40 yearsPosted 30 March 2011 by Bob Chapman
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
(“Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables)
There is a show on American Experience about the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969 scheduled to be shown in April 2011.
Forty years is less time than I have lived on Earth.
I can remember what I was doing about the time the Stonewall Riots happened: sleeping. This happened in what is now the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota or Glacier National Park in Montana while on a family vacation. My love of the West was being formed.
When watching the preview of “Stonewall Uprising,” it became very clear to me what happened a little over 40 years ago set much of the course for the rest of my life. Love of the West. Increased fascination with science and technology (the Moon Walk). Seeing the City of Everett at Boeing Field while driving by on I-5. And, the Stonewall Riots.
Would I have stood up for my rights if I had been living in Greenwich Village in 1969? My guess is that it would depend on what my options were and what I understood to be at stake. Still, it is easier to man the barricades when you are running out of other options.
Did the protesters in Madison, Wisconsin, in the winter of 2011 plan on those protests during the winter of 2010?
In-your-face protests and riots get old, fast. Not only for the participants, but those watching. What does it take to convince people to keep on “keeping on”? What does it take to convince others to join with you, in order to turn the minority into the majority.
You would think that I, remembering the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy would know the answer to this question. I don’t.
I know that, in the case of Gay Rights, the homophile movement didn’t enter the public awareness until after Stonewall. Even then, it took time.
W. E. B. Du Bois opposed the approach of Booker T. Washington in striving for African American civil rights in the United States. The work of these giants still did not make it possible for Scott Joplin to enter the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. Joplin was limited to playing in the Arcade, even though one of his rags celebrated the Cascades down Art Hill, created specifically for the fair.
Then there is what happened when my partner was organist at the former Hope Lutheran Church in the Northgate area of Seattle. He quietly and diligently went about his work in a congregation of elderly Scandinavians. They came to love him. When I was diagnosed with cancer, there were married couples that openly and actively supported George W. Bush that was concerned for my welfare and prayed for my healing.
Was this the Peaceable Kingdom for which Harry Hay worked?
It was the work of many people for many years that made it possible for my partner to be a church organist and openly introduce me as his partner. That did not mean the battle was won, though. There is a difference between accepting someone as your organist when you need a new one versus being actively concerned about the organist’s partner with cancer. Was it his faithful and diligent work at hand, not worry about scoring Gay Rights points? Was it the two of us living a mostly typical life (as if the lives of a musician and writer can ever be typical)?
Even though there was much preparation work that lead to the Stonewall Riots, we have come far in a bit more than 40 years.
(The inclusion of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at this point is my way to tell those who try to hide the connection between the drag queens that evening at the Stonewall Inn, the funeral of Judy Garland, and the resulting riot, to get over it. Acknowledge the roll the drag queens played, and—with any luck—they might be released from their oath.)