Earlier today, I headed down to Saint Louis’ historic Old Courthouse (the first Dred Scott trial was there, as well as the first case involving a woman’s right to vote back in the 1870s), where over 1,000 rallied against California’s recently passed Prop 8. My overall impression – well, I’ll quote Andrew Sullivan quoting myself:
Wow! For a community that keeps getting kicked in the gut, the vibes were very positive today in Saint Louis. Over a thousand people showed up on the first bitterly cold day of winter to hear the mayor, the president of the Board of Alderman (who gave a particularly good speech that I will send you if I can find a video or transcript), state representatives, activists, and ordinary citizens speak up for equality. There was anger, yes, and a tinge of sadness, but hope really seemed to rule the day in each of the speeches, and in the mood of the crowd.
Thinking back on it, regardless of how Obama feels about gay marriage, his campaign and election definitely infused the entire afternoon with hope. One speaker appropriated Obama’s “Yes we can!” (which Obama himself borrowed from others), and another compared the sight of the First Family-elect walking across the stage on Election Night with the hope that one day, a same-sex couple could make that same walk. A fellow St. Louis blogger took the stage and told the story of how when she was a young girl, her father used to tell her she could get whatever she happened to be begging for that day “whenever a black man becomes president.”
It wasn’t a banal, “Obama’s president and now we can get whatever we want” kind of hope, either. One speaker called us all community organizers. Practically every speaker mentioned the need to turn this anger and sadness into defiance and action, the hard work of convincing others of the correctness, the justice of our point of view.
Out of all the elected official who made an appearance (which unfortunately did not include Jeanette Mott Oxford, the first openly gay member of the Missouri Legislature), I thought Lewis Reed made the most powerful speech. State Senator Joan Bray gave an impassioned speech that cited Missouri successes in the face of anti-gay sentiment before, and Mayor Francis Slay gave a workmanlike speech that spoke of his commitment to equality, but Lewis Reed, elected last year as the first African-American President of the Board of Alderman in Saint Louis history, managed to meld both the personal effects and the abstract principles of politics. He noted that as a black man married to a white woman, he could have been arrested in some US states 40 years ago, as could have Barack Obama’s parents. And a close friend of his, whose same-sex partner died after 12 years of living together, had to watch as the family of his partner walked into his home, picked up whatever they wanted, including the deed to his house, because the law did not recognize same-sex commitments. Reed went on to quote from our founding documents to illustrate that we are not living up to the ideals on which this country was founded when we deny a class of citizens rights to which all others are granted. Like I said, it was a good speech, and I hope to get a video or a transcript.
All in all, it was strange, yet perhaps fitting, that a rally organized in response to a defeat turned into something of a celebration.
More pics below the fold.