Over the past two weeks my knees have been getting a little sore, because with every step I take they bump up against a sandwich board that I've been wearing since early voting started. My sandwich board says, "I know you're super busy, but it's kind of my civil rights. Vote AGAINST Amendment One," and I've been wearing it around Duke University, encouraging my fellow students to vote against Amendment 1. If you haven't heard by now, Amendment 1 is a proposed amendment to the North Carolina constitution that would strip any legal recognition from all unmarried couples -- straight or gay -- potentially taking away the family rights of over 200,000 North Carolinians.
As a 20-year-old gay North Carolinian who's been an activist since the age of 16, this isn't something that I could tolerate in my home state. So far, I've been doing my part to fight Amendment 1 by mobilizing students at Duke, where I chair Duke Together Against Constitutional Discrimination, our on-campus coalition against Amendment 1 that has mobilized over 50 percent of the student body. But I realize that this alone isn't enough to defeat this amendment statewide. I need to take the message outside the Duke bubble and into the entire state.
So I decided to march. As of yesterday, May 4, my friend Dominique Beaudry and I are walking from the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro to the State Capitol, a four-day journey of over 85 miles, wearing sandwich boards that encourage North Carolinians to vote against Amendment 1.
But why march from the International Civil Rights Museum? Because although they're not the same, the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement share something fundamental.
On June 5, 1966, James Meredith, the first African American ever to be admitted to the University of Mississippi, decided that it was time for him to do something more about segregation in this country. He decided that he needed to take an active stance against injustice. So what did he do? He decided that he needed to march. Meredith set off on a 220-mile journey from Memphis, Tenn. to Jackson, Miss. protesting the segregation that persisted in the South. He made it less than a day before a 40-year-old white contractor named Aubrey Norvell shot him after he crossed the Mississippi border on June 6. Fortunately, Meredith was quickly rushed to the hospital and treated for his injuries, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael (the founder of the Black Power movement), and Floyd McKissick paid him a visit. After visiting him in the hospital, they decided to continue Meredith's march. Facing police brutality, KKK intimidation, and the brutal Mississippi heat, they finished the March Against Fear on June 26, with 15,000 people joining them in the last part of the march, from Tugaloo to Jackson.
After taking part in the gay rights movement and studying the civil rights movement intensively, I can't help but feel that they share a few fundamental concepts: Both movements seek equality under the law, both movements seek justice for an oppressed minority, and both movements have inspired empathy and reconciliation in our country.
Now, both movements have a chance to stand together -- actually, to walk together -- against an amendment that threatens equality under the law, denies justice to an oppressed minority, and works against empathy and reconciliation in our state and throughout our world.
No, the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement aren't exactly the same; but that doesn't mean that this gay rights activist hasn't learned quite a lot from studying the civil rights movement, and that doesn't mean that gay rights activists around the world aren't inspired on a daily basis by the work that the civil rights movement has done and has left to do.
Through the civil rights movement, Dominique and I first learned the powerful lesson that a dedicated group of people can change everything, and through the example of James Meredith, we've realized how a single journey changes a nation. Now, we're putting that lesson to use by walking across this state to fight Amendment 1. Will you join us?