DADT advocate joins Occupy DE movement
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 03:02
WILMINGTON—Occupy Delaware protesters revamped their campsite this weekend with the help of a former U.S. Army officer who advocated for the end of the military's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" in 2011, which prevented military personnel from serving if they were openly gay.
Dan Choi, an Iraq War veteran who was discharged after coming out as gay, helped approximately 100 Occupy Delaware supporters construct a large tent at Peter Spencer Plaza in Wilmington on Saturday.
Choi, who publically revealed his sexuality on the Rachel Maddow Show in March 2009, began the tent raising ceremony by reading a poem aloud.
"A tent is usually a place where we can hide," Choi said. "But what we are doing in these tents is exposing the reality of our country and our economy."
The tent was originally donated to Occupy Philadelphia by the Occupy Supply Fund, which provides resources to movements throughout the country. However, after police removed protesters from an encampment in Center City, Occupy Delaware members received the tent.
Ray Lewis, a former Philadelphia police captain who was arrested at Zuccotti Park in New York City while he was with Occupy Wall Street protesters, also spoke during the tent-raising ceremony.
Lewis, dressed in his police uniform, explained his interest in the Occupy movement Saturday.
"I was inspired in reading about people living in tents, and living under those harsh conditions," Lewis said. "That inspired me to learn more about Zuccotti Park and other occupy movements. Why are these people doing this? And I realized they are not doing it to be first in line for a job in Wall Street. They are doing this for social justice."
Choi related the movement's mission to his activism regarding "don't ask, don't tell" and LGBT rights. He was arrested twice in 2010 for handcuffing himself to the fence outside the White House. Most recently, he was taken into custody while attending Moscow Pride, an annual LGBT demonstration in Russia's capital.
Although the military's controversial policy toward gay members of the armed services ended in 2011, Choi said similar policies and attitudes exist elsewhere in American society. "There is still a ‘don't ask, don't tell' in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches and our schools," he said. "And that's the ‘don't ask, don't tell' that no Congress can legislate, that no president can sign away. We have to take our own pen and we have to strike out and abolish that ‘don't ask, don't tell' language from our own soul. Only we can do it, and no one can do that for us."
Aside from its symbolic value, the tent also serves a more practical purpose. Jen Wallace, 40, an Occupy Delaware member, said the structure will provide protesters with shelter during the remainder of winter.
Although she considered the season's temperature to be mild, she said the organization has held their general assembly meetings to attract a greater number of participants who may be discouraged to attend because of cold weather.
"It is difficult when it's cold, and we do have people involved who are older, people with health issues and just the practicality of meeting outside is an issue, it is," Wallace said. "The tent will help that."
The former Army lieutenant compared the movement's message to more mainstream political parties, who he said exclude dissenting voices.
"I think it is a strength because we have to realize that we —all in our many different issues and our many different communities—have a common oppressor, and that oppressor who takes away my rights, who takes away my freedom, once they do that, they will take away the other guy's," Choi said.