Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Heroes of DADT Repeal

So Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal survived John McCain (who invoked missing legs at Walter Reed until the bitter end) and the Republican filibuster. Final passage is expected later today. But DADT won't truly die until for another 90 days, after the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs have all certified repeal to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.

The Courage Campaign sent out an email to their membership minutes after the vote, and struck, I believe, exactly the right note. Don't thank President Obama, tell him not to drag his feet:

The Senate vote was the last major legislative obstacle. But even after the President signs this law, no one can serve openly. Certification is first required from the President, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense.
It’s part of a backroom deal cut months ago, and it’s ridiculous. We’ve seen how the Administration has dragged their feet over the past two years on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. We can’t let that happen again. We have to mount a fight to finish the job, and we need your help.

It's been oppositional activism like this, and the grass roots organization of activists with few institutional ties, that made today's outcome a reality.

They heckled the President at rallies. They threatened to withhold money from Democratic campaign committees. They ruthlessly criticized the President and his advisors for being turncoats, sellouts, and hypocrites. 
Lt. Dan Choi, a gay Arabic translator then awaiting discharge from the New York Army National Guard for coming out, became one of Obama’s fiercest critics on the issue. Choi said in a Harvard speech that the President was effectively telling him, “Our country is not grateful. We do not welcome your sacrifice.” Within one month, Obama and the Defense Department reached a compromise–one that Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen were reluctant to accept–that would create a legislative repeal, with enactment dependent on the President and his military advisors after the Pentagon study and a review period. These same gay rights activists remain dissatisfied with this compromise–Choi went on a hunger strike shortly after the deal was struck–and I expect them to continue to fight right up until the day the actual repeal is signed.
Repealing DADT happened because citizen-activists refused to stop fighting even when they were marginalize by allies who told them, literally, to shut the fuck up.

And their work, even now isn't over. 

Saying that they had been "focused" on the vote, a senior White House aide intimately familiar with the administration's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal efforts was unwilling to say whether President Obama agrees with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that DADT-releated investigations and discharges should be halted immediately.

There are more heroes than I can name - Dan Choi, Robin McGehee, David John Fleck, Dan Fotou, Laura Kanter, Zoe Nicholson, and Michelle Wright, Kip Williams, Stacey Simmons, Cleve Jones, Richard Noble, Heather Cronk, Autumn Sandeen, Rick Jacobs, Julia Rosen - and those I've left out and those I'll never know.

You are the heroes of DADT. Keep pushing, and we'll push with you.

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