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Hundreds protest Prop 8 in downtown Oakland

on November 15, 2008


Nov. 15–“Are you happy not to have to cross the bridge for justice today?”

That was the question posed by Richard Wright, an Oakland-based blogger and activist, to an estimated 500 Oakland residents this morning, as they gathered in downtown’s Frank H. Ogawa Plaza to protest Proposition 8, the ballot measure to amend the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage, which passed by a 52-48 margin.

Today there was no need to travel to San Francisco to join in demonstrations against Prop. 8. Oakland held its own rally to join 300 other cities nation-wide and nine other countries in a day of protest, a movement started by the website Wright said it was important for Oakland to have its own demonstration, as opposed to joining up with the larger city across the Bay.

“Oakland has its own issues, its own community,” Wright said. “This is something that Oakland should see and experience.”

In the days since the Nov. 4 election, there have been protests against the passage of Proposition 8 throughout the state, from San Francisco to San Diego. But today marked the first day of demonstration on a national scale. Many in the crowd said the approval of Prop. 8 was a wake-up call.

“I honestly thought we would have won,” said Kathleen Wimbley, who came to the demonstration with her wife. “We had thought California had come a lot further than it really had.” Still, she said, she believes the recent vote has prompted more awareness and action.

“I was thrilled to see protests every day since the election,” Wimbley said. “I think this is the new fight for our generation.”

Part of that fight is now occurring in the courts, with several lawsuits being filed to contest the legality of Prop. 8. Elija Nouvelage, an organizer of the protest, said the purpose of the demonstrations was to complement that effort by getting visibility and raising awareness.

“No matter what happens in the courts, this issue will come up [on the ballot] in 2010,”said Nouvelage. “While we believe and have faith that the courts will decide on the side of justice, we need to win the public relations battle.’” Nouvelage said the day of nation-wide protests would show that this is an issue with widespread implications.

“This is not just the radicals of San Francisco showing that they’re different than us,” he said. “This shows that there’s enough of us to get out 1,000 people in every community.”

Central to turnout efforts were websites like JoinTheImpact, as well as online social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Oakland’s event was distinctly grassroots in its evolution and feel. Eric Ross and Elijah Nouvelage came across the site and saw that no one had volunteered to organize an Oakland rally. Neither of them had experience planning political demonstrations. They did not begin making calls to arrange for speakers until 10:30 pm on Tuesday—four days before the demonstration. Via Facebook message, Brandon Wolf volunteered to arrange for the demonstration’s permits. He did not meet Ross and Nouvelage in person until today.

It was an unconventional way to organize a demonstration, but the rally itself had all the trappings of a traditional protest. Attendees came with homemade signs and Sharpie-etched t-shirts; a few industrious demonstrators made “No on 8” gear for their dogs. Chants were led—“We will not be silenced!” “Fight the hate! Liberate the love!”—the echoes bouncing against the surrounding office buildings and magnifying in sound. Cars drove past the plaza, honking horns and waving hands to show support. Two counter-protestors stood nearby waving signs that read “Gay = Pervert” and “A Moral Wrong Cannot Be A Civil Right.”  Many anti-Prop. 8 demonstrators crossed the street to interact with the counter-protestors, all under the close watch of two nearby Oakland police officers.  Politicians and community activists shared personal stories and urged for continued activism and participation. Petitions to repeal Prop. 8 circulated on clipboards through the crowd.

“We don’t need to wait for someone to tell us to do something,” Ross said. “As horrible as this defeat was, it showed us who we are and what we need do to.”

Much of the post-election conversation has focused on minority communities and their support for Prop. 8. Exit polls from Nov. 4 say that 7 in 10 African-American voters supported Prop. 8. Brendan Wolf said he had been worried by sometimes-ugly tone that he hears when people discuss race and Prop. 8.

“There’s been a lot of blogging about race and ugliness and finger-pointing,” Wolf said. “That’s been the most distressing.”

Lawrence Ellis, who helped organize the event, said that before the election the official No on 8 campaign failed to reach out sufficiently to minority communities.

“No on 8 did some brilliant things,” Ellis said. “But there was precious little investment on the part of No on 8 to change the hearts and minds of communities of color.”

Now, Ellis said, the passage of Prop. 8 offers the gay community an opportunity to improve itself. “I was traumatized by the passing of Prop. 8, but that is turning into a ferocious joy,” he said. “It showed us where the fault lines are and what work we have to do to start healing divisions.”

Click through below for images from the day’s demonstration:

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