Before the big National Equality Rights March last Sunday, Barney Frank flashed his trademark exasperation at the idea that the demonstration would push lawmakers on gay rights. “The only thing they’ll be putting pressure on is the grass,” he said.
Pam Spaulding reciprocated with some annoyance of her own. “I’m scratching my head on this. OK, so the march isn’t his bag, why not simply say nothing rather than to continue tossing out the barbs?”
While it certainly sucks to have the country’s most prominent openly gay politician call the National Equality March a big waste of time, isn’t Frank essentially correct in saying that big rallies like the NEM have little influence on policymakers? To the extent that the mass demonstrations of the 1960s were effective in spurring policy changes — and there’s an argument we could probably have about how true that may be — those rallies took place when big events monopolized the coverage of a handful of news outlets. That’s a markedly different media landscape than our current one. There’s also the issue of march fatigue: according to Wikipedia, there have been nine big rallies in D.C. just this year. How much attention are lawmakers paying to any of these events?
There are undoubtedly tons of ancillary organizational benefits that come with big demonstrations. They allow advocacy groups with similar objectives to coordinate and network, to say nothing of the catharsis and goodwill that comes with rubbing shoulders with like-minded people. But to say they have a direct affect on policy seems like a stretch.