Monday, February 15, 2010

What to do about a problem like Louie?

If my member of Congress doesn't represent my views, and yet is invulnerable to electoral challenge, what, if anything, can I do as a citizen to influence public policy?

As a resident of the 1st Congressional District of Texas, I have the distinct displeasure of calling myself a constituent of Louie Gohmert, aka Screwie Louie, aka the douche-bag of the universe. Louie Gohmert isn't just kind of conservative—he is a lunatic wingnut conservative. There is no issue I am aware of, from taxes to health care, to foreign policy, on which Gohmert speaks for me in Congress. On the issue of LGBT equality, Gohmert has gone out of his way to pander to the religious right, at one point actually going to the floor of the House of Representatives to make a speech comparing gays and lesbians to pedophiles and practitioners of beastiality. If you aren't familiar with Louie Gohmert, this YouTube clip offers a nice glimpse at his absurdity.



Given what I know about Gohmert's ideology and his voting record, I have allowed myself to become lazy about using my position as a constituent to apply pressure on him. Although I have called his office on occasion to offer my opinion, my efforts have been half-hearted and intermittent at best. I have rationalized that it would be pointless to lobby Gohmert for his vote on passing ENDA, or repealing DADT or DOMA, because he will never agree with me on these issues.

Nevertheless, having spent a great deal of time over the past few weeks contemplating the lives of the great heroes and pioneers of the LGBT rights movement, I am struck by the realization that each of the leaders I admire the most—Harvey Milk, Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Louise Lawrence, and others—are all ordinary people who created extraordinary change through their bravery and commitment to the cause of equality.

Reflecting on my own political involvement and activism in comparison to that of these great heroes, I ask myself an important question: is there more I should or could be doing in the struggle for equality?

It is true that the task of convincing a rabid conservative like Gohmert to take any pro-gay stance is a heavy lift. But is this a more difficult task than the ones which faced Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon when they formed the Daughter's of Bilitis, or Frank Kameny when he organized the Mattachine Society?

The truth is, I am foolish to treat my own congressman, no matter how conservative, with benign neglect. It is an abdication of my responsibility as an activist and as a citizen to fight for what I think is right, regardless of the liklihood of success. To ignore an elected official who nominally represents my interests lets him off the hook for his bigoted voting record, and lets me off the hook for my own unwillingness to fight the good fight.

I acknowledge my own folly, and I recognize the need for a new strategy in dealing with my congressman. But even as I make thisconcession, a bigger question remains unanswered: if I am to engage an uncooperative elected official, then what tactics should I employ? It is easy to make phone calls and write letters, but is it the most effective use of my time and energy? I could organize a protest of Gohmert's local office, but that would likely consist of, at most, 3 or 4 people. I am open to acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, but only if they are targeted and effective.

These uncertainties still lie in front of me. Though am not sure exactly how I should proceed, I am convinced and committed to a new spirit of activism in my personal life as a tribute to all those brave activists who faced much bigger struggles than the one that faces me today.

As I decide how to proceed, I will keep the readers here at Ameriqueer apprised of my progress. Until then, I would look forward to hearing any advice or discussion that others have to offer on this topic.

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