Hope and History



But the Montgomery bus boycott was not organic. Rosa Parks worked for the NAACP. She did not just wake up one morning and decide not to go to the back of the bus. Her choice was deliberate. It was planned. It was part of a strategy that entailed sacrifice, which is the basis of the greatest moral authority in friendships, families, businesses, schools, religions, governments, and societies. Martin Luther King Jr. was not considered the leader of the black civil rights movement until he was arrested. Who among us—and who among our leaders, who among those 200 that gathered in the East Room—is willing to be arrested to bring attention to our experience of inequality?

“When push comes to shove, we always get pushed,” says Rich Tafel, founding president of Log Cabin Republicans. “I want the chaos, the anger, the truth, whatever it is, to come out. Otherwise it’s a big Kabuki dance in Washington, fund-raising letters about nothing. Who’s willing to fast? Who’s willing to get handcuffed? This president will actually care. The last one didn’t.

“People like it when you appeal to their better angels. Because people want to be better. Most people do. They want to be appealed to.”

And we are going to have to make the appeal. It’s true that where we’re concerned he has expressed no shortage of understanding and good intentions. To the NAACP, he said, “The pain of discrimination is still felt in America…by our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights”—reiterating the analogy he made in the East Room. It’s as if he’s daring us: showing us the door is open, telling us to come in and get him. Even if his heart is in the right place, Barack Obama is not going to just wake up one morning and put you at the top of his list. His primary task right now is learning how to govern, learning how to work with Congress to get things done. His primary link to the Democratic caucus, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, is one of the most risk-averse human beings in Washington. Marsha Scott, a straight woman who worked closely with Emanuel when she was chief of staff in Bill Clinton’s personnel office (Scott also served as Clinton’s first liaison to the LGBT community), says, “Rahm can never stop thinking about winning elections. Rahm is good at governing effectively, but he’s not good on social justice issues. Rahm’s goal is to not lose one seat in Congress at midterms.”

He looked like a hero, and that was the problem. His apparent integrity frightened us at first. Then it became the reason we chose him. We voted for Obama because he appealed to our better angels, because we wanted to be better.