June 24, this last Sunday was the 42nd annual gay pride parade in New York City. The event commemorates the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall uprising in which lesbian, gay and transgender New Yorkers fought back against a police raid against the Stonewall gay bar.
It’s been a long time since what started out as a “march” was officially turned into a “parade.”
The parade is now shorter than it once was: In recent years the parade route was shortened by request of the city of New York, allegedly to save money. The good news is that the parade is still the occasion for queer New Yorkers to celebrate in the streets. Thousands of people marched, thousands more lined the route, and thousands more went down to the Village — no longer really the gayborhood it once was — to party on the streets and piers.
There were plenty of contingents and floats from the dread corporate sponsors, as well as from the usual spectrum of community and religious organizations. Plastic rainbow gewgaws bearing corporate logos piled up in the streets as the parade passed.
By my count, with two important exceptions, the political contingents looked smaller this year.
The first of those exceptions, of course, the Re-elect Obama contingent, slickly branded with matching signs and banners, and enthusiastically supported by the segment of the community that seems to have rallied behind Obama despite their hesitations of the past few years. They chanted “Four More Years!”
The second of those exceptions, almost taking up the rear of the parade, was the Occupride/Queering OWS/Occupy Wall Street Contingent. Bearing OWS banners, including one that read “Stonewall Was an Un-Permitted Action!”, the spirited contingent raised chants like
“We Are Unstoppable, Another World Is Possible.”
It was great to hear that kind of visionary message restored to a Pride parade.
Now for the bad news.
For the entire route of the parade, metal police barricades lined the curb. While this is probably not the first year this has happened, it has the increasing effect of separating participants and observers.
Once upon a time if you were watching folks go by and were inspired to join in a contingent you liked, you could just jump right in.
Now you could only join in by lining up at the beginning, or waiting for one of the tightly controlled and heavily policed designated intersections. As a result the parade seems sparser and a little less spontaneous.
It’s clear that the heavily corporate-sponsored planners and the NY Police Department are keen on controlling exactly what happens at the parade. “Order” seems to be the watchword; though this certainly doesn’t mean good organization as the parade was filled with wide gaps of nobody passing by at all and the Occupride contingent was kept waiting for hours past its promised step-off time.
Down in the Village
Down in the Village the NYPD were out of control. They had all the streets around Christopher Street heavily blockaded with those metal barricades, and were intent on tightly controlling people wherever they went, even past the area where the parade dissipated. Typically hostile and arrogant, the cops lined up behind the barricades to enforce entirely arbitrary rules, resulting in crowds of people being kettled dangerously tightly together.
One suspects this has a lot to do with the fact that the Village has largely passed out of the hands of any kind of gay counter-culture, and become an expensive neighborhood of boutiques affordable only by affluent white people.
The vast majority of celebrants were queer people of color. African-American and Hispanic folks, including many many young people and people of widely diverse gender and gender identity, have really made Pride their own party, which is great to see.
This seems to have freaked out the racist NYPD. It is also a challenge to political organizers in the gay community, because the majority of participants in all of the political contingents from establishment to left-wing were white people. It’s clear that even groups like OWS with a commitment to fighting racism and organizing against police terrorism have not successfully engaged the queer community of color on a mass level. While it’s true that most people down in the Village were looking for a party not a fight, to my eye there are necessary organizing opportunities around resisting the police lockdown.
Many of the barricades were lightly policed, and people should not have to suffer the indignities of having their party interrupted by repression. Something to remember building up to next year.