Thoughts on Organizing the Queer Left

Suzanne Pharr May 15th, 2009

Since the early 1990s, there has been an effort to organize the Queer Left, and now the work has a little more momentum due to the historical moment we are in and, remarkably, a little funding to Queers for Economic Justice to facilitate some organizing. The organizer is the very capable, hardworking, smart and dynamic Kenyon Farrow. Could I say more? It seems a well-timed opportunity for us to use to its fullest.

In a recent phone call, Kenyon and I talked about issues and concerns and strategies for this organizing:

• Is it a queer Left we are seeking or do we need something else, some other name or configuration?
• If it is the Queer Left, how do we define the Left? What are the broad shared values and principles?
• How would one become part of it? Is it something to be a member of, something to use as identification? What are the ways to create a critical mass? Convenings? New media?
• How can QEJ facilitate the organizing without “owning” the Queer Left or being perceived as being in charge of it?

The idea of bringing people together who work for social and economic justice revs my political motor. In my work I am privileged to sit in many small groups of people who are talking about movement building with an intersectional analysis, economic justice, and international connections. That so many people are having very similar conversations is an indication that we are on the verge of major change. I say on the verge because we are in a pre-movement stage where we are trying to figure out issues such as taking the leap (or building a bridge) from non-profit structures that are still isolated through competitive funding–to groups and organizations that are not the 501c3 arm of capitalism but are committed to working across organizational and community and national borders to make change. We are debating the best ways to make radical change: through campaigns to change policy, through re-building people, through mass education, etc.

As these groups grow, as goals and strategies are shared and build, a moment will come when they will be linked. And to change from the motor metaphor for a moment—we will think of small brush fires spreading. And here we have the fire next time—hopefully, the fire in our collective bellies for radical change.

That’s the big picture, but it is this building-the-queer-left opportunity that makes me want to race on the backroads of our organizing. One of the limitations of progressive movement building has been that it has focused for the most part on people who are affiliated with queer organizations and has not created ways to include and convene the thousands (millions) who include intersectional analysis and economic justice in their daily work. I think of Creating Change, where mostly people from queer organizations attend, and where the work on racial justice and intersectional organizing occur during the week before—when regular working people are at their jobs.

When I think of the great minds and social justice workers, I know so many in queer organizations but so very, very many more in other non-queer identified organizations and work. My partner, Renee, for example, is a former labor organizer and now is a counselor in an Appalachian school. And then my friend is Beth Richie, is a brilliant leader in Incite! Women of Color against Violence, who works on prison issues and is a professor. Or Steph Guilaud is one of the very smart and strategic young co-directors of Project South. Shelley Wascom is the director of Community Shares and is a fierce activist here in Knoxville. The list is enormous. I want us to find a way for all of these people to have connection, identification, and engagement with our queer part of the larger movement for social and economic justice. This possibility revs my political motor and puts me in gear because I have wanted it for decades.

Don’t let those motors idle.

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