In less than two months, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, two landmark cases that could further the already rapidly changing tides of equality for LGBT individuals in the United States, or result in a remarkable setback to equality efforts.
In an op-ed piece published in The Advocate Jan. 30, civil-rights activists Cleve Jones and David Mixner called on all LGBT individuals and allies to participate in demonstrations and other actions in all 50 states leading up to and during those hearings.
The Supreme Court will hear the oral arguments for Prop 8 on Tuesday, March 26 and for DOMA on Wed., March 27.
Jones and Mixner wrote, "We hope that people will, in all of their hometowns on Monday night, hold candlelight rallies to speak out for marriage equality and also to remember March 25, an important day in American history.
"That is the day in 1965 when Dr. King and the Freedom Marchers from Selma finally made it to the Alabama state capital in Montgomery. He gave a very famous speech that night called 'How Long, Not Long,' and with so many LGBT people and our supporters wondering how long will it be before we achieve equality under the law we want to say, not long, not long at all."
Jones and Mixner provided a handful of suggestions for taking action during that week, including holding demonstrations and vigils, campus rallies and interfaith rallies; contacting local legislators; liking, posting, tweeting and retweeting of images and infographics in support of equality; visiting with the editorial boards of hometown newspapers asking them to print op-eds focused on LGBT equality; and participating in general conversations about equality issues still faced by the LGBT community beyond marriage.
Although Jones himself is not involved in any particular organizing efforts in Washington, D.C., he told Windy City Times there is a coalition coming together that will be holding vigils there, and that more details should be available in the coming weeks.
"I think we are going to see a really powerful expression of our desire to win equality," Jones said.
Jones acknowledged that no one demonstration is likely to change the minds of the Supreme Court Justices, but also said that it is a mistake to think that the justices are insulated from reality, making any and all efforts important to keeping the momentum for equality moving forward.
"I think that it's possible that the rulings will be quite narrow, but I think they are going to go in our favor. ... I do believe that this country has reached a tipping point. I am 58 years old and I do believe that I will see equal protection under the law in my lifetime. I'm quite excited."
Jones said that anyone that tries to argue that grassroots efforts do not have an effect is just plain wrong.
"A lot of people in our community like to throw up their hands and say 'oh nothing works,' the reality is that everything works, if you do it well and you do it over and over. We are asking people to do everything and anything they can think of.
"We do believe that one thing in particular is very important and that is to go to the editorial boards of your local hometown newspapers. Get a delegation together and go and work with the editorial board of hometown newspapers and ask them to print editorials in favor of equality.
"We need to make it as clear as possible to all of the decision makers that we are not going to turn back the clock. We are just going to move forward at this point, and we are going to win equal protection under the law in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. It's important to keep up the momentum."
Jones reiterated his belief in grassroots efforts throughout his conversation with WCT.
"What I've seen is when we do this work and we do it well and when we do it over and over and relentlessly then what do we do?," he asked. "We change the hearts and minds of the public, we change votes in Congress, we move legislation forward, we win important court decisions, and we keep the momentum going."
Looking back over the past four years he said that the LGBT community has come a long way, especially given the slow start on key issues and promises touted during President Obama's 2008 election campaign.
"People got impatient really quickly and started pushing, and we got a lot out of that first term," he said. "Most people said we'd have to wait until the end of the second term. I remember quite a few people telling us to shut up until the end of the second term, ha, they were wrong."
Jones said that the inclusion of Stonewall in President Obama's inaugural address alongside Seneca Falls, N.Y., and Selma, Ala., brought him to tears.
"It was so astonishing to me, even going back to the Democratic Convention, because LGBT activists have battled with the Democratic Party for decades," he said. "The young people don't know the history, but it felt like it took forever to get even the most budging support out of the Democratsnot so much in San Francisco or Boston or Chicago, but nationally.
"The national party, it took forever, and then you see at the Democratic Convention, how enthusiastically and unequivocally the entire party without debate embraced equality. ... It is very satisfying and very exciting for me. I am grateful that I am still alive to see this happen."