During the rally at Piotrowski Park which followed the 2017 Chicago Dyke March held June 24 in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood, an incident occurred involving Dyke March organizers ( the Collective ) and three Jewish women who were carrying rainbow flags with a Star of David upon them.
The women included A Wider Bridge Midwest Manager Laurel Grauer along with Eleanor Soshany-Anderson. The third girl has not been named, possibly by preference.
Within hours of the Windy City Times report on the march, the incident ballooned into an international controversy. Back-and-forth arguments on social media ensued and commentators, celebrities and advocacy groups weighed in.
Alexis Martinez has been a core organizer with the Dyke March Collective for eight years. She told Windy City Times that because the initial facts of the story were not accurately reported and no one from Windy City Times approached the collective for a statement, it was unfairly maligned from the outset.
She asked to be able express her account of what occurred in a one-on-one interview.
In agreement with Martinez, the conversation is reproduced here with edits only for space or clarity.
Alexis Martinez: The first thing I want to say is that this was never about the Jewish Pride flags. They never came into the conversations. As long as I've been an organizer, Laurel has always marched [in the Dyke March] with that flag. I had a conversation on text message with Laurel the night before. She asked me if people would be protesting her Jewish flag. I told her "No. It's never been an issue and it shouldn't be an issue." But I also told her very clearly that we were anti-Zionist and pro- Palestinian and she needed to understand that and the nature of the event.
There were Jews there with all kinds of tattoos, bracelets with the Star of David. That was never an issue. It's being framed that we asked people to leave because of flags. It just isn't true. They also were never tossed from the march. They marched all the way from 27th and Lawndale. [March starting point]. Even when they were interrupting the anti-Zionist chants…..
Windy City Times: How were they interrupting them?
AM: They were taking 'No walls from Mexico to Palestine' and they started with "No walls anywhere." They were disrupting the chants and nobody said anything to them.
What happened at the site [of the rally] was some Palestinian Queers who came up to organizers and said they were being antagonized verbally. The Jewish contingent kept agitating and being aggressive about presenting a pro-Zionist position to Palestinian women.
I would say 15 or 20 minutes after we entered the park. One of the organizers came to me and said "Alexis, you have to do something about this." So, I went over and talked to Laurel. She tried to make it about the flag. I said "Nobody's got anything against your flag. Wave it proudly. I am asking you if you're trying to present a pro-Palestinian, pro-Zionist point-of-view."
She said that she was proud of her Zionist views and she needed to be able to express them. I told her "This isn't the format to do that. Either you have to stop or you have to leave." They refused. We don't have an armed security force to push people out so I left. They stayed around the park until the whole event was over. They were still there an hour and a half later.
The way it's being framed is that we acted against Jews or Judaism but we tried to get other Jews to intervene in the situation; to calm the situation down before somebody got angry and escalated the situation which is the way that we dealt with the radical Christian group that was there.
Within 12 hours, this was all over the world. I was getting stuff from the Jerusalem Times, Breitbart that had absolutely nothing to do with what happened at that march. I was reading these headlines and it was all a fabrication.
Laurel made a Joan of Arc appearance on WGN television yesterday like she was a person who innocently showed up. No. This was not just some isolated incident. This was orchestrated to smear the Dyke March Collective. A Wider Bridge has a history of going after LGBT groups that are anti-Zionist. They're well-funded, highly coordinated and use media tools to stifle any criticism of the State of Israel. Her story was totally false. WGN asked us to appear but they only gave us a four-hour window. That's not enough time for us to get a message together when we are facing a constant onslaught.
WCT: Laurel said she told the Dyke March that she was pro-Zionist and was also for an independent Palestine and a two-state solution. Is that your understanding of what she said to you?
AM: Not to me. But her words were that she could be a Zionist and pro-Palestinian. But we're not in the business of solving a problem that American presidents have been unable to deal with. The UN [United Nations] have been unable to deal with the conflict. How a ten-person collective in a small park on the South Side of Chicago is supposed to be the centerpiece of a solution is kind of ridiculous.
WCT: Others who have spoken about the incident in support of the Collective have said that they did ask the women to put away their flag because the Star of David on a Rainbow flag is pink-washing and, therefore, Zionism.
AM: I don't know which Dyke March Collective member said that. If they did, they were wrong because it just isn't part of our policy. It never has been. If that occurred, it was an error. It was a very emotional issue. To my knowledge it was the agitation, not the flag that was creating the issue.
WCT: So, you are saying that, if the women had minded their own business, enjoyed the rally and not engaged others, that would have been fine?
AM: Right. We're not there to resolve the political issues of the world. Laurel could have approached Dyke March at any point prior to the march and requested to make a statement but she used the occasion as a representative of A Wider Bridge to inject herself into a space and then ferment dissention.
WCT: You think that was her intention?
AM: Without a doubt because the media and social media outrage was almost instantaneous and we got hit from every possible site and angle. I have never seen any member of the Collective make anti-Semitic statements. We're anti-Zionism and people are conflating that into being anti-Semitic. They're saying that we acted against Jewish queer women and it's just a complete falsehood. Anyone who interprets our political positions as anti-Semitic is profoundly wrong. They're misinformed. There's nothing in our history that indicates that.
WCT: Was this the first year that the anti-Zionist stance was so up front? If so, what prompted that decision?
AM: No. We've always stood for liberation movements of what we perceive as oppressed peoples. We never frame stuff in terms of religion. What we stand against is oppressive governments be they in Israel, El Salvador, Nicaragua; if people are struggling for their freedom, we try to show support in the context of the small organization that we are. The State of Israel is not endangered by anything we have to say at Dyke March and neither was Laurel. Nobody attacked her.
