By the end of the weekend, the “No on 8” protests had moved out of the gay enclave of West Hollywood. Marches went down in Long Beach, East L.A., and downtown Los Angeles, and an estimated crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 people showed up in Silver Lake on Saturday night. It was probably the largest protest of the past five days and nights…when gay, lesbian, and straight folks hit the streets together and vented their outrage over the passage of Proposition 8.
“No on 8” protesters gathered at Sunset Junction in Silver Lake on Saturday night.
While loud and energetic protesters–many of them in their late-teens and twenties–turned out in force, the Silver Lake March was also probably the most choregraphed of all the marches in the Los Angeles area. Pulled together by the ANSWER Coalition, an anti-war, anti-racism outfit based in Los Angeles, organizers worked out oral agreements with the Los Angeles Police Department before the marched started, including the short route protesters would walk.
“Tonight is a great place holder for what's going to happen next,” said Michael Sanchez, an openly gay man and West Hollywood resident, who marched in both Silver Lake and Westwood. “It's a great turn out and a great pep rally. But we should be in Sacramento, San Diego, and Orange County.”
Jim Lafferty, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and member of ANSWER's steering committee, described the event as a “good night for people to get out their anger and organize.”
The rally started just to the left of a Jiffy Lube store on Sunset Boulevard near Sunset Junction, where several invited speakers stood on top of a flat bed truck, demanding justice through a public address system.
“An injury to one, is an injury to all!” yelled Peta Lindsay, one of the master of ceremonies for the evening.
Not all of the speakers' sentiments, though, reached the back of the large crowd, which sometimes grew impatient and chanted, “March! March! March!”
The invitees continued with their calls for justice, though, which led to one of the stranger appearances on the flat bed truck. What seemed to be some kind of odd tip of the hat to the under-30 crowd, Josh Bredehoff, a young pop singer, was introduced by Lindsay, who told the protesters that his songs could be found on ITunes. Bredehoff took the microphone: “Me and my team commend you for your efforts!” Some people actually cheered, and then he talked about equal rights for everyone. It was the kind of scene that may have been perfectly natural before November 4, 2008, but now seemed totally out of touch.
Most of the crowd weren't too interested in buying songs for their IPods. Instead, they wanted to march, which finally happened a few minutes later as the truck moved west onto Santa Monica Boulevard. Protesters chanted the Obama-inspired phrase “Yes We Can!” and thrust “No on 8” signs into the cool, night air.
When the truck reached Vermont Avenue, it turned right, heading north to Sunset Boulevard. At the intersection of Sunset and Vermont, something of a power struggle developed between a dozen or so marchers and the organizers. Michael Sanchez and others realized that where the truck went, the crowd would follow. A right onto Sunset meant the march would soon end. A left on Sunset would allow the march to head straight through the heart of Hollywood and onto the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.
Sanchez walked over to the driver and pointed left, hoping to also pass the Church of Scientology on Sunset Boulevard, which reportedly offers members a cure for homosexuality. Jim Lafferty saw what was happening and demanded that the driver go right. The driver shrugged his shoulders, listened to his boss, and went right.
A few minutes later, at the major intersection of Sunset, Hollywood, and Virgil, Sanchez and his fellow marchers wanted to practice some good old fashioned civil disobedience and stop traffic for a while. A dozen protesters sat down as the LAPD watched closely. Police officers atop horses and dressed in riot gear had already blocked off Sunset Boulevard at Vermont Avenue at this point, and now motorcycle cops were called in.
Lafferty, who represents people who can't afford an expensive lawyer, was obviously in a tight situation. He had promised the LAPD a tightly-handled march, but he also had to deal with protesters who had just been stripped of the right to legally marry. Sanchez and Lafferty briefly argued about the route, with Lafferty, who's straight, saying it was “not the night for civil disobedience.”
It was the kind of thing gays and lesbians had been hearing for years. Ever since gay marriage became a nationwide issue in the mid-1990s, Democratic Party officials, among others, have told the gay community to hold their horses…now's not the year for the legalization of same sex marriage, first we need to win this election. People waited, while President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which, among other things, defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and more states banned gay marriage through voter approved ballot measures.
Now, on the streets of Hollywood and Silver Lake, Sanchez was hearing a similar line, although Lafferty was on the hook with the LAPD, not Sanchez. So the truck kept moving, and the dozen or so protesters stood up and cleared the way. Either that, or they'd get run over.
A few hundred protesters, though, could see that the march was headed back to Sunset Junction. They left the route at Sunset and Virgil Avenue, and headed to Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, where the LAPD displayed an extraordinary show of force, according to eyewitnesses, with at least 150 officers decked out in riot gear.
Back in Silver Lake, the march ended on Sunset Boulevard in front of Rough Trade, a gay “leather and gear” store. The organizers were happy, and so were the police. Nothing incredibly bad happened, and things were starting to wind down by nine o'clock in the evening. Near the truck, one of the ANSWER staffers told a friend that the gang was going out for pizza, and he should hang around. They smiled big and nodded at each other. Over at Hollywood and Highland, a night of protest was only just beginning.
OUTTRO: During the past several nights, as far as I've witnessed, there hasn't been much music, other than the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles singing the Carpenters tune “We've Only Just Begun” on Wednesday night in West Hollywood. That song caused a nasty reaction in one guy, who looked to tear down a speaker but then thought otherwise. In Silver Lake, though, something entirely different happened at the very end of the march.
“No on 8” protesters dance out the anger in Silver Lake.
The evening was officially declared over by the ANSWER organizers, the flat bed truck was parked across Sunset Boulevard, and the crowd was standing around. Carlos Alvarez, a member of ANSWER, then plugged an IPod into the P.A. system and pushed a button. From out of the speakers, in what seemed like the highest volume possible, the band Blur played “Girls & Boys,” which took on a whole different meaning than the put down it once had been:
“Streets like a jungle
So call the police
Following the herd
Down to greece – on holiday
Love in the nineties
On sunny beaches
Take your chances – looking for
Girls who are boys
Who like boys to be girls
Who do boys like they're girls
Who do girls like they're boys
Always should be someone you really love…”
Right away, it seemed like the Los Angeles marches had found an anthem. People danced like they had never danced before, wriggling, shaking, letting out all of the demons. I thought I was witnessing an exorcism of some kind, and the energy that came off the crowd could have lit up Dodger Stadium for days. The song made a lot of people, who had been pissed off for days, happy.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.