Thursday, October 10, 2019

Notes on Civil Disobedience, the Supreme Court, Civil Rights of LGBTQ+ people, #RiseUpOct8 #wearetheworkforce

Ken Schles photos and caption
"Listen to Dorothy.
Reactionary forces have tried time and time again to turn back the march of civil rights in this country, but let’s get specific on their latest shot across the bow.

Donald Trump has been packing the courts in deference to desires of the religious right, lead by Vice President Mike Pence and the press adverse Koch Industries funded Federalist Society who tend to recommend judicial nominees that reflect white patriarchy.
Racist, transphobic and homophobic policy and rhetoric has been emanating from the Administration from day one and now that there is a conservative majority in the #scotus hard fought civil rights are being threatened.
On October 8th the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to narrowly interpret Title VII of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act protecting workers against discrimination based on sex. The Administration sides with groups who say that protections for LGBT workers were not considered when the law was passed by Congress. If the court affirms protections in cases pending before the court, it would strengthen protections many thought were already in place. If the justices rule against upholding Title VII in these cases, it would legally marginalize LGBT members of society.
#surrenderdonald —you may try to influence the way the law is interpreted, but the law is coming after you.
Ken Schles 


Catherine Snyder is with Eric Sawyer and Benjamin Heim Shepard.
"133 protesters were arrested blocking the street across the Supreme Court in an act of non violent civil disobedience, as hundreds of LGBTQ+ advocates convened in Washington, DC on October 8, 2019 for a national day of action as a community response to the landmark Supreme Court hearings that could legalize workplace discrimination, primarily against LGBTQ+ people, on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender presentation.
On  the way to DC with a friend.  
Luis Lopez and Eric Sawyer, ACT UP NYC 1990, Eric Sawyer on the way to DC 2019. 

Housing  Works organized the action:
“Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three separate cases to determine whether LGBTQ people are protected from workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The implications are terrifying, as the Court could decide to legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. We won’t stand for this and don’t expect a pardon for our disruption.
Will support us as we fight for LGBTQ+ civil rights?”

For weeks, every queer activist I know talked about it.
Are you going to  DC on  Monday,  people asked at  Andy’s memorial on Saturday.
Are you going to do CD?
If you’ve done more than five in  the last two years in  DC, they will put you through the system they warned.
Don’t worry about it, said others.
It’s going to be a  big  crowd.
That’s a lot of work for them and there will be  a lot  of repeat offenders there.
I hemmed and hawed about it all week.
Coordinated with friends, Tim and Ken and Kate and Reed about which bus we would take.
530 AM from  Union Square,  14th and 4th in  front of Walgreens.
Pix11 was there to interview us.
Eric and I  sat together.
“I’m scared” said Eric  Sawyer, one of the founders of ACT UP, Housing Works, and Healthgap.
We’d talk all day long about the implications of the cases before the court.
Fears  and reminders of old  horrors ebbing through the memories of activist after activist.
“They have a 5-4 majority.  They can do whatever they want,” said Reed, of Housing Works.
“I can’t sit home and not express my outrage that the rights of our community are going to be further eroded by the Supreme Court, which has been eroded and corrupted  by the right, for not allowing  Obama to fill the  seat when Justice Scalia,  one of the most bigoted justices ever, died, leaving a vacant seat. My outrage over that injustice lead me to at least two arrests at the confirmation farce of Kavanaugh, a rapist, onto  the court.  I can’t sit by and watch them strip our rights without letting them know I’m pissed.”
On these trips, we often talk about past direct actions, arrests, etc. I can name over thirty arrests over the last two decades. Eric can’t even  count them all.
Behind each arrest is a story. 
Eric recalled dynamics  involved in the case before  the  court when  he learned  about his health status as an HIV positive man three decades.
I asked about his first arrest with ACT  UP.
He was not able to get arrested much the first four years of  the group from 1987 to ’91.
“The employee manual at work said people  could be fired for any arrest or violations of the law.  So it wasn’t until I was forced into long-term disability when I got an AIDS diagnosis that I started participating in  civil disobedience.  Forced onto long-term disability – a significant reduction of my compensation – it  was homophobia and AIDSphobia.
They said it would be too disturbing for the staff to watch me get sick.  
That happened in December  of  ’91.
So I didn’t do anything with civil disobedience before 1992/1993.
I came  out of my arrest moratorium with a vengeance. 
The first arrest might have been at Macy’s for firing their Santa for being HIV positive.
The Church Ladies for Choice, an ACT UP affinity group,  wrote a song for the action, Kate Barnhart, another Church Lady veteran reminded us.

