Dalila Ali Rajah
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People of the
Year: Amy Balliett

People of the
            Year: Amy Balliett

Remember that
gigantic nationwide rally a few weeks ago that attracted
more than a million people. The one that took place in
each state and in about a dozen countries around the
world? That global demonstration was the brainchild of
26-year-old Seattle resident Amy Balliett, who
launched a website a week before the event.

After a
bittersweet election day, Balliett sulked for no more than a
few days before taking action, rallying people around
the country to gather on November 15 to show their
support for marriage equality. Soon, local
organizations in cities like San Francisco, Cincinnati, and
Boston contacted her to help organize rallies in their
cities. The result was a staggering display of civil
disobedience nation wide.

For Amy's quick
action to help people direct their anger into one of the
largest-scale protests for LGBT rights in history, we
saluted her as one of our people of the year.

Advocate.com:How did Join the Impact start?Amy Balliet: I feel like I have the story down
as a script now. The domain name is old. In May, I woke up
at 2 a.m., -- at 2 a.m., every idea you have is
amazing. The idea was, 'Why isn't there a place on the
Internet yet for the gay community to come together as
a whole, and plan events -- not just plan events, but to
educate anyone out there, who just wants to understand what
and why we call it a struggle, why we're fighting for
rights.' I woke up the next morning, told my wife
about that, told her I wanted to do it, and buy a
bunch of domain names. And then I got to work, had some
coffee, got out of my half-sleep daze, and realized
that I have to pay a mortgage and do my job.

I got the domain
name then, and honestly, I got so swept up in the
presidential election, and work, and my wedding, that I
didn't revisit it. But on Friday, November 7, my very
good friend Willow sent an email to me and some of our
friends, linking to some of the news stories about
protests going on in California, and then a link to a blog
post that she put up on her blog. So I read that post,
and it was her saying, 'I still don't know how to
react to Prop 8. I feel defeated but at the same time,
there's this anger in me that I want to turn into something
positive.' And so, she wrote an email to her local gay
and lesbian center in Cleveland, but there was no
response. She said, 'What do I do? If anyone wants to
ask their local organization asking what they can do, please
do.' And so, that last line basically sparked it. I read it
over and over again, and I responded to her saying,
'Why wait for our organization to do anything? Let's
just do something. Let's do a national protest. Why
wait and have scattered protests all over the country'"

 AMY BALLIETT X100 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Why is this different from other gay events? I'm so happy that we have gay pride, but it's
scattered all over the month of June, and a lot of
people have lost the meaning of gay pride. A lot of
younger people don't even know what Stonewall was. So, I
felt like our movement has not done anything on a
national scale all together at the same time, and the
idea of continuing a conversation about our needs and
our rights. Gay pride has turned into a big party. Based on
that, I sent my response to Willow, and she said,
'You're right, let's do this.' So I instantly grabbed
JoinTheImpact.com,
during my lunch break I set up a Wordpress blog, and
put up a blog post. And it just toppled from there.

How has the initial response been? The blog post was a call to action for
everybody, and we had 10,000 visitors on the first
day. By Sunday night, we hit critical mass, the server
crashed. My job is search engine marketing, which is to
drive traffic to websites. My server has always been
able to handle the traffic, but it's never had 50,000
hits an hour, which is what we had on Sunday night.
Since our server crashed, I didn't know what to do, because
I couldn't get a hold of our hosting company, so my cousin,
who designs the website for Hostdango.net -- he just said,
"Let's get you in contact with the owner of Hostdango, and
we'll get this fixed right away. That was at midnight.
So he called the owner of Hostdango, who has no reason
to be for our cause. He's a straight man with a wife
and two kids, in suburban Washington, and he responded so
quickly. He gave us a server immediately to handle the
traffic. The next day we started to crash that server,
because of even more traffic, so he responded by
giving us a dedicated server that is just as good as the
server MySpace uses. He just donated all of this. WetPaint.com stepped in as well to
help build a social network around all this.

Why do you think people are so suddenly hungry to
get involved?
I hate to say this, but a lot of people have
said that Prop. 8 was a wake-up call. Our community
has been taught to think that we have to earn these
rights, and our community has been taught to think that
we're lucky to have the rights that we have. And
because of that, we become complacent when DOMA
passes. The thing was that Prop. 8 wasn't DOMA
passing. Prop. 8 was them saying, 'we gave you the rights
for [five] months, and now we're taking the right
away. 'And so, it's different than anything we're used
to seeing.

I'm not saying
that anything we're used to seeing is good, but I'm saying
we've been taught to think that we should be grateful for
what we have. I'm only grateful for the people who
have fought our fight for us -- people who started
Stonewall, the people in those organizations who fight
on our behalf every day. But, I don't want to sit back and
think, 'thank you everybody for giving us these
rights.' It kind of admits that you're allowing them
to see you as a second-class citizen. So I think Prop. 8
was such a wake-up call for everybody. And the parallels of
Barack Obama being elected, nobody knew how to react.
We got to witness this amazing event, Barack Obama
being elected the first African-American president of
the United States. On election night Jon Stewart said, 'If
Barack Obama actually gets elected, America can
actually continue to say we are a diverse country of
free people without being ashamed of saying it.' So
watching him get elected, I was bawling my eyes out, It was
fantastic.

But then the
minute his speech was over, I turned on my computer to see
what was going on with Prop. 8, expecting the same kind
of success, and it was like a fist to the face.

 AMY BALLIETT X100 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Were you and your wife married in California? Yeah, we're from Seattle, Washington and we had
our full-blown ceremony in Seattle on August 9, where
our entire family came. I had no clue my family would
show up. I have born-again Christians in my family, and they
showed up. So it was an amazing event. After that, we said
we're going to go to Canada and get legally married,
we're going to go to California and get legally
married, we'll go to Connecticut when that passes -- we had
this plan of just getting married a billion times this year.
We flew down to LA on October 17, and got married on
October 18 at this cheesy, Vegas-style wedding chapel.
You open the door to the wedding chapel, and the place
is so small you literally get married in a hallway.

Have you always been very civically involved? Well, I convinced my family to vote for Obama!
[laughs] When I realized I was gay, I just became
very active. The thought hit me, "Will my parents accept and
love me when I come out to them?" Just that thought
awoke something in me. 

So what comes next for Join the Impact?JTI hopes to become a clearinghouse for the LGBTQ
grassroots movement. We are working with many
organizations to get out the word about various events
that fall within our mission statement. We are also
growing our member list by the thousands. This allows us to
mobilize in a moments notice. We have three months of actions planned
right now
.

Also, some great
things to focus on right now would be our National LGBTQ Food Drive for
Equality
and Light Up the Night for Equal
Rights
.

Tags: World, World

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