The places where revolutions begin


The Stonewall Inn is nothin’, really. Partner and I were on Christopher Street in Manhattan a few years ago when we suddenly realized we were right in front of it. There were some tacky signs in front, and the usual gay-bar postings – bands, drink specials – but there was nothing distinctive about it.



On June 28, 1969, a couple of weeks before the first moon landing, the police raided the place, as they used to do periodically. The regulars were sick and tired of being raided, and fought back. The protests went on for several days. Then they spread. Activist groups sprang up.



It was, as Malcolm Gladwell might say, a “tipping point.”



I’ve been following Tunisian politics lately, as I lived in Tunisia for two years, and I still have friends there. The Tunisian revolution which happened very suddenly this year found its tipping point in a smallish town called Sidi Bouzid. A young vegetable vendor was harassed by a member of the police, who insulted him, slapped him, and confiscated his wares.



So he set fire to himself.



Within weeks, the country was (metaphorically) on fire too.



As revolutions go, the Tunisian revolution was pretty brisk and effective. There was violence, but only on a small scale. The government collapsed in short order. The replacement government (which was quite obviously the old government in disguise) got laughed off the stage within weeks.



I was recently chatting online with a Tunisian friend, in the usual mix of English / French / Arabic. He speaks very proudly of “la nouvelle Tunisie,” the new Tunisia.  There are still problems – he didn’t hide that – but he’s happy.  No, actually, I would say that he’s exhilarated.



And wouldn’t you be?



And, as I write this, the United Nations has just endorsed a resolution confirming gay rights.



And the state of New York (holla, Cuomo and Bloomberg!) has just legalized gay marriage.



And it all begins in a small town in Tunisia.



Or in a seedy bar in downtown Manhattan.



Revolutions start in the damndest places.



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