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The Annise Parker Non-Factor: Why Did the Chick-fil-A "Kiss-In" Fail?

Why didn't Mayor Annise Parker do more to support the kiss-in?
Why didn't Mayor Annise Parker do more to support the kiss-in?

It seemed like the perfect mixture for a successful display of civil disobedience: there was apparent bigotry against a robust community by a very conspicuous company. But still, Friday evening's kiss-in to protest Chick-fil-A and its president, Dan Cathy, who has condemned gay marriage as anti-God, was a failure. At the event we covered, only eight people showed up. At another location, it was 12 smoochers.

What happened? Why did the "kiss-in" fail? Across the nation -- and especially in Houston -- the event, a response to last Wednesday's "Chick-fil-A support day" which drew hundreds of people decrying the evils of gay marriage, was, quite frankly, underwhelming. This has been confusing. In a city with such a vibrant gay culture, and an openly gay mayor; we had thought the response would have been buoyant. But it wasn't.

The most prominent reaction was to the article we wrote, but even that says something about the shallowness of the protest. There's a reason why Occupy Wall Street had such resonance. Or the Montgomery Bus Boycott worked. Because real people occupying real space carries substantially more effect than "liking" something on Facebook or following someone on Twitter. Roughly 15,000 people told organizers on Facebook that they'd appear at the kiss-in, but then didn't. Or they issued a liking and left it at that. That's called lazy activism.

Or was it that the protest was just unorganized and diffuse? "It said go to your nearest Chick-fil-A and kiss," said Sally Huffer of the Montrose Counseling Center. "When something is that loosely organized, (there's concern) that if they show up at a random time, would anyone even notice?"

And they didn't. No one seemed to notice -- in Chicago, in Los Angeles, or in Houston. People continued to eat their meals, and they weren't even aware they were in the midst of a political statement. The most essential aspect of a successful collective action is disruption. That's why the sit-in in Greensboro worked so well. People took heed. As for the kiss-in? It seems as though the only people who bothered to show up were reporters.

Mayor Annise Parker, apparently tentative to wade into an issue that -- whether she likes it or not -- directly relates to her, was at her most tepid. While Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Boston Mayor Thomas Menino pummeled Chick-fil-A, she held back. Maybe it was a wise political move. After all, she has been a defender of political speech, which Cathy was indeed exercising. But did she miss an opportunity to exercise her own?

 

Or, perhaps, Parker was hamstrung because she's gay. If she assumes the tenor of an evangelical, would she have been derided as just another activist, rather than a mayor? Does she need to completely ignore her own sexuality so that her policy is taken seriously?

Parker's a symbol -- even thought that's something she may not want to hear. She's the first gay mayor in a city the size of Houston, but sometimes on issues involving equality for gays, she's been reticent. Yes, she did say she would join in a boycott of the fast food chain, saying Cathy "is free to run his business as he chooses within the law and is certainly entitled to his opinion, but I/we do not have to agree with it." But was that enough?

Or has she failed to galvanize and lead a community that has helped carry her to power.

Please weigh in.

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