have taken what was primarily a carefully orchestrated, behind-the-scenes effort to secure votes on our side of the issue and turned it into a public conversation pitting all “the homosexuals” against an even angrier right. Those Democrats and moderate Republicans who might have been led to switch their votes will now surely suffer under the weight of a legislative leadership hell-bent on seeing this amendment through to the end, if only to prove a point about disrupting their legislative proceedings.
No LGBT community leader in this state or in this nation is seriously opposed to direct action or civil disobedience. The large majority of those involved in this particular social justice movement are well aware of the successful employment of these tactics in other historic movements for change. Smart leaders know, however, when direct action and civil disobedience can harm a cause. The June 2 outburst on the floor of the North Carolina House of Representatives is a perfect example of a direct action gone terribly, terribly wrong and all LGBT North Carolinians will pay for it. : :