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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/6/2016 (1553 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Five decades after Martin Luther King marched for equality, those who marched with him wear it as a badge of pride.
Over time, they spread out in different directions. They became business leaders, musicians, politicians. No matter where their paths went, they shared one pivotal thing in common: when history marched forward, they chose what we now unequivocally know was the right side. The words "marched with Martin Luther King" followed them into the rest of their lives.
Those exact five words are easy to find. They rise in the biographies of thousands of black civil rights activists such as John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman who helped lead this week’s historic sit-in for gun control on the floor of the House of Representatives. They are listed high in obituaries of departed rabbis and Christian clergy. They figure into the modern resumés of then-young white supporters, such as U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
Many marched. Many stood together, behind and beside. Their choice helped make history, and then was there enshrined.
This week, I idly wondered: what about those who stayed silent? Who saw the winds of change breezing into their backyards and shut their windows? Which community leaders were in a prime position to stand with King but stayed home, fearing its effect on their image, their comfort or their re-election hopes?
There must have been many, but history does not record them well. The idea of "who did not march with Martin Luther King" crops up mainly to rebut dubious modern claims; as for the others, unless they were active opponents, their role (or lack thereof) has largely been forgotten. They simply were not there.
Which is to say: history tends to remember those who choose the right side, especially when it was unpopular. It also remembers the most heinous of those who chose wrongly, and the innocents who lost their lives in the struggle. It drifts away from those who had the opportunity to take steps forward and did nothing.
That’s OK. They had their chance to swell the tide of change and chose not to be a part of it.
I think about this as news flies about the first Steinbach Pride, set for July 9. To be clear, I do not equate the event with Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches: these are different movements, in different places and times. It’s the matter of how history flows that interests me most.
As of this writing, Steinbach’s mayor Chris Goertzen, MLA Kelvin Goertzen, and MP Ted Falk have all declined to attend the Pride parade in the southeastern Manitoba town. Falk’s refusal hit headlines the hardest, if only because he initially claimed a scheduling conflict with a frog-jumping festival; in the great book of dodges, that one may go down as one of the most immediately transparent.
(On that note, one of the big winners in all of this is Frog Follies. The festival’s organizers certainly didn’t ask to wind up in the middle of the debate, but they responded with conviction and grace in support of Steinbach Pride. Plus, their St-Pierre-Jolys event sounds like a great family-fun time.)
When pressed, Falk acknowledged he wouldn’t attend even if it weren’t for Frog Follies. "I’ve been clear on this issue many times," he said in a statement. "Just as I respect the right of people to participate in this event, I am hopeful the event organizers will be respectful of my choice, and the choice of many others, not to participate."
It’s true that if he went, it would not be an honest show of support. Mere weeks ago, Falk was one of the Conservative convention delegates who opposed a move to strike an anti-same-sex-marriage provision from the party’s policy handbook. That proposal, led in part by Winnipeg-raised Calgary MP Michelle Rempel, passed on a vote of 1,036 to 462.
Falk later told Pembina Valley Online that the removal of the provision was his "biggest disappointment" from the convention. Whatever his personal views, even his own party is moving forward on this issue without him.
Still, Falk represents the people of his riding, in a nation that was among the first to entrench LGBTTQ* equality in law. His constituents include members of an LGBTTQ* community that faces dire threats to rights and safety at home and around the world. Of course they hope for elected representatives to affirm and celebrate their inclusion.
It’s evident that affirmation won’t come from Falk, but by now we know which is the right side of history. Organizers and LGBTTQ* people from Steinbach will not march alone: many have spoken up to say that they will stand beside their friends and neighbours. This inaugural Steinbach Pride will thrive without politicians; in time, it will be remembered among other such firsts.
In fact, you can count on this: in 20 years, and again in 30, enterprising reporters from the community will put together a retrospective. They will ask those who walked on the day to describe how it all happened. "Do you remember..." the first question will begin, and the answer will be "I do, I was there."
If Falk and other representatives don’t want to be part of it, then perhaps they shouldn’t. After all, if Falk’s views ever change, then he should not have the opportunity to say he was there at this particular beginning. So let the record note his absence, and move on; history may not remember him kindly for it, but most likely it won’t remember him in this story at all.
What it will remember: a Saturday in July 2016, when hundreds of LGBTTQ* people, their neighbours and friends spilled into the sunlight of a rural prairie city. It will remember how they celebrated the ties that bind them to their community and how they declared their humanity in the face of ongoing oppression.
It should be a beautiful day for a parade. Personally? I wouldn’t want to miss it.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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