Rick Warren Protesters Diverge over Tactics at Ebenezer
(APN) ATLANTA — About 75 protesters–give or take, depending on the estimate–demonstrated outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church this morning in the freezing cold as controversial Rev. Rick Warren delivered his King Memorial speech.
The protest lasted from about 9am until 1030am, and was followed by a Bayard Rustin breakfast.
Meanwhile, inside the church, national organizer Sunsara Taylor of the Revolutionary Communist Party and local organizers with World Can’t Wait stood up and disrupted Warren’s speech, one at a time, only to be escorted out by guards.
United in their opposition to Rick Warren, some of the protesters have diverged over the two different protest tactics, leaving bitter feelings among some organizers.
As first reported by Atlanta Progressive News in December 2008, the Black LGBT Coalition predicted there would be protests against Warren, and indeed, they have materialized over the last few weeks.
As noted on APN’s Blog, at least three different groups put out press releases regarding the Warren protest and two separate Facebook invites went out, suggesting independent organizing efforts for the same event.
The Black LGBT Coalition, a fairly new organization in Atlanta led by veteran organizers in the Black homosexual community, took the lead on organizing the protests outside Ebenezer, holding a press conference on the steps of the State Capitol last week.
An even newer group, called GLBTATL, which also organized Atlanta’s recent rallies responding to the Proposition 8 referendum in California, told Atlanta Progressive News they have been working to support the Coalition in this event.
“We were out there because Rick Warren is not the voice of unity, and not the voice of equality. On a day in Atlanta when we’re honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, who stood up and fought for equality, in our view it was the wrong person at the wrong time at the wrong place,” Jeff Schade, Director of GLBTATL, told APN.
A third group, World Can’t Wait Atlanta, worked with both homosexual activist groups, but also planned the disruptions inside the church without telling the other groups.
“I was in the church and I yelled at Rick Warren,” Taylor recalled to APN. “I waited til Rick Warren got up, and as he was beginning his remarks, I stood up and unfurled my banner. I shouted ‘Rick Warren is a bigot, no common ground with bigot Rick Warren.'”
“I saw Rick Warren did pause, he didn’t continue speaking. His speech was disrupted. Ushers grabbed me and took me out of the building,” Taylor said, adding the whole incident lasted about 15 seconds.
Local activists Justin Carter, Jossakeed Profit, and Tracie Stern also stood up with their backs to Warren and were escorted out, Stern told APN.
“You can’t work together with someone who preaches that homosexuality is a sin and works to take away the legal rights of gay people,” Taylor said.
“There’s no common ground between [that view] and people who think gay people are human beings and deserve all the same rights as everyone else.”
“We had this group [WCW], we had in our planning committee meetings. We were clear about the tone we wanted to have. This woman [Taylor], had to be carried out and upstaged the service,” Craig Washington, of the Black LGBT Coalition–who has previously freelanced for APN–said.
“My concern is that this action is linked to our demonstration. Especially since for many people it was a conflict to be part of a demonstration at a Black church, at Ebenezer no less, on King Day,” Washington said.
“We got a good representative turnout of Black LGBT folks showing, I think that’s certainly important for Black people to see,” Washington said.
“I was really disappointed about [World Can’t Wait], I think they disrespected… we were clear for our purposes, we wanted to have a demonstration that was not intrusive or antagonistic,” Washington said.
“They showed no concern for the relationship Black GLBT folks have with those institutions and the communities that Black LGBT people represent,” Washington said.
“I’m livid about it, quite frankly, their arrogance, and the level of White entitlement quite frankly that was demonstrated… the risk that they took for our actions being linked to what they were doing.”
“They joined our planning meetings and they stated they were willing to work with us and our planning committee, and they didn’t tell us they were gonna do this,” Washington said.
“We totally disapprove of World Can’t Wait’s action and their disregard for the concerns and the agreement that was reached in the planning meetings. If they planned this, why didn’t they tell us?” Washington said.
“If they told us, we could have done something proactive about separating ourselves from them. It was subversive.”
“The [outside protest] action was initiated by the Black LGBT Coalition. If World Can’t Wait wanted to do their own thing, why would they attend our meetings and commit to working with us, down to last night?” Washington said. “They were duplicitous.”
Stern defended World Can’t Wait, urging that the important issue is not tactical disputes, but is in fact Rick Warren and the rise of right-wing Christian fundamentalism in the US that he represents.
“Honestly, I don’t think [the two protests] are being lumped together. The way they’re being reported was completely separately. We did not want them to be connected with what we’re trying to do,” Stern said.
“Our signature was on what we did in Ebenezer,” Stern said, alluding to the fact that World Can’t Wait Atlanta has disrupted several keynote speeches in Atlanta including that of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.
“The demonstration outside Ebenezer was very important, that there be a place for that. But we really felt that we needed to confront him directly, and rip the cover… to de-legitimize his role and persona in this country,” Stern said.
“In the last eight years, the seeping in of this whole Christian fundamentalism, through faith-based initiatives… Obama bringing him into the inauguration is saying, we’re embracing you. Of all the people he could’ve chosen, why Rick Warren, especially on the tail of Proposition 8, taking away people’s rights?”
As far as why WCW didn’t tell the other activists their plans to disrupt the service, “The planning meetings, was for the outside demonstration. They were heading up the outside demonstration, so we were working with that to strengthen that and bring people to it.”
Other groups and other people can do their own thing,” Stern said.
Despite the disagreement over tactics, all of the activists feel like they accomplished something important.
“I think we were effective at asserting our place in the beloved community in a fashion aligned with the theme of the weekend,” Washington said.
“The guy who introduced him [Warren], the nephew [of Dr. King], did a whole thing, preemptively talking about we know this was a controversial invitee. They were on the defensive and had to explain why they were doing this,” Taylor said.
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News, and is reachable is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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