GetEqual from the inside

Posted on 14 Oct 2010 at 11:44am
On Monday, October 11th, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi visited a DCCC fundraiser held at the Miami home of a basketball player who makes way too damn much money for playing a game.  You've no doubt heard about the Get Equal protest since then, good things and bad things.
On the way between the airport and the home, the President was greeted in two locations there wasn't supposed to be anything by people who came from all over the country to hold banners, support them, and educate people on what we were saying.  The President saw the message.  And if that wasn't enough, there were banners flying overhead, and there were boats 1000 yards offshore with megaphones and sirens while he was at the beach front property, and, although someone who was supposed to get in to the party was turned down for being gay, and therefore apparently a security risk,  the message that he has not lived up to what he told the entire country one January was delivered, and not merely by Get Equal, but by the people who were at the party itself.
Because they agreed: the President hasn't achieved the kind of change they were there to donate to support.
I know this, because I was there. And I was there, in part, to find out what it was like.  To find out and share with you what doing one of these things feels like and the risks one takes, and the work one does.
And I did.

On Thursday, October 7th, just before noon, I got a call from my Co-Chair in Arizona TransAlliance Erica Keppler. She first made sure that I was aware this was a top secret, eyes only sort of thing.  Not to be shared with others. Then she told me what she knew: Get Equal was planning an action, and she was inviting me to be a part of it.
I said sure.  And then promptly forgot it because I'm already really busy and I tend to be very focused on what I'm doing right then (and lately it's a lot of behind the scenes work for the trans charity I run).
I am always willing to take part in actions, but I'm limited, like many trans people, by the fact that I'm not making any money at all.  I run a charity that I don't take money from for a salary because it doesn't make enough money for me to justify such and I at least have a roof over my head, which the trans people my charity house cannot say.
Get Equal solved that problem very simply.  They paid for airfare and a place to sleep and shower, which is pretty much all I need to do anything.  Everything was handled privately, quietly, and, of course, secretly.
My weekend was full —  which worked out rather well, as at 3 am Sunday morning I had to wake up in a hurry and pack a single bag very fast, as my flight out was at 5 in the morning. As I noted, I basically forgot about it.
At the airport, I met four other folks from Phoenix who were traveling — altogether, 8 of us from Phoenix were heading out, and among that group were people who were much younger than my *mumble* years of age.  They are the current generation of activists and advocates, the people who are actually doing the work that has to be done, the one's who are bearing the torch for this new millennium and who will live to see the things we want to see done in law and will be the ones that do it.
We flew fast and furious — crammed in an early morning flight that was full and included a change of planes.  Carry on luggage only — the info we had was that we would arrive Sunday morning, do the job on Monday, and fly out Tuesday morning. We were met at the airport by the first Get Equal “staffer”, Dan Fotou, who had spent the morning so far shuttling people between Ft Lauderdale and the Holiday Inn in the Coral Gables area near the University of Miami. He looked like he was tired and had too much sun, but he was energized and committed and he showed a sense of leadership. Checked into the hotel, and in the room, and it was, locally, now noonish, and we had free time until 8 that night, as other people were coming in throughout the day from all over the country.
Some folks took advantage of the free trip to Miami to visit South Beach, while I and the other gals from Phoenix went out for happy hour cocktails and appetizers at a TGI Fridays (it was what was close by and available).
Eight pm came, and we had a long meeting that finally explained what we were going to do, and what the point of the effort was.  THe event was very well organized, given that the knoweldge of the President's whereabouts was less than a week old, and people were being broght in from all over the country.
I also want to note something that is important to remember here: most of the people involved are not members of Get Equal.  Myself, for example — I'm the Executive Director of a Trans charity and Co-Chair of a small, local trans rights political organization.  Get Equal is not in there.  There were SoulForce riders from the 2010 ride, students from Alaska and DC, activists who walk 100 miles and take the time to talk to people in rural areas about the rights of LGBT people to marry and live their lives, changing the hearts and minds and one thing that bound all of us together is that we were all people who did education primarily as our main work in terms in activism and advocacy. As such, we were aware that education is only going to take you so far — those who have been educated need to reminded of that education.
We talked briefly about who we were and what we'd done, and the meeting then went into the details. They had a map of the area we were going to be involved in, not to scale, and drawn somewhat hastily. We discussed probable routes of the president, and there were questions and answers and commentary from those assembled.  There were, at that point, four teams ready: two teams on the route the president was likely to take, one team on the water in boats that were offered up (by gay white males with money, I'll point out — they can be useful sometimes) that had weather balloons available with Banners attached to the boat and the balloons, and possibly one team inside the event who were potentially going to do some action in keeping with the formality of the event.
