Over 20 years ago I assistant directed a summer camp in the San Gorgonio Wilderness west of Los Angeles. The setting and the weather were idyllic, but the work was demanding. During a mid-summer evaluation with a staff member, she surprised me with her candor when she exclaimed, “The problem with you is that you expect everyone to do the job the same way you do. We don’t all have the same level of energy and drive, and I think it’s wrong that you expect us to.” Taken aback, I did not know how to respond at the time. But the conversation came back in technicolor this week when I read an editorial in the Washington Post.
In “Why you should stop waving the rainbow flag on Facebook”, a 20-something gay man, refers to some allies of same-sex marriage as “Slacktivists” and asserts that “armchair allies” should not “co-opt” gay pride”. Equating the public celebration of a landmark Supreme Court ruling with “co-opting” is unsophisticated. As a gay woman who never imagined I’d see this day in my lifetime, I couldn’t be more pleased that so many people in my social and professional circles are celebrating along with me. Democrats, Progressives, Republicans and decidedly non-political friends and colleagues have shown their support by decking out their Facebook pictures in rainbow colors. They’re not “slacktivists”, they are friends, and I rejoice in their willingness to publicly support a controversial issue.
We don’t know other people’s stories. We don’t know their trauma, their burdens, or what it takes for some folks to simply get up in the morning. We don’t know who’s taking care of an elderly parent with dementia or a nephew who has been through two stints of rehab and has come begging once again for money. We don’t know who’s working multiple jobs to try to keep their home or who volunteers at the soup kitchen each week. We are ignorant of the number of grandparents in our communities who raise their grandchildren as their own because the parents are incarcerated or have lost custody. We also can be blind to all those neighbors who help bring about positive social change through a hundred small, meaningful interactions with strangers each week. People contribute in their own ways. We can’t be on the front lines of every important issue, and it feels catty and disingenuous to pretend that we can.
I have been a punk in a Mohawk railing against the patriarchy (or meat eaters, or capitalism, or the military industrial complex). I’ve yelled at porn shop owners in Times Square, participated in kiss-ins, sit-ins, protests, marches, and “direct action”. I have had—all too recently, I’m embarrassed to say—episodes of my own strident self-righteousness. Protest is a healthy and important aspect (and responsibility) of a robust democracy. But wholehearted conversations can and do change minds, as can public images of support.
My spouse grew up in redder than red Wyoming. Sexual orientation was not something she talked about with her friends. Now, her Facebook feed is awash in rainbow colors, as her friends openly and joyfully celebrated the ruling. It was a watershed: a bridge exists between them
Senator Dick Sears stopped the joint house-senate judicial rules committee meeting the morning of the SCOTUS ruling. He was visibly moved when his Senate seatmate, Brian Campion—an openly gay man—texted him the momentous news. It was a joyful moment and my delight was not at all lessened by looking around the room and realizing that some of us had been more involved in the movement than others. I savored the jubilation that we all felt together; open hearts find each other.