I was seven years old when I saw a black person for the first time. I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, a primarily white suburb of Boston with a growing Jewish community. My family, Canadian-Italian, were the minority. I went to more Bar Mitvah’s than some of my Jewish friends. I was seven and in the second grade when the first group of inner-city kids where bused into the suburbs due to the ruling of Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. of the United States District Court of Massachusetts after finding “a consistent and recurring pattern of racial discrimination in the operation of the Boston Public Schools“. This was 1974. Fortunately, while it was a big deal in the city, the ‘burbs were a little less affected. I don’t remember our school or family making a big deal out of it. In fact, I was taught acceptance. And in fact, as a not-yet-out gay boy, I immediately befriended the new students, most especially Regina Perry and Vanessa Davis. Guess what, like me, they were just kids. Meanwhile, there were riots, assaults, and death threats in Boston.
Fast forward to November, 2008. Just 34 years later. Barack Obama is poised to be the 44th President of the United States. What elation, what joy, what relief. What an overwhelming sense of change for this country, especially given its current state. Surrounded by many friends we watched, we cheered, we embraced. We celebrated every state that chose change. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other “red states” voted decisively for President-Elect Obama. This country gets it. We are moving forward!
Not so fast! I had spent the day with an amazing group of energetic folks. Residents of Triangle Square, Hollywood’s GLBT Senior Living Center. I was with a group, lead by the energetic, Ed Stanley, that offered to shuttle residents to the polls on election day. Ed is forming a program, The Buddy System, that aspires to match GLBT Seniors with a younger generation buddy. This was a bit of an introduction to the program. Thanks to our shuttle sponsor, Christopher Street West, we spent a couple of hours getting to know folks, getting their impression of election day, hearing some wild “back in the day” Hollywood Dish, and escorting them to the polls. What a great way to kick off election day. Inspired!
You can read some of their wonderful stories as the Advocate came to talk to the residents.
Like most in the GLBT community, election night ended with a huge sense of relief and a whole lot of anxiety. What would happen with Proposition 8? On this momentus night would the winds of change and equality continue to blowing forward? Waking up hopeful on November 5th I immediately turned on the TV to note that although the passage of Prop 8 was leading it was still too close to call. As the numbers were updated the writing apeared to be on the wall. Not even the hopeful emails and Facebook postings of “what about all the as yet to be counted ballots?” It was close enough that those 3 million or so could turn the tide. Was there still hope? Nope! By 4:00 the late afternoon broadcasts called it. That is when the emails, the Facebook postings, the text messages, and phone calls went into hyper-drive. We would take it to the streets in protests. And in long-history for the city of West Hollywood we would rally and protest at the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente Blvd’s. The word was out. In fact, at Monday night’s City Council Meeting, John Duran even put the Public Safety and Sheriff’s Departments on notice that either way, and it was still close, we would, in tradition, take to the streets. And we did!
Unfortunately, the speakers were many, the speeches were long, and the crowd was angry and restless. Those in the back were barely able to hear and were too energized to just stand. Back to the intersection. And that is when groups just started to break off and march in different directions. Some went to Sunset Blvd and made their way to the CNN Center in Hollywood. Some stayed on Sunset to protest. Others remained at SMB and SVB. To shout, to cheer, to be with others that felt their frustrations. In some parts of Hollywood it got ugly. We’re talking about LAPD. We’re fortunate in WeHo to have the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept (LASD) with a much better history of working with the GLBT Community. What was amazing to witness was the younger generation was here in force.
Before the end of the night the word was out that the protest would move to the Mormon Temple in Westwood on Thursday at 2:00 pm. It has been widely documented that the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints rallied their members to send millions of dollars to the Yes on 8 campaign. Once again, young people were out in full force. Home made signs, campaign placards, whistles, bullhorns, the group was ready to make their voices to the Mormon leadership. In fact, leaders came out of the church to take video and photos and the crowd started chanting, “Shame on you, shame on you.” Fortunately, the talking-head speeches went fairly quickly and it was decided that we would march once around the temple, 2,000 strong. One leader tried to stop and educate the crowd but quickly the chant went up, March!
The group was still rearing to go once they got back in front of the temple. There had been talk of marching to the Federal Building on Wilshire. And soon a first wave of a few hundred headed off. A second, larger group, followed within a half an hour. Soon we were in Westwood shutting down major intersections surrounded by an LAPD Tactical Squad. A few tense moments ensued as there was no organization. The talking-heads had long ago left. The dynamic was changing, the young people wanted to do what the generation before them did, take the streets, be heard, be seen, and make an impact. As rush hour approached the two groups were brought together and ended up pooling in the middle of Wilshire and Westwood Blvd’s. If you know Los Angeles, you know that this is a traffic stranglehold on a good day. Now there are more than 1,000 still energized protesters blocking the intersection. And on we marched toward Santa Monica Blvd. The goal of the group was to stop traffic at yet another busy intersection, Santa Monica and Wilshire. And as sunlight quickly faded, there we were met by Beverly Hills PD on the south side. And, frankly, they did not appear happy to see us. LAPD had, up until this point, been very helpful to try to keep it peaceful. Once again the younger generation decided to move it back to the LDS Temple and so they did. To the temple where after more rally cries, some a little intense, the crowds started to wane. And still a much smaller group, being trailed by helicopters, made their way into WeHo.
It has been an unbelievable experience on all fronts. I have found that in history, change takes time. There are victories, there are defeats. Even in defeat we accomplish much. The goal line gets closer. Martin Luther King Jr’s historic speech, I Have a Dream, was 40 years ago. And today, with Barack Obama living out that dream, we still have hope. I am not saying that we have to wait another 40 because we have come so far already. But we will reach, as he said, that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. And so we shall.