Anger builds over Prop 8

November 10, 2008

Jeffrey Boyette reports from San Francisco on the biggest in a wave of demonstrations against the California referendum banning same-sex marriage.

A PROTEST called over the Internet on two day's notice swelled to more than 20,000 people on the streets of San Francisco showing their bitter opposition to an anti-gay referendum that robs same-sex partners of their right to marry.

Proposition 8, a ballot measure that bans same-sex marriage in defiance of a California Supreme Court decision in May that legalized it, passed by a narrow margin. The right's victory on Prop 8 was a bitter blow on an otherwise historic Election Day.

But every day that followed, supporters of equal marriage rights showed their anger in demonstrations across California.

Over the weekend, thousands rallied on the steps of the capitol building in Sacramento, vowing not to give up the struggle. In Southern California, several hundred people protested outside Saddleback Church, the conservative mega-church located in Orange County that lent support to the drive for Prop 8. Two days earlier, as the evening protest took place in San Francisco, as many as 10,000 people marched in San Diego behind a giant rainbow flag.

The scene in San Francisco's Dolores Park as tens of thousands of people protested Prop 8
The scene in San Francisco's Dolores Park as tens of thousands of people protested Prop 8

The Friday demonstration in San Francisco was biggest turnout so far and a certain sign that the struggle for gay marriage is far from over.

Almost immediately after people began to rally at 5:30 p.m. near the San Francisco Civic Center demonstrators launched onto Market Street and began a spirited march toward the Castro district, and then onto Dolores Park.

Much of downtown San Francisco was left at a standstill while protesters poured past gridlocked intersections and stalled buses. Support grew as the march continued with stalled cars and even a public bus honking in support. Some drivers pulled out their own "No on 8" signs and waved them out their windows. Meanwhile, onlookers heeded the protesters' call "Out of the bars, into the street" by joining the march.

One participant, Doro Shin, had stayed home sick from work that day, but couldn't resist joining the march when she heard it passing. After seeing how quickly the march grew, she felt certain that "this will be a civil rights movement over time."

Later that night, several hundred protesters continued their demand for gay marriage by sitting in at 18th and Castro Streets. More than 100 people remained well past midnight.

THE PROTEST was initiated not by any large organization, but two people, Oskar and David Vidaurre, who decided that the fight against Prop 8 shouldn't stop after the election.

"Even on the No on 8 campaign, I wasn't all that involved," Oskar Vidaurre said in an interview. "But then, when this happened, my brother and I just got really angry about it. The night of the election, we were in the Castro, and there was an impromptu celebration for Obama. That same night, we started spreading the word about the protest. Organizing this was mostly just out of anger. I can't really call myself an activist."

The two made publicized the call through an online blog, and others began downloading and distributing fliers, calling, texting and e-mailing friends, and setting up independent blogs and Facebook pages promoting the demonstration. Within days, tens of thousands of people had heard the call to action.

"It started with a Facebook group, and David just invited all of his friends, and I invited all of my friends," Oskar said. "Everyone was really excited about the idea, and so they took it upon themselves to invite all of their friends. We started a Blogspot Web site, and that's the Web site we put all the flyers on, because not everybody has access to Facebook.

"We just updated people through that Web site. I don't have any traffic statistics, but I think a lot of people visited the site because we just received tons and tons of e-mail...After that, it was really just a collaborative effort of all the people who wanted to help."

The huge numbers who have responded to the call to challenge Prop 8 is a reflection of the growth in confidence that protest matters--certainly as a result of Barack Obama's election, even though Obama has stated that he is opposed to gay marriage.

"I was awestruck the whole time," Oskar said. "I didn't think it would be even a tenth as large as it was. I could barely contain myself...It's because people are angry, and it resonates across the Bay Area. People in the Bay Area aren't going to sit down and let the lawyers take care of it. They want to voice their anger."

Amanda Maystead contributed to this article.

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