Pride is a Vision—An Empowering Night at Milwaukee Pridefest

milwaukeeprideOn June 8th, 2019, I attended Milwaukee’s annual Pridefest. This was my first time attending, and although I had plenty of friends and acquaintances tell me what to expect, I still wasn’t entirely sure what it would be like.  I worried that the reactionary trends in our society would have infected it, that I would be confronted with bigoted protesters outside, and TERFs and other prejudiced elements of our communities inside. Fortunately, I can say that those fears were unnecessary. Pride was an amazing, and deeply heartening experience, one which gives me great hope for our future.

The first thing one notices when attending a major Pride event for the first time is just how many people there are.  Thousands of people spread out all over the festival grounds, with a massive line of others waiting to get in, and this continues all day and most of the night, for four days.  The second thing you notice is that you’re looking at people from every community and demographic, of every sexuality and gender identity, of every race and age, all together in celebration both of our own individual communities, and of all of us collectively.  It’s a place without so many of the barriers capitalist society has thrown up between us, and where, through their absence, we can see just how artificial and unnecessary those barriers are.

For me, having never before been around more than ten or fifteen other LGBTQ+ people at one time before, this was an incredibly inspiring experience.  It was a reminder that, as outnumbered as we can sometimes feel, there are still so many of us out there, people who are willing to defy society’s bigotry and come out to express themselves and support each other.  Whether they were there to make a political statement, to support a friend or loved one, or just to have fun, the crowd illustrated perfectly that a different and better world is possible.

Pride is not without its issues, of course.  There were, regrettably, cops present, though thankfully not very many of them.  This has been a very contentious issue in LGBTQ+ circles, as assimilationist voices push for cops’ inclusion, while radical voices, remembering the long history of police abuse of our communities, argue for their exclusion.  It was particularly galling to see them there, considering that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, when police violence and oppression sparked the first major act of resistance, and led to the creation of the modern LGBTQ+ liberation movement.  The trend seems to be gradually moving against the police, though it remains to be seen whether “No Cops at Pride” will eventually become the norm. As if to drive this point home, while writing this article, I heard about the police in Detroit escorting uniformed Nazis as they harassed Pride attendees.  The police are not, and have never been, friends to our communities.

Corporations were also well-represented, selling rainbow-colored merchandise of every description.  While it is true that such products help increase the visibility of our cause as a whole, we must also remember that these same companies routinely donate large amounts of money to right-wing politicians, whose laissez-faire economic policies often come packaged with extreme bigotry, which the capitalists choose to ignore.  By buying their products, we may well find ourselves indirectly funding our enemies. I didn’t see anything as egregious as the Lockheed-Martin or Northrop-Grumman floats which have occasionally been seen at Pride events elsewhere, but the pervasiveness of the corporate presence still chafes.

Beyond these issues, though, one other loomed large over all the festivities: the ongoing attacks on our rights by the Trump administration, and reactionary governments like it all around the world.  In speaking with other attendees, I found universal opposition to these policies, and clear support for the trans community, which has borne the brunt of recent attacks. The trouble was a lack of clear options for what to do about them. Dissatisfaction and lack of faith in the Democratic Party are high, but in the absence of other, Left-oriented options, it can be difficult to see an alternative. There is a sense of something almost like resignation, as though the present situation can only be endured, until the government changes and Trump’s policies can be reversed.

It is here that I see a tremendous potential for leftist organizing.  People are eager for an alternative, a path to freedom and equality which doesn’t run through capitalist boardrooms and disinterested legislative committees.  Anti-capitalist sentiment is running high, especially among younger LGBTQ+ people. For example, in my own experience, anti-capitalism is nearly ubiquitous in the trans community, which has endured so much suffering at the hands of the capitalist system, and support for some kind of revolutionary socialism is growing.  Without genuine leftist efforts at organization, however, many of these people will likely be taken in by social-democratic movements, offering only a watered-down, and ultimately ineffective, path to change. We can, and should, work to provide an alternative to this, one aimed specifically at the issues and concerns of LGBTQ+ communities and individuals.  Support us now, and we will support you to the end.

Though the festivities will come to an end soon enough, and we’ll all return to our respective corners of the world, I hope we’ll carry the spirit of Pride with us when we go. I know I will. Because Pride is more than what it appears to be.

Pride is more than a parade or a party.  It’s more than a social gathering or a community support group.

Pride is a vision of the future, a glimpse into the better world that can be, if we stand together and build it.

Categories: U.S. News, Women and LGBTQ+

%d bloggers like this: