For the LGBTQ community, protesting injustice is hardly a new concept. The very essence of Pride is rebellion.
That history—and a disappointing attempt to cooperate with Heritage of Pride, the corporatation-friendly group that puts on New York City's enormous annual Pride Parade—prompted the formation of the Reclaim Pride Coalition in 2018. The activist group vocally resists the corporatization and militarization of Pride. Its inaugural Queer Liberation March last June was a massive success, drawing thousands of New Yorkers into the streets to—well, reclaim Pride.
In response to recent acts of police brutality and racist violence against Black Americans, Reclaim Pride's 2020 Queer Liberation March this coming Sunday, June 28 at 1pm is now specifically in support of Black lives. But what does planning a massive action like this entail, especially amid a global pandemic? NewNowNext spoke to organizers from Reclaim Pride for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a resistance march.
How did Reclaim Pride and the first Queer Liberation March come to be?
Jay W. Walker (Co-founder and organizer, Reclaim Pride): It started because the NYC Pride Parade had started to feel like an armed encampment. Aside from the fact that all of the barricading along the parade route is really unfair and [makes it] difficult for elderly people to get around, for disabled people to get around... we were talking with Heritage of Pride about de-emphasizing all of the corporate participation in Pride. Finally, we realized that there was no way to get them to budge on anything. We wanted all of our participants to feel safe and feel welcome, but we did our march with a minimal police presence so that everyone would be able to feel welcome and not under threat of arrest.
What about Reclaim Pride's mission or work stands out to you as an organizer?
Sasha Alexander (Co-founder, Black Trans Media; Organizer, Reclaim Pride): There's always a weekly general meeting that Reclaim Pride hosts. A lot of the folks from Reclaim Pride have come out of movements like ACT UP, and certain movements where there's a sort of politics that people have learned and developed around how to hold space. Some of us have been in movements since I was young, but different movements. There's always a lot you learn from how different people are organizing.
Jon Carter (Organizer, Reclaim Pride): I was there at Reclaim's Pride first meeting, and it was evident from then that there was a large group of people who felt alienated by Heritage of Pride's march. When you put together a group that represents the full queer community, you get an experience that lifts you up.
Jay: Last year's march was a long walk, but it felt like we got from point A to point B fairly quickly for how large that crowd was. And that's because when you make your mission simple, things get done really effectively.
What were your biggest lessons or takeaways from last year's Queer Liberation March?
Sasha: Some people are having conversations about disability justice, but there's a lot we have to learn and collectively do. Last year, that march route was very long. [Black Trans Media] actually hopped in and got in the front at Bryant Park and went through Central Park because the starting point [in the West Village]—we politically didn't feel that was accessible to ask our folks to do it. We weren't trying to tell the whole march what to do; that was the choice we made. I think I've learned, maybe I would've spoken up.
Jay: I think in some ways, the biggest lessons were for other people. Police should have really learned a lesson about how completely unnecessary the over-policing of the annual NYC Pride Parade is—that their need to barricade people in and to have thousands and thousands of cops with military-grade weapons standing everywhere, is completely unnecessary. We did our march. We did all of our security ourselves... all of it went off without a hitch, without any violence.
How are you prioritizing marchers' safety this year, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic?
Jay: It's going to be a hot summer day, and... some people are going to come wearing the blue, disposable masks. So we're going to have lots of masks on hand to give people as replacements when they sweat through them, but also for people that, for whatever reason, neglect to bring them. We'll have gloves; we'll have hand sanitizer. We're trying to do everything we can to encourage people to be as safe as possible.
Jon: We're lucky to have two expert marshals who will be there on the day and who have helped train our marshals for the event. That is going to help guarantee physical safety and order.
What is something you wish people who aren't organizers knew about organizing actions?
Jay: We're not rich. We don't have endless sources of money—literally every single person who is working on this is a volunteer. No one is getting paid for anything. Last year, because it was the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and we had a full year to really work on everything... we managed to raise a good amount of money. We were scrupulous with our finances and very careful that we had a surplus leftover at the end of last year's march. Everything we're doing for this year's march is coming out of that surplus, and we're probably going to exhaust it.
Jon: One thing that nobody suspects but is the case is that our first meeting to plan this year's march happened after a really short break to recoup—like, a few weeks after last year's march. We've been working year-round to develop our plan.
Sasha: You often have a lot of people come out, especially a lot of white, cis allies—as a Black trans organizer, sometimes it's so challenging. I even feel this way when I go to see Black art. If I'm there and I'm being approached by a white person who won't let me get my space, it can just feel so disempowering. And people are clearly out there because they believe in [the cause], but then there you are right next to them, and they don't want to move back. I've literally had to tell people at rallies, "Can you please step back? Can you please make space for trans people of color, for Black trans people to meet?"
Do you have any advice for first-time activists looking to organize a rally or march in their local community?
Jay: Keep it simple. You want to reach out as broadly as you can to all of our queer communities. It's not easy because we live in a segregated society, no matter how much we pretend that we don't. In this moment for Black lives, it's really important that you speak to groups and organizers and communities that you're not as familiar with—and that you don't allow the governmental law enforcement to dissuade you from your goals.
Jon: Seek out some of training, either through your own research or attending a seminar of a resistant group. Learn how to be safe when you are at an action. Know how to deescalate and be aware of your surroundings.
Sasha: It's definitely important to think about safety—your safety and the [safety] of the people around you. For example, you might think you're doing some action that's really rad, but maybe there are Black and brown people who live in that community, and it's not safe for them. Make sure you're working with people who are from that community—people who have been working in that community and who will continue to work in that community.