Report from the Nationwide Protests Against California's Proposition 8

On Nov. 15, demonstrations demanding equal rights for LGBT people took place across the country, fueled by mass outrage against California’s Proposition 8. The measure, narrowly approved by voters on Nov. 4, amends the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. 

In an impressive show of unity and resolve, mass demonstrations took place in all 50 states. In Texas, thousands participated in rallies in Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio; in Wisconsin, protesters took to the streets in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, La Crosse and Superior; in Colorado, actions were held in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Durango and Aspen. Altogether, hundreds of cities across the country mobilized in force, as well as in cities in Canada, England and Australia. 

The grassroots forces at the forefront of this new mass movement have decisively pushed the struggle into the streets, something that the “No on 8” campaign put forth by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations refrained from doing in the lead-up to the elections. Word of the demonstrations spread quickly through the Internet and cell phone text messages. 

Members of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) participated in a number of the demonstrations taking place around the country. A round-up of those actions follows below.

Arcata, Calif.

A rally protesting California’s Prop. 8 took place in front of City Hall starting at 10:30 a.m. The crowd kept the energy up with chants and great conversations. An impromptu decision was made to march through the plaza where the farmers market was taking place to  allow for greater visibility. 

The march was led by a banner that read, “All comrades, All equals.” Following the march, a group of people gathered to discuss other actions we felt would be necessary to fight the injustice of Prop 8. More militant actions, such sit-ins, blocking of freeways and other civil disobedience were proposed. People were very receptive and were interested in further organizing. 

Local ANSWER Coalition volunteers helped promote and organize the protest. More than 50 people participated, and around 40 people signed up to stay in touch and be notified of further actions.

Boston, Mass.

Boston Prop 8 Demo_Nov 15
Photo: Chris Gonsalves
More than 5,000 people descended on Boston's City Hall Plaza to demand nationwide marriage equality. With the passage of Proposition 8 in California, Massachusetts is now one of only two states that allow same-sex marriage, along with Connecticut. National organizers from Join the Impact teamed up with MassEquality to pull together the Boston demonstration in less than a week. 

The thousands of participants were outraged that millions are not afforded equal rights. Throughout the demonstration, chants of “What do we want? Equal Rights! When do we want it? Now!” echoed throughout City Hall Plaza. Speakers at the rally, from LGBT activists to local politicians, all called for every state to allow same-sex marriage. Many equated the present struggle with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. 

One gay couple held a sign that read, “Together for 48 years, married for 8 months”—a reflection of the long-time oppression that millions of LGBT people still face. ANSWER members brought dozens of placards with slogans like “Prop. 8—An injury to all” and “Fight back—LGBT equality now!”  

A handful of counter-protesters from the anti-LGBT organization stood on the outskirts of the rally. The group failed to get a same-sex marriage referendum on the Massachusetts ballot this year. After a short period of individual shouting matches, a large crowd surrounded the bigots and began chanting “Stop the Hate, Overturn 8!” and “Equal Rights Now!” The crowd made it clear that the group's hate speech would not tolerated, at which point the right wingers quickly packed up and left. The crowd of over 50 immediately erupted with loud cheers at their departure.  

Demonstrations happened in two other Massachusetts' cities, Northampton and Cummington.

Chicago, Ill.

In Chicago, more than 4,000 LGBT people and their supporters descended on Federal Plaza for a rally to overturn Prop. 8 and to fight for equal marriage rights in Illinois. Protesters then took over the streets for a spirited non-permitted march through downtown. 

The march wound its way through most of downtown before taking to Michigan Ave. and stopping traffic for hours. Rainbow flags and placards demanding equality were greeted with loud claps and shouts of encouragement from thousands of bystanders. 

Large numbers of young people came out for the action. The march lasted for nearly four hours with demonstrators chanting enthusiastically for the entire time. 

The protest received wide coverage from all major news sources. Participants responded strongly to militant speeches and chants. People from all walks of life vigorously chanted, “They say get back! We say fight back!” and “Fight! Fight! Fight! Marriage is a civil right!” 

Florida and Georgia

Tallahasse Prop 8 Demo_Nov 15
Photo: Marisa Ellen Ratoff
ANSWER in demonstrations in Miami, Lake Worth, Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., as well as actions in Atlanta, Ga. 