“SANTAUS HAS HIV (this version of Deck the Halls was composed when Macy’s fired a Santa when they learned he was HIV+.  They got theirs...)
Santa Claus has HIV fa la la la la, la la la la
Macy’s won’t rehire he fa la la la la, la la la la
They thought Mark Woodley was the best fa la la la la, la la la la
Till he took the HIV test fa la la la la, la la la la

Discrimination is illegal fa la la la la, la la la la
We all think Macy’s is evil fa la la la la, la la la la
They’d best hire Mark Woodley back fa la la la la, la la la la
Until then we’ll ACT UP! FIGHT BACK!”

“19 of us dressed as Santas, invading the store,” recalled Sawyer. “Charles King and I were arrested, singing the song. We around the store singing the same thing over and  over again.”
Everyone was laughing at the memory.
The same thing could happen again.
And the reality of our trip became very present.

“So many of my clients are going through that, even with GENDA passed,” noted Kate Barnhart, director New Alternatives for LGBT Youth, who  was part of those early ACT UP actions.

Just plain discrimination,  a volunteer with VOCAL, jumped in explaining:
“HASA is allowing  people to  go through it over and over again. Throwing people’s stuff out. I came home yesterday and I was kicked out of my room at 9 PM. Local Law 49 says people have a right to shelter within the day they ask.  It’s a ruinous system.”

“So, we got  carried out in stretchers singing,” Eric continued, recalling that old Santa action.  “Coming here is the same kind of thing.  I was forced onto disability because I have AIDS.   I had a supervisor who said lay low and be quiet about being HIV positive.  If you go on disability or have a lot of medical bills, its viewed as a bad hire.”
Eric paused and got back to the legal case in  question.
 “We were seeing protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act working,” he continued, despite the difficulties that could get much worse with a negative ruling.
“Title 7 says no one can  be discriminated against around sex, race, religion, and ethnicity. The courts were saying sexual orientation is protected.  Now lawsuits are challenge this.”

“I’ve probably been arrested more than one hundred times.  47 in 1993 alone when Charles King had something like 50 or 52.  He’d wanted to do one a week. My longest was in  Albany when they kept us overnight. They started limiting  us during the Giuliani years, tracking our busts and putting us through the system more.”

In  between stories about the Day of Desperation, the bus caption said the conference call was about to start.

Reed began  the call acknowledging  the two  people who died when the  18 wheeler that crashed along  the road.

“It’s a good time to be  grateful for life.
Lets  go into  the action with that attitude.
We’re late because  of the delay and there has  been a bomb scare in  front of the Supreme Court, but we’re still moving forward.
Scouts are out there looking for an alternate spot for the action.”

Charles King followed, situating the legal context for our work.
“For decades, we have enjoyed the courts expanding in rights, with the exception of Bowers vs Hardwick,” the 1986 Supreme Court decision that upheld  a Georgia sodomy law, later  struck down in 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas.  “Now the courts and administration are  rolling rights back for immigrants and women’s reproductive rights.  The administration is arguing for restricting rights, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law prohibiting employers from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. I think its vital that GLBT people speak out for human rights.

Reed beginning an informal civil disobedience training for those who have never participated.
“There is  a long tradition of civil disobedience.
It’s a practice rooted in non-violence.
ACT UP’s action guidelines include these anchoring principles.
An attitude of openness.
No property damage.
No alcohol or drugs at actions.
No weapons.
Avoid endangering others.
Remain accountable to the group.”

Alexis Danzig, of ACT UP and Rise and  Resist, continued:
“Welcome to newbies,” she began. “In civil disobedience, we sit down.  We choose  this as a posture of civil disobedience.  So its most  likely people will sit on the ground. We fill space, occupying space. We may not get arrested today.  And if we don’t this is still a powerful  day. But we might. Today is important.  We need  to take care  of each other, while going through this process.  We need to look  out for each other.  We can refuse to cooperate if something goes wrong.  We can refuse to comply, to convey we are strong, protecting the civil rights of  our friends. This is solidarity.”