When the Christian protestors who were at the rally refused to leave, we got volunteers to stand there holding a blue tarp for almost 90 minutes blocking those people until they gave up. We had to contain a couple of people from trying to jump on [the Christians] and that was real difficult because people were very angry. When we have volatile situations, we want harm reduction but we don't have any enforcement and we're definitely not going to ask the police to intervene because we are also anti-police.
But, we need to be in control of our space just like you wouldn't accept Nazis in your synagogue.
WCT: There are a lot of nation states which are oppressive to populations. Example, the British to Northern Ireland, the Australians to the Aboriginal people, France to the Muslims living within its borders, Iran to the LGBTQ people living there. Is the presence of such people or open support of their government's policies whether verbal or in a manner of dress or a sign also unacceptable at Dyke March?
AM: We're not ignoring that. It's why you see very few flags [at the march]. But we're pro-Palestinian. We think that the Palestinian struggle demonstrates a good model for what constitutes oppression. You have a military power that subjugates a group of people. It could be any number of places in the world including the US. But I'm not going to stop somebody from wearing a US flag tattoo or whatever. It's only if you begin to agitate a point of view that creates a condition that could explode into something much bigger. We have to be the judge of that. It's not just hurt feelings. It could become physical. If somebody gets hurt, we are going to be held accountable. I don't get sucked into arguments with circular logic. If you want to debate Zionism, there's other forums for that. I'm not going to ban you from my event.
Inclusivity is a word that can be very loaded because it means "do we include the views of the radical Christians who showed up with their insults?" We definitely wouldn't have Log Cabin Republicans at Dyke March. We center our message on dyke, trans, queer and gender nonconforming people of color. It doesn't mean we are anti-white. We're trying to give voice to people who don't have much of a voice. We are a small group of people who are anti-oppression. We're not anti-Semites. We're not bigots. That's not part of our conversation.
WCT: Is there a danger that the LGBTQ movement is becoming too embroiled in identity politics?
AM: Identity politics is another loaded [phrase]. We're just as diverse politically as America is. Twenty percent of gay people voted for Trump. How did that happen?
WCT: Are we too siloed?
AM: Once, we were a radical, political movement on the fringes of society but essentially our values are still middle classmarriage, a couple of kids, get a nice car, a nice job and everything is alright. We don't see the need to build solidarity and uplift other oppressed groups.
WCT: Is there a risk of throwing around words like heteronormativity, cisnormativity and so on of alienating allies?
AM: The problem is that, yes, there are a lot of loaded words that have double meanings to people and we have to be careful how we use them. On the other hand, when people are purposely looking for faults and not to raise their consciousness or to avoid dealing with problems like racism or oppression, there's a tendency to use the words that we frame our conversations in against us.
We do it to each other but sometimes you have to stand on a principle even if it's highly unpopular. I know that being pro-Palestinian in America is not a popular position. But I don't do it from a mean-spirited, anti-Semitic point-of-view. I wasn't raised to look at a person's religion as a barometer of their actions. I view it like I view the Apache in this countrypeople who were invaded by refugees fleeing religious oppression and took over a country and their land. Other people say "that's not valid." For me it is.
WCT: Let's talk about the international anger and push-back. What did you experience and why do you think it happened?
AM: I thought Windy City Times failed in its journalistic mission [breaking the story] and not looking for a real response from the Collective before putting Laurel's position out there. I'm a senior member of the core. Windy City Times should have known that I would be one of the people who could speak at length about what went down. I'm not trying to defend all the actions of Dyke March. There were mistakes made in there somewhere obviously. In a two-mile march and a three-block park with 2,000 people, we can't be aware of everything that goes on or is said
But, once you put that stuff out there, it's like trying to put the shit back in the sausage. So, by the morning after the march, the Collective was being attacked on alt-Right sites without any feedback from us. It caught us off guard. I got literally hundreds of nasty stuff on social mediapeople saying they're going to petition City Hall to not give us any permits. I was called "enemy number one of Jews in America." "I know where you live." "I'm coming after you." I was threatened with rape, with murder.
People were making comments with absolutely no idea what Dyke March was. They just read that we banned Jewish flags from the march. I'm reading these stories and I'm going "where are they getting this?" By this time, I was only asked for comments by the Windy City Times, WGN News and a couple of online podcasts. We didn't want a bunch of different messages out there. That's why I am talking with your right now.
WCT: Some commentators challenged you to hold the Dyke March in the middle of the Gaza Strip and "see what happens"that the Palestinians would respond with violence. How do your respond to that argument?
AM: If we had our march nearly anywhere in the world, we run the risk of being attacked. There are Gay Pride marches being attacked everywhere. Even in Israel. Queer people have civil rights there but that doesn't give you a free pass on not giving Palestinians equal rights. Having equal rights for queer people in the US doesn't give us the right to ignore the problems that queer people of color face.
WCT: A Wider Bridge has asked you to apologize. Is the answer "no"?
AM: I'm not saying that the Dyke March doesn't apologize. We've publicly apologized for things before. But, from my position, we have no reason to apologize. We did nothing wrong. Those people who are asking us to apologize need to come up with facts. They need to have been there, on the ground and involved in the situation to have some validity.
WCT: Any take-aways for next year's march?
AM: We'll just keep on being the Dyke March. We're part of a tradition. Where we make mistakes, we'll correct them. Where we do the right things, we'll reinforce them and make them part of our foundation.
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