Wilkinson says direct action tactics worked at council meeting

Posted on 16 Jul 2009 at 9:38pm
By Tammye Nash Senior Editor

Queer Liberaction founder, 5 other members ejected from meeting for demanding that Rainbow Lounge discussion be moved up on agenda


Queer Liberaction members this week were cheering two QL members who were ejected from the council chambers during Tuesday’s Fort Worth City Council meeting, saying it was the insistent demands of Blake Wilkinson, Nicki Kerksieck and other QL activists that convinced council members to move discussion about the recent raid at the Rainbow Lounge up from the end of the evening’s agenda.
But others that attended the meeting said actions by the Queer Liberaction activists were embarrassing and did nothing to further efforts to address the raid and its aftermath.

The uproar started early during the six-hour-plus council meeting when Mayor Moncrief attempted to begin discussion about the election of a new mayor pro tem. At that point, Wilkinson stood and asked that the council "kindly move" discussion regarding the Rainbow Lounge raid higher up on the agenda.

Moncrief refused, saying that the agenda included a number of issues of great importance to many of those attending the meeting, including the mayor pro tem election and discussion of possible budget cuts that could affect the city’s program to aid the homeless.

Wilkinson, however, refused to sit down and repeated his demand, telling councilmembers that’s "sorries are no longer good enough" and accusing them of trying to "sweep it [the raid] under the rug."

"We’re sick and tired of being put at the end of the list," Wilkinson said. "We’re tired of being told to sit in the back of the bus."

As Moncrief repeated his call for Wilkinson to sit down and stop interrupting, Wilkinson was joined by Kerksieck and Queer Liberaction member Rick Vanderslice. At one point during the prolonged verbal sparring, four QL members who had been in the hall outside the council chambers rushed to open the chamber doors and began chanting, "Hear us now!"

Wilkinson later identified the four as Joe Remsik, Daniel Cates, Jason Williams and Corbin Bates. He said they, too, were escorted out of the building and off the city property by city marshals.

Another man in the audience, wearing a yellow "Fairness Fort Worth" button, stood and walked around Wilkinson, telling the activist loudly, "You’re embarrassing me! I am going home."

Shortly after, reportedly at the urging of openly gay Councilmember Joel Burns, Moncrief had city marshals remove first Wilkinson and then Kerksieck from the room. After the two had been escorted out, Vanderslice and two other QL members, later identified as Rich McPhee and Joanna Bernal, continued to call for the council to move the Rainbow Lounge up on the agenda. Eventually, after Moncrief threatened to have them removed as well, the three resumed their seats and remained quiet as the meeting continued.

Moncrief eventually did move the Rainbow Lounge discussion up from the end of the agenda, but not until after going through extensive public comment on both the mayor pro tem election and the possible budget cuts. The only items left on the agenda after the Rainbow Lounge discussion were regular action items that did not include public comment.

Wilkinson said Wednesday that he felt "very good" about his actions at the council, and his efforts had succeeded because the discussion about the raid was eventually moved higher on the agenda.

"I was just requesting that it be moved off the last of the agenda, that we not be treated with the same back of the bus treatment we have gotten for the last 40 years, two weeks and two days," he said, referring to the time that has passed since the Stonewall rebellion.

"That’s the big question here. Are we going to keep sitting back as a community and allow our elected leaders to tell us what’s good for us, to take a back seat approach and wait for something to happen," Wilkinson said. "We believe we have to take a more pro-active approach. And it worked. They capitulated. They moved it up on the agenda, and we did get an apology, no matter how weak and watered down it was."

Wilkinson also defended Queer Liberaction’s"direct activism" philosophy in general, saying it is "a tactic that has been used in historical context throughout all successful civil rights movements.

"This is what we do. Go on our Web site and ready our mission statement. It says we are a direct action group. And last night was an example of direct action," he added.

Wilkinson also said he was disappointed at the reaction of other LGBT people in the council meeting.

"Yeah, I was disappointed. I understand the position some of them are coming from, but we could have been calling the shots. If the whole group had stood up together and said let’s get this issue resolved right now, it would have happened right then."

He said he finds it frustrating that "some people feel the only path to righteousness is sitting quietly by and waiting," and he doesn’t believe Queer Liberaction deserves the criticism it gets from those who prefer a less confrontational tactic.

"We understand if you have a different approach to things, but don’t actively discourage direct action," Wilkinson said. "Ghandi used direct action. Martin Luther King Jr. used direct action. What Rosa Parks did in sitting at the front of the bus was a whole lot more disruptive than what we did last night.

"There is a time and a place for all sorts of action. What we did was right," he added. "The position of the police department and the city council from the start has been wanting to shove us under the rug. We just stood up for ourselves and said, not this time."

But others see it differently. They, too say there is a place and a time for direct action, but that Tuesday’s council meeting was neither the time nor the place, and that Wilkinson’s action served only to hinder progress."

"I was ready to stand up and just ask him, ‘Blake, where do you live?’" said one man at the meeting, referring to the fact that Wilkinson is not a Fort Worth nor a Tarrant County resident. "He doesn’t live here, and we don’t need him here. As far as I am concerned, he can stay in Dallas."

And another person suggested that the city marshals had stepped in just in time.
"He didn’t do anything but cause problems," the woman said. "I tell you what, if the mayor hadn’t had him taken out when he did, we were about to get up and handle it ourselves. It was embarrassing. And it didn’t do anybody any good."

E-mail nash@dallasvoice.com

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