Prop 8 Passing Ignites Protest
As Barack Obama was elected president last week, a huge victory against racism and discrimination was won. However, many saw another battle of comparable importance lost.
When California voters approved Proposition 8, it told homosexual couples that they no longer share the same rights as the rest of America. At this apex of cultural maturity in the United States it should no longer come as a surprise when people converge to protest for equality, because that's exactly what happened all throughout Los Angeles for the second straight night last Thursday.
What began as a call to arms over the internet soon manifested into a gathering of monumental proportions in front of the Los Angeles Mormon Temple in Westwood, which was a key contributor to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign.
"What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want them? Now!" the crowd chanted as they traveled from the Mormon Church, down Wilshire Boulevard, with no particular destination in mind. Their goal was just to get noticed. They brought hundreds of signs out of the woodwork. Most read "No on Prop. 8" but some more creative ones read" 'Chickens have more rights than me," "Gay is the new black," and "Mormon equals bigotry." To make themselves heard from far away, multitudes of megaphones were used to lead the group in chants. It was hard not to stop, stare and listen to what the crowd had to say.
"I'm just walking for my rights, in order to get married one day. It should be equal rights for all and the segregation needs to come down. We got rid of it for the blacks, Latinos and Asians," said activist Erik Escareno as he took a break from shouting into his megaphone. "Just because we're gay doesn't mean there [should be] bigotry in our society today. I walk because one day we will have equality and that's what America is all about."
Spectators on the sidewalk cheered and people in their cars honked supporting their cause. Many remarked "It's a bad day to be driving," but those trapped in the traffic didn't seem to mind.
An impressive squad of police officers on motorcycles, bicycles and a few police-issue golf-carts-on-steroids lined the eastbound lane of Wilshire Boulevard to prevent any violence from breaking loose and making sure that the multiplying group had a clear path ahead.
"The cops have been so amazingly cool but we've also been amazingly cooperative with them. At every junction we always send up someone who talks to them, they figure out where we want to go, and they usually let us go," said Vash Boddi as he waved his rainbow flag and marched onwards.
Throughout the duration of the protest there were no visible altercations going on. Occasionally a bystander would shout something in bad taste at the demonstrators, but other participants were always quick to quell any of those incidents before they could escalate. "We've been keeping violence down, we told [the marchers] not to engage with 'Yes on 8' people. All they're trying to do is demonize us, make us look like what they want us to be, we're not, we're peaceful. We just want the right to live as Americans," demonstrator Scott Cross said while proudly marching at the front of the procession.
The crowd became increasingly enthusiastic as the protest increased in numbers, the chants became more frequent and louder. Several times concerned individuals urged the protesters to slow down so the police could have time to clear a path.
Excitement also grew when local media outlets appeared including: ABC, CBS, NBC and KNX radio. When the sky turned black the many police and news helicopters in the sky could have been easily mistaken for stars. The demonstrators understood that with massive coverage on their march their message could stretch much further. The rally even received national attention when it was broadcast on NBC's "Today Show" the next morning.
The message they were trying to get out was a universal one among the marchers.
"We're just marching for freedom to love who we want to love. This is just about a civil right, the Constitution said we all have rights, as Americans, under the Equal Protection Clause, and we want that right," said Cross.
One marcher had plans to get married with her partner but had to put a stop to those plans because of the passage of Proposition 8. "We were planning to get married soon and that had to be put on hold because I didn't want to be married during the open peace that they gave us because of the fact they could pull it away whenever they wanted to if this passed. Hopefully I can do it the right way, and the federal way, later," said Rose Egure.
When the cavalcade reached the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire, they decided to return to the origin of the march, the Mormon temple.
Once they reached the temple again, several passionate people climbed atop the walls. Win Craft raised a rainbow flag high above the crowd and the cheer they gave him was deafening. Craft described the feeling he had at that very moment: "I felt like..." Craft said, nearly becoming speechless. "...I finally became the man I have always been. I felt free, I felt able to stand up there, and stand up for my rights, I didn't always feel that way, I just felt energized, it's an amazing day, its been a long day coming."
A woman who gave her name only as Mama Joy climbed on top of the gates to address the crowd with a megaphone. News cameras crowded down below her and their lights acted as a spotlight giving her the group's undivided attention.
"I am standing here today with you, in solidarity, against hateful legislation that is destroying our families, destroying our communities and destroying our churches," cried Mama Joy.
In response the crowd below began to chant "Shame on you!" directed towards the church. Police ran into the temple grounds and formed a line. With their batons in hand they looked like a school of hungry sharks, waiting for the first prey to enter their territory.
"What they want to do is force us back in the closet and force us to become an invisible people... We have won the war, they will never again cause us to be an invisible people, and we are here!" Mama Joy yelled towards the dark figures watching above in front of the temple. "We will not end here, we will march on Sacramento! If our governor does not stand with us we will not stop there, we will march on Washington!" The crowd then broke out into a "Yes we can!" chant, likely referencing Obama's victory.
After the passionate speeches concluded, the rally at the temple walls dissipated, some ambitious individuals ventured towards West Hollywood and the rest, tired and hungry, returned to their homes. A historic march ended that night, but many agree, it will not be the last. "I definitely think that this is it. We're not going to sit around any longer and just let people walk over us like they have in the past. Now is our time to stand up and say 'We're just like you, and we want the same rights'," said Christopher Ruggles, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Center. "Hopefully we will see that happen in the next 10, 15 years. It's certainly going to be a long time, because you can't change people's minds overnight."