It was more than a decade ago when some of Daniel Curcio’s Spanish students at Collingswood High saw him out on a date. Word started circulating: “Mr. C” was gay. Curcio, now 46 and living in Philadelphia, had a choice. Lie to his students, or tell the truth — he is gay — and teach diversity and acceptance. He chose the latter.
Things changed after that. He received a formal reprimand from the school, then sued, winning a settlement in 2007. Curcio isn’t a teacher anymore, but it was that incident that served as a catalyst for him to develop a passion of fighting for change.
“I couldn’t go through life hiding who I was,” he said. “That’s what began my interest in fighting the system and going against the machine.”
Today, he’s a national organizer for the Equality Coalition, a gay-straight alliance based in Philadelphia created to support Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. The group — which protested against Hillary Clinton’s nomination and is now demonstrating against Donald Trump — made headlines when it vowed to protest every day in Philly until President-elect Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Curcio emphasizes that the protests and marches aren’t the sole mission of the Coalition, which now has branches across the country. The group’s always looking for people to participate in those demonstrations; it also recruits volunteers for service projects, and delivers goods to the underserved. We talked with Curcio about the Equality Coalition, its goals, and whether it’s realistic to protest from now to Inauguration Day. Our conversation is below, and was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Tell us about the Equality Coalition. What’s it do?
We actually started out as an LGBT group for Bernie Sanders, and I would say we started out around maybe in June right after Bernie’s announcement in 2015. So we’ve been around for awhile now. We started out literally with like three friends that just came and started talking Bernie talk, and that’s how it started. What we ended up doing was we started working with the Bernie Sanders campaign closely, but there were so many differing philosophies. We didn’t want to talk Bernie talk to other people. We wanted to start implementing the policies of Bernie Sanders and making them real for other people.
How was that different from what the campaign was aiming for?
Well they wanted us to promote the name, the politicians. What our goal was is to demonstrate the politician and that, if they had any questions like ‘who are you?’ We say we are the gay-straight alliance for Bernie Sanders. So we started doing events that had four pillars.
Can you describe what the philosophy is in pushing issues over candidates?
Many of these protests go by and, you can shout all you want at TD Bank with DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) signs — which we’re absolutely against — but what we try to do is make real action happen. We do things, and work with local representatives here in the communities where we live so changes actually happen. Regardless of their position, if they hear what we’re about, they’re more likely to work with us.
Tell me about your plan to demonstrate daily. Is that accurate?
The plan is that what we want to do is work with other organizers to make sure there are demonstrations daily. Whether there are 10 people or 10,000 people, we need to start showing the administration that these are things that have not been touched on a lot, especially with DAPL. (As well as) other issues in Philadelphia specifically like homelessness. We need to start working on that first.
What are some other issues you’re pushing?
Education. We try to get individuals educated on the issues. We made a list of 25 points of how to get involved politically, so it was a great list that we had and we put together some things like ‘make sure you know representatives.’ Really, it’s about local politics.
The critique of these post-election protests is basically that the election is over and a protest of Trump isn’t going to reverse the outcome. Do you understand those criticisms?
I can’t argue that the election is over. We could sign all the petitions in the world trying to get Clinton in or Bernie in. The Electoral College is set to vote. If the Electoral College votes against Trump, we will have huge amounts of civil disorder. They have to vote Donald Trump. Fair and square, Donald Trump won.
So you’re not protesting the results, per se?
Most of the media coverage of these protests has been that they’re anti-Trump, and they’re not. We are moving from anti-Trump rallies, which was a reaction, but that reaction sets up other actions like dominoes. What we need to do now is start protesting the issues. Start protesting the corruption. Start protesting the 1 percent.
Is protesting every single day from now until Jan. 20 really realistic?
What the organizers are doing is rotating so groups are taking different actions every day in the city. Like [Wednesday,] we just sprouted up. Equality Coalition is directly working with the city civil affairs. We had a meeting [and] we spoke about logistics, and we also talked about how we don’t want to misuse taxpayer spending.
We don’t want to do this all the time and not be strategic about it. The issue is that we don’t want to waste any resources because, think about it. At any point, if we’re in a protest every night, you’re going to kill people’s legs. The purpose is not to get people to hate us. The purpose is to cause agitation so they take that and learn something with it, not to cause hatred or anger. Just a little slight agitation.
During the DNC, this group was very anti-Clinton. But would you consider the group moving forward pro-Clinton as it protests Donald Trump?
If you know anything about the DNC this year, especially the DNC protest and the history of it, you clearly remember — and I want this to be known to every person out there — that every sign we saw, every protest that went on, was anti-Clinton. It was all anti-Clinton and pro-Bernie Sanders. Using absolutes wouldn’t be correct, but the point was that I don’t remember seeing any anti-Trump signs. We were protesting Hillary Clinton, the establishment, the 1 percent. The purpose was to get the DNC to vote for Bernie Sanders because we knew… that he could have beat Donald Trump.
So you’re not pro-Clinton?
We are neither pro-Clinton nor pro-Trump.
How did the organization grow since its inception?
We have a number of states and we’re getting more. They’re starting to pop up now that we’re working with Occupy inauguration and endorsed by Jill Stein. Our work is actually just beginning because it’s catching on. We want to change from this anti-Trump rhetoric. You can go around all you want with anti-Trump signs. What we try to do is convince people that these are issues that go beyond Trump.
How much does this stem from the Occupy movement?
I was an advocate for Occupy. As of now, I am national organizer for the Occupy Inauguration March.
It started as a gay-straight alliance. Is that still how the group identifies?
That’s still the core belief system. We have two leads in every city: one person is part of the LGBT community and another person is part of straight community.
And how organized is this?
It’s very grassroots. We have a decentralized style of leadership. I’m the national organizer and founder of it, however the way it works is that each chapter across the country works by itself to effect change.
And you guys organized a large march on the DNC, right?
Yes, our march was on that Monday down Broad Street.
You say you’re anti-establishment. So are many Trump voters and supporters of Donald Trump. Do you feel like you can connect with them in that way?
I feel a connection to those supporters that did not vote for Donald Trump because they support bigotry or support sexism, racism, xenophobia or any sort of hatred. There are a lot of good people out there. I have friends that voted for Trump that are not sexist, that are not bigots. They voted for Donald Trump the very same way we voted for Bernie Sanders. He was the Bernie Sanders on the right.
Some protesters, specifically those planning massive inauguration demonstrations, have said they hope to form the “tea party of the left,” or sort of carve out a new part of the Democratic party. Do you agree with that?
As far as the Occupy Inauguration, yes we want to start a new party for the 99 percent. Because these parties are not doing it anymore for us. They have ignored us and let us down and made promises they didn’t keep.
How did you get involved in all this? Seems like a large commitment for someone not doing this as their day job.
I actually am gay and openly gay, and I used to teach at Collingswood High School and there was a situation where I was on a date and some kids saw me. We didn’t have the internet, but I’ll tell you the word spread quickly that Mr. C was gay. When I did address it, I said ‘I need to stick to who I am, because if I lie it’s going to make it worse.’ I came out and won a federal lawsuit against the district. And a town that was very anti-gay because one of the most gay-friendly towns on the east coast.
Love of self comes in. You have to stick up for what you believe to be true, and I couldn’t go through life hiding who I was. That’s what began my interest in fighting the system and going against the machine, if you will.
What do you want to add?
Bernie Sanders says there are four revolutions. I would say five. You have political, financial, the civil revolution and what I would add is the economic revolution. One of the things we think alike on would be the social revolution, and that’s what we want to focus on. We want to take politics out of politics.