By Kalil Cohen
The North Van spent today in Watertown New York, a town of about 30,000 people located next to one of our countries largest military bases, Fort Drum. This morning we split up into two groups to meet with two legislators from the area. Four of us and Diane, a local lesbian woman from Watertown, met with Senator Wright’s staff. We met with two staff members in a cordial and fairly extensive meeting. Senator Wright has clearly stated that he is against marriage equality, along with other LGBT legislation. Though his staffers could not articulate exactly why this is, they cited a conservative constituency and Christian values as major concerns for the Senator. To counter these arguments we cited the great numbers of Watertown residents (over 400 so far) who have signed a marriage equality petition being circulated by our hosts, Diane and her partner Joanne as well as many of their friends and colleagues. Diane also gave him a copy of a book written by her Pastor Ron from the United Church of Christ regarding same-sex relationships and Christianity. We also left the Senator with our list of 10 questions to consider what his reality would be like if his wife were to be considered as only a roommate, as many of our relationships are currently seen by the state of New York. The meeting felt fairly productive as his staffers genuinely wanted to hear our views and arguments for why marriage equality is important, and took notes while we were there which they will hopefully share with the Senator. Four other members of our van met with the Chief of Staff of Assemblyman Aubertine, who voted no when the bill passed the house. This meeting sounded slightly less productive as the staff member seemed more closed off the the important points in support of marriage equality that were made.
Following our morning meetings we went to make signs reading ‘Bring Freedom Home, Support Marriage Equality’ which we held up in the main square in downtown Watertown. This sign was a play on a lot of militaristic language that sounds familiar to all Americans these days, but especially to people living so close to a military base. The goal of the action was for our signs to be seen on the webcam that is streaming from that spot. Unfortunately they were unreadable on the internet because of the low resolution image of the square, however they were seen by the passing cars and pedestrians during the action. As we were leaving, we encountered two people. One was a woman vehemently opposed to LGBT rights, who was carrying her bible when she passed by and cornered two of our members to proselytize why we should have no rights at all. She did not seem entirely with it, however, so although we were hoping to draw the connections of our shared oppressions, it was not a possible conversation at that time. The other person was a member of Emmanuel Congregational Church, an open and affirming UCC church in town where we held a community forum later in the evening. He is a lawyer and has his office in the town arcade, and offered to let us put our marriage equality signs up in his office window, which we quickly agreed to. These two individuals had starkly opposed reactions to our presence and highlighted the extremes of viewpoints on the issue of marriage equality, and the importance of our presence here.
After our action at the town square and lunch, we went door knocking around town. We only had about an hour, with mixed results. Most people were not home, some were busy, but a few were interested and wanted literature and more information about getting involved. Next we headed to Emmanuel Congregational Church for a potluck with 10 or so church members and just spent time hanging out with them, including our wonderful hosts Joanne and her partner Diane, and Mary and her partner Linda. During the lull between dinner and the community forum, we had those present write personal letters to their representatives about why this issue is so important to them, because Senator Wright’s staff had indicated at our meeting in the morning that this is the most powerful and effective way to affect his standpoint on an issue. After dinner we had an amazing meeting with 20+ community members. First we shared our experiences with Soulforce Q and the Right to Marry campaign, and showed our newly completed documentary of our trip thus far. Then we talked about our meeting with their representatives, our shoe campaign regarding Senator Bruno, and opened the floor for discussion. The discussion that followed was powerful and inspiring. The people at the meeting had collectively gotten over 400 signatures in support of marriage equality, and were eager to hear more and get more involved. During the forum there were a lot of articulate and moving stories, one woman in particular causing most of us to tear up with her words. After the forum we got a few more interviews to add to our documentary, and everyone in the room felt more inspired and energized to keep working on this issue. I felt so grateful to our hosts and their loving faith community for their support and encouragement which helped reignite my own faith and hope for the future of our cause.