Media outlets reported that thousands protested in Florida as part of the National Day of Protest for Equal Marriage Rights. 

The Fort Lauderdale protest drew about 1,000 people to the steps of City Hall, where a similar sized crowd protested the hated, bigoted Mayor Naugle just a year ago. 

ANSWER activists passed out ANSWER / Justice First leaflets. The Sentinel covered the demonstration and interviewed an ANSWER activist. 

Equality Florida and the Democratic Party spoke from a bullhorn and then quickly closed the rally. Protesters moved over to Broward Blvd. and continued the protest on the sidewalk. 

Los Angeles, Calif. 

Over 10,000 people marched outside of City Hall in a continuation of militant protests that have broken out in Los Angeles nearly every day since the passing of Prop. 8.

Los Angeles Prop 8 Demo_Nov 15
Photo: Roots of Equality
Most of the speakers from the stage, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, did not stray far from the Democratic Party line. In fact, the organizers of the march consciously chose “From protest to strategy” as the slogan for the day in an attempt to dissuade people away from the radical opposition that has unfolded on the streets of Los Angeles. The demonstrations logistics were mostly co-opted by the city government and even by the Los Angeles Police Department, steering the three-mile march towards some of the most remote streets of downtown Los Angeles.  

Despite these efforts to hijack a burgeoning militant and independent people’s movement, the masses of LGBT workers and their allies on Saturday were set on continuing the struggle for equal rights on the streets. Thousands of people continued to march throughout the city even after the official demonstration had ended, reaffirming that protest is one of the most important strategies of all. 

Los Angeles has been the epicenter of the national struggle against Prop. 8 during the last two weeks, reaching a peak on Nov. 8 with the ANSWER-initiated protest of over 20,000 people.

New Haven, Conn.

New Haven Prop 8 Demo_Nov 15
Photo: Tahnee Stair
More than 300 people rallied in New Haven on the steps of City Hall and marched around the downtown New Haven Green in an outpouring of emotion and support for equal rights for same-sex couples. 

While Connecticut is one of two states that currently recognize same-sex marriages, protesters stood in solidarity with those still struggling for equal rights in other states. They came out on short notice and amid thunderstorms take a stand against California’s Prop. 8. 

Many of the demonstrators were students from nearby universities and high schools, including large numbers from Yale University and Connecticut College. Word spread quickly through social networking sites and email. Two initiators of the demonstration were freshman Yale law students. 

The rally was chaired by Chris Garaffa from the ANSWER Coalition. Speakers included Brian Hughes, who married his partner in California before the passage of Prop. 8; Rev. John Gage, United Church on the Green in New Haven; Tahnee Stair, Party for Socialism and Liberation; and many others. 

The powerful march returned to the rally site chanting, “Down with Prop. 8!” As the second rally drew to a close, Chris Garaffa said, “We’ll be back to take to the streets in New Haven and in cities and towns across the country until Prop. 8 is overturned. The peoples’ movement can and will overturn Prop. 8.”

New York City, N.Y.

New York Prop 8 Demo_Nov 15
Photo: Shawn Garcia
An anti-Prop 8 rally, spanning about eight city blocks and drawing as many as 10,000 people at its height, shut down all but one lane on Broadway. Heavy rain had been forecast, but it turned out to be a warm, beautiful day. 

The diverse crowd was largely not associated with any groups or organizations, reflecting the grassroots nature of the recent upsurge in the LGBT struggle.  

At around 3 p.m., when the rally was over and the NYPD began moving people out, many continued to chant and unplanned march began, which soon grew to around 1,000 people strong. The crowd moved through the streets of Manhattan to chants such as “What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want it? Now!”, “Gay, Straight, Black, White, marriage is a civil right!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia has got to go!” 

The march made its way from City Hall to Union Square and finished with a rally at the Stonewall Inn, where the uprising that gave birth to the modern LGBT liberation movement took place. The march shut down street traffic at major intersections such as Houston St. and 14th St, and was not once stopped by the police due to the high level of organization displayed. 

The NYPD went as far to close off Stonewall, so that the end rally numbering more than 500 people, chanting "Long Live Stonewall!" could take over the whole intersection.

San José, Calif. 

San Jose Prop 8 Demo_Nov 15
Photo: Jon Britton
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people gathered to demand the repeal of Prop. 8, respect for equality of LGBT people, and the right of same-sex couples to marry. The crowd was diverse—gay, straight, white, Asian, Latino, Black, overwhelmingly young and seemingly mostly women.  

Demonstrators chanted loudly as they gathered on the plaza outside City Hall, the majority arriving in four different feeder marches. 

Michelle Wallace told the Mercury News that she had learned of the rally on Facebook, and in turn invited several friends. “When we started marching from the Art Museum, there were only about 20 of us, and I thought, ‘Uh oh, this looks bad,’” she said. “But then people just kept coming and coming, and it didn’t stop.” 

“Back in the old days, everything gay went to San Francisco,” Wallace’s friend Pam Lasich told the reporter. “It’s about time San José grew up and this stuff started happening here.” 

Tiffany Nguyen, 41, stood on the curb next to Santa Clara Street with a sign that said “Equality for everyone” on one side, and a slogan in Vietnamese on the other. She flipped it around whenever a car with anybody who looked Vietnamese passed by. “We want to be supportive of everyone coming out,” Nguyen told the Mercury News. “I want to spread the message that we’re normal people, just like everybody else.” San José has a large Vietnamese community. 

At one point, four counter-demonstrators appeared across the street carrying “Yes on 8” signs. Three fled after being surrounded by about 30 demonstrators. One scowling, heavy-set man remained, holding a sign in each hand. A young person quickly stood beside him with a hand-lettered placard spelling “Bigot” with an arrow pointing to the sign holder. 

A Latino student who recently became a citizen held a sign noting the date of his citizenship, followed by “Second-class citizen, Nov. 4, 2008.”

Seattle, Wash.

A protest of as many as 15,000 people marched from Seattle’s Capitol Hill to Westlake Square. A morning rally in Volunteer Park started off the day with music speeches and chants. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels presented a proclamation declaring Nov. 15 Marriage Equality Day. State Sen. Ed Murray, one of the state’s openly gay legislators, said he would introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage during the upcoming session of the legislature. The crowd responded strongly to a reading of a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech. 

County Executive Ron Sims, who is African-American, compared the struggle for marriage equality to the Black struggle for civil rights, which he has been engaged in his entire life. Sims told the crowd, “Nobody told me the road would be easy. Are you tired? I am not. If you are going to talk about immorality, talk about hunger. That is immoral. Talk about war. That is immoral. But do not tell me when two people love each other that’s immoral. It is right.” 

After the rally at Volunteer Park, the march stretched for a dozen blocks as people left the historically gay Capitol Hill neighborhood and descended into the central business district. The end rally overflowed out of Westlake square and into the surrounding streets. 

The demonstration reflected a diverse range of participants from high school and college activists, many attending their first rally, to veterans of the LGBT movement. Numerous same-sex couples attended with their young children; noticeable among the crowd were people seen holding signs reading “Straight against 8.”

Sioux Fall, S.D.

Members of South Dakota ANSWER and the Party of Socialism and Liberation were joined by the Centers of Equality, Peace and Justice Center and some students for an LGBT rights rally at City Hall. 

After being told by police that they could not be there, the group marched over to a busy intersection where they held their signs. Their anti-bigotry message was met with positive honks of approval. 

Despite the cold and a strong wind, the group was energetic and there was a lot of positive energy in bringing a diverse group of people together with a common cause. Some of the groups had not met or worked together before, yet they are now planning to collaborate on future demonstrations and film showings.

Another demonstration took place in the western region of South Dakota, in Rapid City.

Washington, D.C.

A crowd of thousands of spirited protesters converged in front of the U.S. Capitol on Saturday to protest the passing of California’s Prop. 8. In solidarity with people protesting the ban throughout the country, protesters demanded fair and equal civil rights for the LGBT community. 

ANSWER organizers and others joined the crowd as it marched from the Capital building, through the streets of D.C. and on to the White House. Despite marching through pouring rain, the crowd remained spirited as they loudly chanted and carried signs reading, “Fight back! LGBT equality now!” and “Stop the hate, overturn 8!” The demonstrators received honks and high-fives from supporters driving by in the cars and walking on the sidewalks.

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