We all know I like to throw and/or attend a good party. Working in the bar and restaurant industry for 12 years now, my desire to curate a spectacular evening for guests, drenched in bourbon and laughter, is woven deeply through my barkeep DNA. And recently, on the trek back home from the Women’s March on Washington, surfing an activism high amid exhausted delirium, I decided it was time to merge a few of my passions and create a soirée to engage Louisvillians politically and raise funds for a worthy organization working on the front lines — a collision of activism and fun, if you will. With two of the most badass women as co-organizers, we created “I’m With U — a benefit for ACLU of Kentucky,” which took place at Play Louisville last Thursday evening. “I’m With U” was a deeply moving evening, as attendees were treated to tantalizing speakers and performers, while sipping Four Roses Bourbon cocktails. Such a combination begs the question, however: Should activism be a social event? Shouldn’t we be spending our time on the front lines, getting dirty and stepping out of our comfort zones? This barkeep is of the belief that activism can come in so many forms — as long as we’re finding a balance.
“I’m With U” surpassed the dreams of event organizers, Bridget Pitcock, Jenn Allen Meredith and me. It was our goal to create an inclusive, intersectional event that hosted speakers and performers who represent various marginalized communities and who are working on the front lines to create change in our current political and social climate. Some of our guests included state Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign and social and political activist Reena Paracha, among others. It was also our goal to engage and inspire members of the community who may be more apt to attend a fundraiser at an LGBTQ and ally-friendly club with cocktails and drag queens than, say, a Black Lives Matter rally. We wanted to put speakers and activists in front of folks for a fun, social event that would provide tangible action items and, hopefully, push them to act and get out of their comfort zones. Because, truly, we should be getting uncomfortable, pushing boundaries, listening to people of color and members of all marginalized communities and absorbing what to do next to make change. Finding a balance between social activism and the front lines is what I believe can make an advocate unstoppable.
“Activism can be fun, and for me personally, I have to find a way to include fun in order to not burn out,” said event co-organizer, Pitcock. “As a queer woman, some days being out feels like a revolution, especially when traveling to smaller cities in Kentucky (for work) … knowing you can have fun and be with friends to take a stand helps me energize.” Meredith agreed, and added, “Taking the time to come together in a different setting not only allows us to support and celebrate each other, but it also allows us to have important conversations, and check in to make sure we’re being inclusive and intersectional in our own activism.” Pitcock and Meredith said involvement in an event like “I’m With U,” an evening that created a safe and enjoyable space for a call to action, serves as a kind of charging station for social reform and self-care.
Micah McGowan, co-owner of Play Louisville, is proud to host fundraising events that promote social change in Louisville. “When we built Play Louisville, we were trying to create not only a nightclub, but also a community center for the LGBT community. We feel it is our responsibility to help our community.” Play has raised over $350,000 for charities since opening, which speaks to the impact a venue can make when opening its doors to activists and nonprofits.
So, why is it important as an activist to be involved in both social/fundraising events and front-line rallies and demonstrations? I believe “I’m With U” speaker, Derek Guy, said it most eloquently. As a black, trans man, he told the audience at Play why he wouldn’t be attending the protest when President Donald Trump arrives in Derby City. Guy described his white ally friends asking him if he planned to attend, “I told them, ‘No, I will not be there. I need you to stand up for me, because my life is literally in danger (in a setting like that).’” He said he needs members from non-marginalized communities on the front lines, “because I’m not gonna die today. This is my reality.” This is his reality, friends.
So, let’s raise money for the ACLU, for Planned Parenthood, and let’s post on social media. But most important, let’s show up, every single day, coin our own brand of activism and continue to rejuvenate ourselves and one another.