CHICAGO – This was one Pride Parade we were not going to miss. Apparently we were not alone because this past weekend millions of people celebrated a giant step forward on this nation’s evolutionary path – the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The ruling came just two days before the Stonewall rebellion anniversary, June 28, the date around which pride parades take place. Simply put: Love won and millions celebrated even more heartily this year.
My family had marched in the Chicago Pride Parade in 2012 as part of the Barack Obama campaign contingent and it was one of the most incredible experiences we have ever had. The buoyancy and jubilation from the crowd that jammed the streets carried us to a beautiful place we had never been before. That’s what love does. As the song goes, “What the world needs now is love sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love sweet love. No not just for some but for everyone.” It has a power to change the world.
But this year it seemed that love has deepened. Evolution is in the air. The outpouring of love for the families of those nine innocents massacred in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a racist terrorist has been accompanied by an unprecedented revulsion at a symbol held sacred by slavery supporters and apologists everywhere – the Confederate flag. Demands erupted to take down that symbol of a cause that – as President Obama put it simply in his eloquent eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney – “was wrong.”
“Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong,” the president powerfully said.
The next day Bree Newsome, a 30-year-old black woman described as a “principled leader” originally from South Carolina and now living in Charlotte, N.C., performed another act of love. She climbed the state government’s flagpole in Columbia, S.C. and cut down the Confederate flag flapping in the southern breeze. In that single act of love and courage Ms. Newsome sent an “instant message” heard round the world – and one that the American people in our multi-racial and multi-ethnic totality are ready to hear. After all the right-wing governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, has now called for the flag’s removal, a call that has been repeated across the red state South. It was followed by pledges by giant retailers that they would stop selling the reviled symbol.
These retailers’ announcements – including and especially Walmart’s – should be welcomed because even though the form in which this decision has come is corporate, it is infused with content that their employees and their customers have created. That is not an insignificant development. When corporations take some kind of positive step it can often get overlooked or dismissed as PR without appreciating the class and social dynamics going on underneath the surface of such a decision.
Which brings me back to Chicago’s Pride Parade. As we watched contingent after contingent, float after float, pass by, we could not help but notice the domination of corporate logos. But who were on those floats and marching down the street tossing out corporate paraphernalia to the adoring crowd? Workers, employees and their families and friends. It was another kind of Labor Day parade. Workplace after workplace came together to celebrate the right to be who you are and who you love. When you see Ford workers marching and carrying the Ford banner and wearing their Ford shirts with a UAW logo and a UAW banner in the mix, or Kraft employees or employees of insurance giant AON or sports teams like the Chicago Cubs, Bulls, Sky and Fire, or even Fox Chicago(!) in a jubilant display of upholding equality, you cannot help but realize the corporate logo is just the shell. The real living and breathing creature is these working people, friends, family and community. I did not see any 1 percenters marching or waving the rainbow flag: even if some in that elite group may support LGBT rights, they are inconsequential in forming this mass movement.
Of course the parade was also full of Christian and Jewish religious contingents, organizations like PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Cook County’s Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center, which cares for people with diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Chicago Gender Society, a transgender and transsexual outreach group, small businesses like Alcala’s Western Wear, and government workplaces like Chicago’s Water Reclamation District and the Cook County State’s Attorney office. The parade watchers were older and younger, families of all different colors, shapes and sizes. There was an outpouring of African-American youth there, which provided a stark contrast to the handful of backward ministers vowing to fight the Supreme Court decision. The victory for marriage equality has busted wide open a door to other democratic victories.
It’s not too far of a leap from Black Lives Matter to Queer Lives Matter to All Lives Matter and that seems to be the moment we as a nation are in right now: a collective questioning of how all our lives matter and what blocks our individual and collective freedom to develop to our own potential. I think that mass questioning and what it can unlock often gets lost in narrow formulations – saying marriage equality is not significant enough of an issue and therefore downplaying this tremendous victory, or a knee-jerk pooh-pooh reaction to the corporate logos. Those are typical responses by some who consider themselves left or socialist. But that is not how masses of people are seeing it. For young people in particular, the Supreme Court decision has given them the life-changing collective experience that, yes, with struggle there is progress. For them, love won this round. And despite the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations cannot love. But people can.
Photo: Ford workers marching in the Pride Parade, carrying the Ford banner and wearing their Ford shirts with a UAW logo and a UAW banner. Teresa Albano/PW