The event itself was a fundraiser.  A fundraiser that involved several thousand dollars for a plate, 1000 just to get in the door and have a drink (and not hear the president inside the tent) or 16,000 bucks (thereabouts) in order to get a picture with the President. The purpose was to raise money for the Democratic party.  Not for LGBT people, not for LGBT issues, not for candidates that support LGBT issues, but for the DCCC.  Basically, to raise the slush fund that allowed those who were hand picked by the DCCC as deserving enough of this money (read, popular among the rich and wealthy few, and easily swayed by the rich and wealthy few) to get some of it.
LGBT candidates would see little, if any, of this money, and candidates who like to talk a good game but not actually do anything would as well as those democrats who work against LGBT issues would get this money.
So this was also an educational event for them.
We talked about the risk, and this particular event was not about getting arrested, but that was still a possibility.  As a trans person, the concept of being arrested brings up challenges.  Especially since being post operative is not a guarantee that you will be housed properly, despite some trans people liking to say it is.
Were I not willing, personally, to be arrested, I wouldn't have gone in the first place. And I wasn't the only one with some concerns: the racial make up in the room, much to my personal surprise, was not all that pale.  People of color were not only represented, we were representing in that meeting, and in the following day's meeting, and through the entire action.
So there was talk about the possibility of being arrested, and what would be done, and what to say, and how to make sure that things go well not only then, at the moment of arrest, but also after arrest, for arraignment, and even potentially for trial.  The bases were well covered, and there was very obviously a lot of effort put into making sure that the chances of being arrested were actually minimal.  THis was not a reckless action, it was well planned, and, ultimately, well executed.
People signed up, as well, to do different jobs — because there were absolutely different jobs involved.  Some folks were specifically assigned to do filimg of the action at each location Others were there to make sure that sunscreen and water were available (and, in the case of my team, that those who smoked had cigarettes there).  Input was taken from the people involved int he action — this was not a top down style effort, it was a grassroots effort — the people doing the work had more say than the end total of about four people from Get Equal that finally were involved directly.
Then, after the meeting, we were free again, and I went to my room and caught up with personal emails and the recent news (I hadn't touched my computer for two days). Due to some events back home surrounding my job, I ended up not getting to bed until 3 am that night.
At the meeting, we were all given release forms that were basic and simple — as many will know, I've written many of this type of form myself, and I have to deal with such on a daily basis in my job. I read through them carefully, and there was nothing bad in it.  It was, overall, mostly in my favor, and focused on making sure that GetEqual wasn't undermined by someone who hates them. The rest of the form was emergency contact information and medical stuff — things that would be important if someone was hurt or attacked during an action, or if someone was arrested.  People will know what's going on with you if you ever have the chance to take part in one, and I strongly recommend you take that opportunity if it ever knocks at your door.
There were also a lot of people who were from Miami locally, as well, that showed up the next day. The morning meeting introduced the rest of the team, and Robin McGehee showed up and other individuals involved in GetEqual were there, but also a large contingent of Flordia people, including one of the folks who famously chained themselves to the White house fence.  He was interviewed while he held a banner by two different groups, and widely photographed.
I will note that I opted not to be photographed during the event by the press. Not that it mattered much — apparently I no longer appear to be all that much like what people expect a former Army Ranger to look like.
The message that was delivered was two fold, and there were plenty of banners available, as well as hand held individual sings that were there as a back up.  The first message was to sop the discharges, and as ya'll can expect, I made sure that people were aware that the same executive order process could be used to end the discharge of trans people the military as well, which will happen with or without DADT.
What?  I'm a trans activist.  You expected anything less?
The second message was that LGBT people are not going to donate to the DCCC or the DNCC — no slush fund money from us.  We will donate to individual candidates who don't waffle and play some stupid and no longer viable game of secretly supporting all our stuff but only going with the politically expedient stuff.
The plan was aware of the nature of what we were dealing with.  there were two small parks in the area somewhat near where we were going, and each was the base of operations for one of those two parks.  We brought food, frisbees, and water in separate vehicles to each park, showing up to the parks about 90 minutes before we were going to do anything.
At the park for the team I was part of, we were 9 of us.  We got there, and there was a guy sitting there in a long sleeve dress shirt reading a book, and watching everything that anyone there was doing. There were other folks enjoying the park as well. He, however, was unusually nosy, and in a way that is familiar to me, personally.
