Monday, August 23, 2010

The subtle art of the successful rally

Gay Pride events in Madison are always held a little later than in the rest of the country. When most places are celebrating all the colors of the LGBT rainbow in June, Madison likes to kick back and wait until the dog days of August to get its gay on.

And that's OK. Frankly, it'd be hard to compete with the much bigger festivals in nearby cities like Milwaukee and Chicago. We here in Madison are pretty keen on marching to our own drummer, anyway. And, truth be told, our fair city kind of does Pride all year round (one of many reasons to love this crazy place).

Just last month, for instance, Madison's LGBT residents and their allies marched and rallied to counter the bigotry and distortions of the National Organization for Marriage's anti-equality tour. Some 500 gay rights supporters turned out for an event that drew a diverse coalition of individuals and groups from around Wisconsin.

So I was surprised when the Wisconsin Capitol Pride festivities on Sunday featured more politicking and speechifying than celebrating.

After a joyous parade around the capitol building, down State Street, and onto Library Mall, revelers were met by the thumpa thumpa of a DJ spinning dance tunes. People were exhilarated, ready to party, feelin' good.

And then began the seemingly endless line-up of speeches. Mayor Dave, Tammy Baldwin, Sheriff Mahoney, Mark Pocan, and a fellow running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court all took their turns in front of the microphone while the assembled crowd grew more and more sun baked and subdued.

Let me be clear: I'm in no way saying that politics and the politicians who represent and support the LGBT community have no place at Pride festivities. Quite the opposite. I'm glad they're there. I think it's crucial that our elected representatives show their support by showing their faces (second only to actually working for positive change, of course).

I believe there is a place for good, motivational speeches at Pride, too - but for the love of sunscreen, can we limit the number and pacing of the speakers? For all of the positive energy that had been built up during the parade, by the time the final talker talked themselves out, half of the people had gone home.

The band (disco superstars VO5) was finally able to go on, effectively pulling some folks back in and prompting a good ol' gay dance-off, but then had to stop after maybe five songs for yet more talking. And that's when I gave up and left.

Look, I'm sure the people behind Madison's official Pride celebration mean well, and I'm fully aware of how difficult it can be to properly organize large events (been there, done that) - but that's no excuse for not trying to improve.

Pride is about going out, getting a little rowdy, and showing the world how spectacularly awesome every element of our human family is. It's about being yourself and loving it, about being an example to all those still crushed under the boot of oppression and ignorance of what's possible - and, dammit, it's about having fun.

The good people of Madison spend much of their year being active, engaged citizens working hard to improve their communities. That's why Pride has always been, to me anyway, a time to kick off our shoes and just enjoy ourselves. A little less politics and a little more booty shaking, you know?

So next year, here's how we do it:

Parade around the capitol and down State Street? Great. Done. Have the crowd met by an awesome DJ, good food vendors, local artists and businesses sellin' stuff, etc. at Library Mall. Make it a proper festival! Do a very brief crowd rev up, introduce big political supporters en masse (let them wave, smile for cameras, and at most take a minute to say their peace), and then get back to the party.

Also, before any of this happens, make sure plans and expectations for the various events are clearly and concisely laid out in your PR materials so people have a decent idea of what to expect and when (I saw nothing about all of the speeches and speakers in said materials for this event, for instance).

Finally and foremost, be all-inclusive.

Follow these very simple guidelines and I can almost guarantee you won't face another awkward situation where 3/4ths of your audience leaves during someones speech.

Sure, it's not the apocalypse if a Pride celebration gets a bit bungled. There are far worse things happening in the world that we could (and should) be working on. But Pride is still important - for the veterans of the struggle to mark progress made, for those people just figuring themselves out to see what's possible, for misguided folks who really can, slowly but surely, have their minds changed just by our community's increasing visibility.

People care. You care. Let's work together to get it right.

P.S. On a related note, this is fairly awesome: "A CNN poll this month found that a narrow majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage — the first poll to find majority support." About damn time.
The Lost Albatross