When people, scholars, and advocates are told about the Civil Rights Movement, there are plenty of stories and references to share. Some prominent civil rights leaders naturally overshadow others that played a significant part. Most leaders we remember is either from lessons taught to us or the information we gather. Civil rights advocacy wasn’t solely on those who marched, spoke and wrote the most. Civil rights, to become a successful campaign and separate being labeled thugs or hostile people, introduced the practice of satyagraha. Satyagraha originated as a conceptual faith introduced and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi as a form of nonviolent resistance. Its use in India led to the nation claiming independence from the British Empire. The practice of satyagraha extends to others such as Nelson Mandela, Alice Paul, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Each of those leaders helped in ending apartheid, women’s rights, and equal access for all.
Satyagraha (sat·ya·gra·ha) noun – a policy of passive political resistance, especially that advocated by Mahatma Gandhi against British rule in India.
In all of the cases where nonviolent resistance was applied, harsh laws were created to suppress particular groups it affected. The number of arrests from all nonviolent resistance movements is too overwhelming to comprehend. The total number of deaths attributed cannot be accurately measured. The number of participants that took part in any form of civil, human and equality cannot be measured. Was satyagraha successful in its methods? That would much depend on which demonstration or protest that took place. Some were successful, and some weren’t.
In the early 90’s I began my journey as a protester, marcher, and activist for gay equality and rights. My first task was a database administrator for a group known as Digital Queers. While Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, and countless others before me laid the groundwork for LGBT rights, I began to understand a determined message of unity despite policy or personal indifferences. I was refused service at restaurants, endured random physical attacks, detained during demonstrations, shot at, was the target of a firebombing, fired for suspected of being gay, served trespass notifications, and outed by others within the gay community while they continued acting as a straight to be accepted without suspicion. These were just a few of the issues not only I personally endured, but many others standing beside me. But I embraced a non-violent or amended version of satyagraha to keep at peace that what I was doing was just. It wasn’t a journey for my gay rights. It was a journey for the rights of others afraid to come out. At every instance where my rights were either discarded, stripped, or placed me in fear I made it a habit to pray for others. I avoided a melancholy expression as not to give an impression of vulnerability by others. It may sound ridiculous for some but non-violence must be a mental conditioning of inner peace. I am not suggesting that everyone find their medicament or take up yoga. Instead, I am suggesting that peaceful methods of activism must instill healthy and composed well-being.
Digital Queers – a national nonprofit network founded in 1992 of gay techies working to provide access to the community. The first organization to partner with and implement an all Apple Computer Server Network. Many of the original members are senior level Apple employees.
Whether your advocacy is for equality, justice reforms, ending the sex registry, legalization of cannabis, or anything else that is dear to your heart being mindful, respectful, and comfortable goes a long way. Being aware that you are mentally up for the challenge is critical maintaining a sense of sanity. Do you want to be the face of the movement, a face in the crowd, or a face behind the curtain? It is your choice in how you wish to engage effectively. Most new activists seek an action plan, agenda, talking points, organizational reference, visibility markers to identify other allies or supporters. Respect for others is crucial to deescalate conflict. Every protest has some form of counter-protest. Respect must be a part of advocacy both internally and externally. Freedoms are foundations that everyone has a particular right and belief system. Being respectful in most occasions allows moments of diplomacy and perhaps new opportunities. Comfort embraces self and where your value add is most applicable. There have been protests where a few participants march but lots of spectators are in fact supporters. This is where mindful and respectfulness incorporates significant opportunities ahead. Often it is the crowd that assumes the visible measurability outcome more than leaders, opposition, supporters, or other factors.
There were and still are groups within the LGBT community that took measures to another level. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) perhaps became the unfiltered voice of how leaders and communities were ignoring the AIDS crisis in the ’80s. ACT UP was very successful in many campaigns to tackle misinformation by effectively shutting down businesses and sponsors by intensive internet campaigns designed by Digital Queers and many other LGBT organizations. Leaders, politicians, and journalists were prime targets by ACT UP anywhere a media camera was rolling for any forms of recording. ACT UP would interrupt any reporting to inject its message. It became so intense that many news reporters couldn’t go live or had to voiceover back inside a studio. It was tremendously effective. It still falls within the bounds of non-violent but more of an aggressive tactic. Many LGBT members had mixed views. But ACT UP served its useful purpose to target its focus on AIDS leaving other LGBT issues in the hands of respective organizations properly organized to handle them.
AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) is an international direct action advocacy group that began in 1987 working to impact the lives of people with AIDS (PWAs) and the AIDS pandemic to bring about legislation, medical research and treatment and policies to ultimately bring an end to the disease by mitigating loss of health and lives. To make a donation to ACT UP visit https://actupny.com
Fast forward today, and the world has witnessed a transformation where gay marriage, open military service, employment rights, and other LGBT issues are widely accepted where once was thought to be impossible to achieve. As soon as the champaign, glitter, and outrageous costumes were swept up and stored away so did the opposition to retread the tires creating another momentum to reintroducing a reformed path to keep their agenda alive. All forms of rights will inevitably be tested in every generation. Civil rights are continuously challenged today. Women’s rights are still relevant in society. Social justice became talking points for the right to health care, and prison reforms suddenly became justice reforms. No matter what you call it, rights will have a pro and con advocacy armed and organized to voice its strong opinion, and both will have leaders not readily identifiable by name today.
Advocacy is a serious business for some. It is what motivates them to get up each day to perform something with passion, life, and gives them the energy to live life. To others, advocacy is ad hoc and doesn’t necessitate a priority in their life, and that too is completely fine. There will be bitter divisions, personal attacks of character, finger pointing, hostilities, and discourteous behaviors by the opposition and from within. Just as MLK is revered today as the leader of civil rights many forget the names of the sit-in protesters at a lunch counter in North Carolina. It may be harder for most to remember any member from the Black Panther Party? It is not to suggest that what they contributed to their own agenda was negative or unjust. Instead, quite the opposite. What they did was for a passionate plea to be recognized for that particular moment in time. It is up to us as people to research those that contribute and often extend a moment of gratitude for what everyone brings to the table.
Black Panther Party, original name Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, African American revolutionary party, founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The party’s original purpose was to patrol African American neighbourhoods to protect residents from acts of police brutality.
At present, my education, research, family, pets, friends, and God are the most important values in my life. My days of protesting are still deep within me. But I resource my advocacy to prioritize in an ad hoc fashion so that I may be at peace with self, others and plan my time effectively. I have always been a James Bond movie fan. However, a quote from that movie sums up how effective my career has led me. In the movie Skyfall there is a line that others have shared and assessed the characterization of me. “I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of earl grey than you can do in a year in the field.” That is where I was in the ’90s with Digital Queers and where I belong today with university research and policy reforms with my laptop or iPad Pro ready to engage in this fast paced online world. I am grateful to those that undertake leadership roles. But I tend to root for those sitting in pajamas behind keyboards mistakenly viewed by some where they are also the ones changing and influencing the world by stealth and efficiency.