He asked what group we were with.  He asked each of us, privately, quietly.
We took pictures of us at the park, we marveled at the trees (there were some incredible ones there). And we played a game of frisbee with three frisbees in the air all at once.  We had fun, in other words, and we looked like we were just gathering at the park.  We didn't talk about the action, or pay too much attention to the time.
But the time was important.  At the time when most of the people heading in to attend the event were starting to drive up, we climbed into our van and we were dropped off at a location close to the entrance to the gated community in which his was taking place. Our driver then left and waited for us to call him when we needed to picked up.  This is one of the jobs that's available at actions, and they can always use help in this area.  Drivers aren't likely to get arrested. While en route, we all changed into our t-shirts that we wore. If you see any video of our part, I'm most probably the one in the green hat.
The rest of us headed to the location that had already been scouted out.  The police were already there, and we set up directly at the entrance tot he community on the two corners going into it. I was the designated support person, and one of the two who were doing some filming.  My friend Meg Sneed was the point contact and leader of our group, so she handled the interactions with the authorities.
She's a stubborn gal, that Meg.
Shortly after we set up, the Secret Service (which never once directly addressed us), informed the police that we couldn't be there and we had to be moved. While the rest of us stood our ground and answered the questions of people stopping, waved back at the vast majority of cars that honked in support of us, and hoped it would cool off a tad, she took on the police.
The Secret Service wanted us moved to a location that was all but invisible.  We were forbidden to stand on three corners.  We were honest and upfront, as well — we were willing to move to a particular corner, but we were not going to leave.
We ended up moving, and, actually, the cops were on our side.  They moved us to what was really a better position at the time, and worked out in our favor, as even more people were able to ask what we were doing and being supportive, and no one going into the event could avoid us, no matter what direction they were coming from.  Several of the party goers stopped or slowed down to ask what we were doing, and gave thumbs up and honked and the discussion was going to happen in side at the party about what we were doing and why we were doing it.
This was two hours before the President was even in Miami.
In the next two hours, only one car — a beat up truck, I'll note, driven by a white male in his late 40's early 50's — had anything negative to say.  One car out of over 300 cars that went by.  Maybe a tenth were silent otherwise. The rest, though, were supportive of what we were doing, and there was whooping and hollering and honking and even the cops were laughing about it.
Even the latino owned and operated landscape company trucks gave us the thumbs up as they went through — and this is an area with a lot of money.
Did we change minds and hearts?  Absolutely. And we educated and we raised awareness, and we did all of that while holding the fire to the feet of a President who can end all of this with a single order if he can find the courage of the convictions he's claimed to do so. This event was not widely publicized. Still, the media found us, and even the local news trucks drove by a couple times to make sure they were seeing what was going on with us — and dropped off photographers and reports, who interviewed people, including the local Florida resident and Veteran on our team.
As the time grew closer, the cops began to move again, and the place we had been put was changed once more, and in the process of this we learned that the route that he was expected to come down was not the route he actually took.  And a different sergeant came over and told us we had to move.  For safety, although where we were was still plenty safe for us (and it was our safety they spoke of, not the President's).
At first, they were going to move us to a place that was absolutely invisible given the route POTUS was going to take. We stood our ground and then he suggested a different location, and we were given position.  About this time, some strong Obama and Democratic party supporters who were there to show support for local candidates showed up.  It was a small party, and they were not happy to see us there, and at least one of them did everythng she could to stay as far away from us as she could, to the chiding of her fellow party.
We all settled in, and we were all supporting the President, which they at first thought we were not doing.  One of their party came over, and he and I got into a conversation regarding the job of the president. He talked about how Obama doesn't have the votes in Congress to do it, and I pointed out that The President is Commander in Chief, who has the power to stop all of this in a single moment, without congressional action of any sort, so congress wasn't needed, and then I reminded him that Obama had said he would do this before the end of the year in January, which he remembered. And he noted that Congress isn't supposed tobe making rules regarding the military in that way, and when I pointed out that I was a veteran, he gave me a salute and a thanks and I waved that off — having served in secrecy didn't make me a heroine. It made me part of the problem.
He left, and he talked to his team, and when we left, they all were on our side in things.
As the Motorcade got underway, the road was closed off, and we lined up across the street, a negotiated position that made the secret service visibly unhappy, and by then even the cops were shrugging and saying “whatever”.  They had, by then, helped us into a better position each time we'd had to move, trying to aid us in getting our message heard and seen, and the Coral Gables Police should be commended for their support of our action.
