Direct action must be smart, strategic

Editor's Note

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.

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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.

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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. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

14 Replies to “Direct action must be smart, strategic”

  1. Hi Matt,

    I’m not sure yet if the actions of June 2nd will have a positive or negative impact. No one does and that’s really up for us to decide. Sounds like your intent on them having negative repercussions.

    I’d caution ENC or any organization who might want to control the message or actions around defending our equality. Whoever has the control (real or perceived) will also get the blame if this amendment passes.

    Rather than rubbing their noses in what you seem to think is a pile of legislative crap why don’t you tell us what “smart and strategic” direction action looks like.

  2. I’ll tell you. First it already has had a negative impact for lgbters in NC. Until now there wasn’t any plans on a Sept. special session dealing with constitutional amendments. Now there is with the marriage amendments being #1. Guess what…they weren’t on June 1.

    A smart and strategic direct action would have been better planned after all other options had failed. They also wouldn’t be done during a bill totally unrelated to the amendments. They would also not include bursting onto the floor of the house or senate. They are lucky someone wasn’t gun happy and shot them. The gallery is a better place to do something or outside in front of the Legislative Building, on the old Capitol grounds, on the mall.

  3. Joseph B. Arrington June 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    In short, it is passion without a purpose. Passion is great, and a wonderful asset to a purpose, a clear and level headed plan of action toward reaching your goals. But without a purpose, oh what a weapon.

  4. First and foremost, I am disgusted that a gay group is attacking another gay rights groups. This is a waste of time and it appears one group has quickly lost the focus — on the GOP. Lets be real, there are GOP’ers who will not change their mind on this issue, and I had read that the amendment was already set to be voted on with other admendments and it was going to be voted on regardless of the protest. The GOP had this as one of their wedge issues since they took over control.

    The protest was targeted at the undecided – mostly democrats – as the GOP will need a handful of dems to get this on the ballot. I believe it was effective at letting this know that this is an important issue and we WILL be heard.

    You can’t decide that it’s hurting the cause just because people don’t like having the pot stirred. It’s time for the pot to be stirred, and this is just the start. We need more actions like this — actions at the representatives offices and at their homes if needed.

    They need to know that this isn’t just an issue, this is our lives we are fighting for – as the great Harvey Milk once said.

    Shame on Equality NC and Qnotes. Please focus on your true enemy – the bigots! Both ways are effective as they are intended to reach different walks of people.

    I am proud to have been at the rally and proud of my heroes Jim Neal, Angel Chandler and Mary Counce.

    I stand with the Raleigh Three!

  5. I attended the rally on Thursday, happy to show my support for the efforts to keep the hate-filled amendment from being passed. I was happy with the rally… until I got home and read the news, that is. I don’t know what the three were thinking when they decided to disrupt the General Assembly. What good did they expect to come from that? And none has. That spectacle has given the republicans more resolve to fight us, and I fear it has also given the superstitious folks in our great State a reason to come out and vote for hatred to be enshrined in our Constitution. I regret having been at the rally at this point.

  6. In the face of open hatred and bigotry, to lay down and be a doormat to be stepped on and wiped with, is to be complicit in the diminution of your public citizenship and your private humanity.

    I too, would stand with the Raleigh Three!!

    To paraphrase what M. L.King said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail just how long would the homo-haters have us wait?

  7. Tony’s above comment sounds about right…the protest in the chamber probably did do more harm than good. From all accounts I’ve heard there were a few legislators on the fence who were willing to just let the constitutional amendment wither in committee so they could focus primarily on budget & economic bills. But they are now saying they will go ahead and let the amendment come up for a vote.
    Having a rally and protest…with proper permits…outside the capital was fine. But once they stormed into the legislative building during a session…that crossed the line. And we’ll all pay for it.

  8. Members of the LGBT community (and others), need to look up ACT-UP and (more importantly) STONEWALL. Those aren’t just fluffy sentiments on a gay Hallmark greeting card. Gays need to stop asking their oppressors for their equal rights. They need to demand them. No one is going to do it for you. Gay people pay taxes just like everyone else. Stop begging for crumbs.

  9. Thanks a lot “Raleigh Three”! It only takes two or three “nuts” for the gay haters to bake a really big “fruitcake.” Let Equality North Carolina continue to build bridges and to create substantial change! Courtesy and dignity must prevail, no matter what!

  10. Listen up you big babies. The Republicans are going to hate you NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO. Kiss their asses. It doesn’t mean SHIT!

    The 3 that went to jail are in good company!
    Jesus, MLK, Ghandi etc.

    Wise up! there is no cajoling or comforting for these haters. Look at their site where they spread rumor, lies and blatant hate speech. Do you fools think for one moment you will change their views. Puh-lease!

  11. KEn as for you I only have one thing to say. Lay down and take it you know where. Plaster a smile on your face and pretend you love it because that’s where you will always be with that pillow talk attitude!

    That drag queen at Stonewall didn’t toss a rose to those cops SHE THREW A HEEL MEANT TO MAIM!

    Learn from your fore queers!

  12. These comparisons of Jim Neal to Jesus and the NC Legislative Building (the House Chamber) in Raleigh to the Stonewall Inn (a bar) in New York have gotten beyond ridiculous.

    NC’s only openly gay legislator, Rep. Marcus Brandon, has said that the disruption was unhelpful.

    Recall that Rep. Brandon actually beat a Democratic incumbent in a primary (unlike Jim Neal) and then went on to win his general election.

    I consider Rep. Brandon far more qualified to speak about electoral politics than Jim Neal or the other two.

    Anybody putting these three folks up on a pedestal with the likes of Ghandi really needs to come back to reality.

    For starters, take a look at who has actually been successful keeeping an amendment of the ballot in NC for the past seven years. It’s probably wise to support those folks’ efforts.

  13. Appellation. Smile and take it girlie! You’re gonna be a pink worker on that plantation for a long, long time.

  14. Great article Matt! Many don’t understand the tremendous work ENC had done behind the scenes to keep this out of vote and while everyone hopefully had good intentions, this definitely set things back from my understanding.

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