The first thing I want to say about our December 10 defense of the Fall River Pride Committee’s drag story time is that we succeeded.
I wanted to start out that way because between all the various mediocre news stories and online commentaries, you might not realize it. But we succeeded. When neo-Nazi group NSC tried to rush the door, it was our team of volunteers from an ad hoc coalition of local organizations including Boston DSA, that kept them out. We, the team that I coordinated, did keep them out, and we were able to keep attendees safe. And through friendliness and creativity – singing, bells, colorful masks – our volunteers at the side door were able to provide an atmosphere of fun and normalcy for the children as they entered the event, even with NSC outside the front door and Proud Boys across the street. Volunteers were able to escort families to their cars as they left. We did all this not by being some kind of elite strike force, but by showing up, working together well, using our varied skills (tactical situational awareness, first aid, cheery child-friendly charisma, and more), and by keeping our cool.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for me, and I suspect there are other people on the team who feel similarly. It’s frightening to be rushed by neo-Nazis who have a lot more muscle mass than you and who outnumber you (because they arrived quite early, only some of our team was there at the time of the rush). I was hit multiple times in the solar plexus, slammed against the doors. I would rather not have been injured, and would rather none of my comrades had been injured either. I heard a whole lot of slurs that morning. I’ve been frustrated at attempts to credit the police for keeping people safe when the cops were not present during the rush on the doors, and who later claimed to not be able to tell the difference between us, in our varied clothing, and neo-Nazis in group merch and quasi-uniform dress). But none of that changes the first sentence in this essay. We succeeded in defending drag story time.
This Saturday, January 14, is the next drag story time in Fall River, and this time it will be a little different – with a community support rally outside to provide fun and safety for all, to celebrate queerness and perseverance and courage. If it isn’t obvious, I’m writing this not simply to share my own experiences or perspective, but to encourage you to attend in support.
I have never been, to use a good friend’s phrase, a “woofing tough.” I have disabilities that impact my ability to build strength or coordinate my own movements. I have chronic pain issues. I avoid militant rhetoric and aesthetic in this kind of work because I don’t believe in raising stakes for nothing, and I don’t believe in making implied promises that I can’t back up. Every time fascists yell in my general direction about how they’d win in a fight, I shrug internally, because I’ve never thought otherwise. And yet over the last few years I’ve worked more action frontlines than I care to recall. A lot of people have been beside me on those lines who didn’t think of themselves before as the kind of people who could do this work. No matter how much groups like NSC want it to be so, we antifascists aren’t their mirror image and we don’t operate on the same terms with only the politics changed. If I have stood for anything in my time organizing against the far right, it is that this work does not belong only to the strong and the powerful.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I want good people to participate in supporting our communities and opposing the intimidation and the organizing of the far right. I don’t want people to think they can’t or shouldn’t do it, or that their contributions aren’t real, because in some way they aren’t the “right” type of person.
So come one, come all, to Fall River this Saturday – whether you’re an old hand or this would be your first action, whether you’re a ninja or regularly trip over your own feet. Dress for the weather (wearing comfortable shoes, wearing hats and masks, minimizing the amount of cotton against your body). Keep your cool, act collectively, and follow the lead of organizers (because this all has a goal and it’s not individualized catharsis). Be aware of what’s happening around you, make sure you have safe ways to enter and exit, and enjoy the performances! Numbers will make us all safer, make it more possible for people who are afraid or uncomfortable or unsure to participate. The numbers we turn out could mean the difference in whether a family feels safe enough to attend the drag story time.
Together we can preserve this queer space, and send a much-needed message to any queer kids (or adults) who may be watching: tomorrow need not be as bleak as neo-Nazis and bro-fascists want them to believe.