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Taking It to the Streets

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Proposition 8 protesters fanned out in cities across the country today, including about 12,000 who rallied near Los Angeles City Hall.

I’ll have more later — I returned from France last night and I am still recovering from jet lag — but the turnout was less than expected, perhaps because of the unbearable Santa Ana-wind induced heat. But large crowds were seen in simultaneous protests across the country, from the Mall in Washington D.C. to smaller cities like Grand Forks, N.D. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa flew in by helicopter to address the crowd after surveying the damage from the devastating Sylmar fires, creating an opportunity for rhetorical metaphor.

“We are at the mercy of the winds that we cannot control at this time,” Villaraigosa said. “But I’ve come from the fires because I feel the wind behind my back as well. It is the wind of change that has swept the nation — and in many ways — it began here.”

There was no shortage of comments about how the passage of Proposition 8 has inspired a new sense of activism, especially among younger gay men and women. Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl recalled working for Robert Kennedy and the campaigns led by Cesar Chavez.

Several of the speakers, including actor Darryl Stephens and Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri Jean, and made efforts to tamp down finger pointing, such as notions that socially conservative African Americans helped seal Proposition 8’s passage.

“Now is the time to break out of our comfort zones,” Stephens said. “Now is the time to show that the black community and the gay community are not mutually exclusive.”

The Rev. Eric Lee, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, pointed out that he had joined the Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs in delivering 17,000 signatures last month to the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City “to tell them that this campaign of hatred is wrong and it needs to stop and it is not from God.”

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Giving brief remarks were a trio of performers: Rikki Lake and Marissa Winokur, both of whom have played Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray,” as well as Lucy Lawless of “Xena” fame. Matt Lucas of “Little Britain” quipped that one of the dividends from gay marriage had been a renewed tiff between George Takei and William Shatner over the former’s slighting of the latter in a wedding invite.

The event was organized largely online by Freedom Action Inclusion Rights, which itself was formed at a meeting of activists last week at the Gay & Lesbian Center.

As usual there was a handful of creative messaging via picket signs. One of the best, from a heterosexual man: “Straight but not narrow.” And there was a retro T-shirt: “Milk for District 5 supervisor.”

The protest was peaceful — but very hot. That is why it was all the more remarkable that, in contrast to any gay pride parade, very few of those at the rally and march afterward took off their shirts.

And one more note: Few Yes on 8 donors came from the entertainment industry, which is a big deal considering that demonstrators have combed through campaign contribution lists from which to cull information for boycotts. It has created an atmosphere that supporters say is simply exercising the economic power of gay America and detractors compare to a witch hunt.

I was away when more than 100 demonstrators showed up at El Coyote restaurant in Los Angeles, protesting a manager’s contribution of $100. My colleague Mike Jones reports that there’s now furor over LA Film Festival director Rich Raddon’s contribution to Yes on 8.

Film Independent, which oversees the festival, issued this statement in response: “As a champion of diversity, Film Independent is dedicated to supporting the civil rights of all individuals. At the same time, our organization does not police the personal, religious, or political choices of any employee, member, or filmmaker.”

Dave Poland of MCN reports that Raddon offered his resignation, but the Film Independent board rejected it.

He writes, “If the FIND board believes in transparency that they should make their positions known… not in single-voiced unity, but in some way that suggests the range of opinions on this issue. I know it would be an onerous burden on many of the board members who don’t want the exposure of expressing their politics in public. But that is where the win is, in my opinion. Until we can have these debates in public, without the lies of a political campaign, and then come together as groups united for other purposes as well… well, until then, it’s National Guardsmen walking little black kids to school. And whatever your minority, it would be nice to think we are past that.”

In addition, there are some rumblings that pressure will be placed on the Sundance Film Festival to pull out of Cinemark’s Holiday Village Cinema in Park City. The exhibitor’s CEO gave $10,000 to Yes on 8. Blogger John Aravosis even wrote this week that all of Utah should be boycotted as the center of the Mormon Church.

Sundance officials say that they are sticking with the venue because there is nowhere else to go, according to E!’s Marc Malkin.

More on protests around the country here, and in L.A. here.

Photos: Karen Ocamb.

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