As well as including some of the hottest cops around.
As the president drove by, we could see him through the window, and the car had to slow down to enter the gate, so he had a good, long, and solid look at the banners, since he was on the same side as them looking out.  He waved at us, an acknowledgment that yes, we were there, regardless of how his eyes might have flashed.
And that was the point.  To make him aware we were there.  To remind him, to do as he's said we must do and hold *him* accountable, as that's what he asked us to do — to hold him, personally, and as the holder of that office, accountable for what he promised us before the entire nation.
We did. And say what you will, while he might regret the words, I'm willing to bet he's actually glad of it.  He's a long way from his early career, and he's got a lot of separation now from the people that he once had to talk to on a daily basis in his early years.  He's had a meteoric rise to office — an unprecedented one, as well.  Things like this are going to remind him that he's still the person who ran those old campaigns, and he's the person who will, either in two years or in 6, have to look over what's really the highlight of his career, unless he's planning to shoot for the Supreme court himself like another former President once did.
After he drove by, we were done.  We quickly packed up our water bottles, our sunscreen, collected our banners and ourselves, and we headed back to the hotel, stopping briefly to get a picture of our team.  Back at the hotel, we debriefed (read: swapped war stories of the action) and we separated fora  few hours.
After that we had a dinner outside — chinese food, including vegetarian options. And the conversations started and those ran until 2 am once more.  We took the picture accompanying this piece during that dinner, and Erica Keppler was recognized as the VIP of the event, for she had proved to have constant energy.  Earlier in the day, she was asked to switch teams and join the team out on the boat, and she proved useful and helpful in many ways there, which is a credit to the woman who got her going, and who's shoes I'll never fill as the other half of Arizona Trans Alliance's Chairs.
I also think she lived on Adrenaline, and have to thank her for putting up with me having really late nights, which likely shortened her sleep.  As the two trans folk involved, we had a room for ourselves, which was something the GetEqual team had taken into account.
After that, it was another early call, and Erica (of the boundless energy) woke me up with 15 minutes to spare, and we headed to the airport and back home.
As is usual, it's the time after and before actions and activities, especially at night, that make the difference.  We sat and talked and we talked about making a difference and educating and the frustrations of how the media often ignores us — although this time they didn't, and they are starting to catch on.
And we met each other, and each time you meet someone, your world is expanded, your knoweldge is increased, and you learn that it does get better, because we are the people who make it better.  We are the people, those of us, living today, who are willing to step out and do things — whatever it is — that are making it better, just as it has been the activists, the one's who speak out, that have made things better for the last 50 years.
TO my Trans brothers and sisters, who may be wondering why I took part in something about cis folks, let me say this: get involved.  We can bitch and moan and gripe about how Cis folk are always a pain in the ass (because, well, ya are, cis folk), the way we can change these things is by doing this.  After the action, I talked, in person, with Robin McGehee, and she said the standard party line to me about how Stonewall was started by us.
Unprompted, unasked for.  She gets it.  But she needs help — and she's willing to stop and examine her own preconceptions when she's educated (and ya'll know how I am: all trans, all the time).
And her and I spoke about doing some actions specifically for the Trans community, and there's likely to be a lot more speaking and planning done on that, and you can be certain that there will be a great deal done regarding ENDA in the future as well — this is not a Gay Inc group, no matter where the money comes from to run it (and remember that Get Equal is funded).
We've talked about a grass roots based group in the blogs for a long time now — we have one.  One that hears from the bottom up, not dictates from the top down.  And yeah, there's some flaws int he process and the leadership, but they are working on ironing that out.
No, you won't see me on the board, provisional or whatever.  I'm still Dyssonance, and just because I like what they are doing as a whole doesn't free them from criticism of stupidity they might have done in the past or almost certainly will in the future.  But if I can participate in future actions, I will.  TO represent the Trans community, to educate and shape policy and focus, and to give them what they need the most: bodies.
This is an organization that needs people more than money right now.  People willing to step up.  And as Trans people, we don't have money, but we sure as hell have bodies.
Let's give them what they need, and then make damn sure to keep them from the same hypocrisy they are condemning.  let's us hold their feet to the fire and keep them accountable for what they've said.
They say they support the Trans Agenda.
Without reservation.  Let's show them we do, as well.  Because let me tell ya — it's a blast.

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