Danzig followed with an overview of  the basics of  marshaling. “There is a chance  there  will be  counter protestors today.  They have their first amendment rights.
And we have ours.
Do troll patrol. 
They are there to cause a fight. 
We avoid fights.
We are not there to do the police’s job.
We’re not there to tell people, ‘don’t shout.’”
We’re just about in DC. The action starts at noon.
Its noon and we’re still 15 minutes away.

“Jail is the only time I’m not  around people  looking for shelter,” notes Kate Barnhart.
“Almost the whole concept of civil rights is on the line here.  If they rule against us, it opens the door to discrimination that has been outlawed since 1964.”

Jason Walker, of VOCAL,  leads us through chants:

“When queer and trans people are  under attack,
What do we do?
ACT UP fight back.”

“What do we want,  equality.
If we don’t get  it, shut it down.”

“The actions already started. So you are just going  to jump in,” says our bus captain.

“SCROTUS wave two,” shouts someone else.

“SCROTUM wave two?”

Arriving  in  DC, I was not going to do the CD, but the town full of pretty Nazi’s always inspires indignation. 

I was in.

We arrived at the church.

And walked over to the Supreme Court.

Crowds of friends were already there screaming, some sitting, Sing Out,  Louise performing, priests in rainbows, queer kids screaming.  ACT UP New York and Philly were there, as were Rise and Resist.The Center for Popular Democracy crew was there. A rabbi was leading the group singing, We Shall Not Be Moved and Seasons of Love, from Rent.
At some point, we all sang:

‘Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife?
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love”

A feeling of elation escalated in my body,  filling me.
These are people I adore.
I’ve been arrested with them dozens of times,
Hundreds of protests,
Zaps of congress,
Gone to funeral with them,
Screaming out for something better.
Sometimes during these moments, we feel as free as we’ve ever been,
Alive speaking the truth of our lives.

Charles King  was sitting there smiling,  in priest garb.
Love you socks Charles, I said, pointing  to the lavender. 
We’re having a picnic in  the park, he replied.

Standing to chant, the police pulled me away.

The arrests were starting.

I smiled, looked out at the roaring crowd, and the walked out.

The counter protesters nowhere to be seen.

And spent the afternoon being processed.

Greeting friends among the arrestees and those offering support when we got out. 

As usual, LA Kauffman was the first to greet me on my way out,
Two decades of friendship and  direct action going strong.   

Making it back, to the church a few of us sat to eat and chat.

“What do you think is going to happen,” I asked, Annette Gaudino, of TAG.

“I was in the AB101 riot in  1991.”

 “We don’t have civil  rights,” Gaudino continued. “Didn’t have them then, don’t have them now. There is so much rage in those moments, you gotta turn the anger outward.”

I asked about the riot, some 14 years after the White Night  Riots in San Francisco.

“That night, I ran into Phyllis Burke, who was in the 1979 riots. People began to run as we were marching down Market Street.  ‘I gotta go.  Be safe,’ she said, recalling the running that took place before the riot 14 years prior.  Five minutes  later I  heard broken glass.  I saw Peggy Sue get maced point blank in  the  face. People were taking  the barricades and breaking   them in  the state building.  15 minutes earlier we marched past the  Opera House chanting,  ‘Outta the Opera into the Streets!’  But the mood changed.  This was life changing.  I don’t know if I could articulate it.  But all that anger that was distilled inside came out in that moment.  Frank Jordan, a politician who  was running  for mayor, came to the Castro to show support.  We chased him out of his loafers. Lets  march said the organizers, to the state building.”

I first encountered Eric Sawyer at the White House in Ashes Action of 1996 when members of ACT UP threw the ashes of former colleagues onto the White House. 
There are a lot of wounds and a lot of memories. 
Discrimination around sex has a long history.
The Civil Rights Law of 1964 offer protections.
Hopefully the justices remember.
And understand.
We certainly do. 

L.A. Kauffman is with Laurie Cotter and Benjamin Heim Shepard.
October 9 at 7:41 AMYesterday in DC: Benjamin Heim Shepard demonstrating how to protest, and unwind, in style ...
Thanks LAK.
Thanks everyone. 

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