Alex Blaze

We are going to fail again and again unless we get a clue

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 10, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: California, gay marriage, HRC, los angeles, marriage, marriage equality, nickel spa, no campaign, outreach, Prop. 8, racial diversity, same-sex marriage

After the No Campaign failed last week and Proposition 8 passed, the orgs that worked against it were quick to point out why they had really done a great job this year. Sure, some mistakes were made, but there are always some mistakes. All in all, they didn't do a bad job, and we'll get 'em in 2010!

Yeah, 48% of the population voting against the measure is a great number, until you realize that you need 50%. Sorry, the campaign wasn't good enough to cut it. In the real world, when an organization fails to achieve its clear and stated goal, that means that it failed. In the gay organizing world, if they gave it the ol' college try and had a good time while doing it, it's good enough.

This is a losing mentality.

Get this from the No campaign's concession letter:

Today, we fought to retain our right to marry and millions of Californians stood with us. Over the course of this campaign everyday Californians and their friends, neighbors and families built a civil rights campaign unequalled in California history.

You raised more money than anyone believed possible for an LGBT civil rights campaign.

You reached out to family and friends in record numbers--helping hundreds of thousands of Californians understand what the LGBT civil rights struggle is really about.

You built the largest grassroots and volunteer network that has ever been built - a coalition that will continue to fight until all people are equal.

And you made the case to the people of California and to the rest of the world that discrimination -- in any form -- is unfair and wrong.

We are humbled by the courage, dignity and commitment displayed by all who fought this historic battle.

Victory was not ours today. But the struggle for equality is not over.

Because of the struggle fought here in California -- fought so incredibly well by the people in this state who love freedom and justice -- our fight for full civil rights will continue.

Activist and writer Anne Lamott writes, "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."

Well, no, you don't give up. But you don't keep on trying the same failed ideas over and over again and hope to eventually, magically win.

The postmortems on the campaign are rolling in, here are a few of the top criticisms of the campaign:

  1. The campaign did almost no outreach to communities of color. They started a week or two before the election and didn't try hard enough. There was only one townhall meeting on it in a predominantly black neighborhood, the early ads all focused on white people, and they didn't play ads on radio stations with predominantly black listenerships. As Richard Kim pointed out, the Yes campaign has more racially diverse rallies than the No campaign.
  2. They were slow in responding to the Yes campaign's lies, and when they did they weren't that effective. Jeez, I was even emailing Bil about two weeks before the election asking him if he knew if the latest lie from the Yes campaign was true and he didn't know either. When your side's advocates don't even know which side to believe, you have a communications malfunction.
  3. The campaign didn't mention the real effects on same-sex couples if Prop 8 passed. It was once the movement to help same-sex couples, then we became worried about same-sex marriage exclusively, then we de-gayed that and made it "marriage equality," and the the No campaign de-marriaged that and made it "equality for all." Is it any surprise the ads were ineffective? Is it any surprise that people didn't link this fight up with larger struggles against economic and social injustice?

The list could go on and on.

But the point is not that they made mistakes. They are correct in pointing out that every campaign will make a few.

The point is that they weren't willing to accept this criticism and improve their methods. They just plugged on with the same top-down operating structure that they use in lobbying and litigating, which is effective in those fields, but not in an election campaign.

Here's a comment left on TBP from a volunteer:

View from someone on the ground. The campaign made some mistakes that were truly deadly. One was to not use handout literature. At the events I worked, people were begging for something to give to friends and family, for things to put up at work. The chief organizers told us that a decision had been made that the No on 8 effort did not want to be a group that passes out literature. There were also requests for hand outs in Spanish and Asian languages; apparently none existed.

All we were expected to do was sign people up for phonebanking and ask for money. Many people said they were too busy calling for Obama to do so. A few of these said that they were making a pitch for us in their Obama calls. Loads of locals were going to Nevada and Arizona on weekends rather than work in California. The local progressive infrastructure was totally wrapped up in Obama.

There was another decision that really bothered me. No door to door campaigning was allowed.

Out reach was restriced to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Nothing at Target etc.

The current paradigm circles the wagons around a few leaders, doesn't open up decisions to the movement, and stifles dissent, ideas, and creativity from the LGBT community. And if we keep it up, we're just going to fail again. We need to get a clue from the Democrats who turned around the party after 2004 by fostering the creativity of anyone who wanted to help out. Listening to the people out in the field not only brings in fresh ideas, it also increases participation and investment in the process.

But this isn't going to happen here without a fight - these folks don't want to give up the reigns of the movement to just any old queer.

The fact is that none of the flaws in the campaign that have been going around weren't mentioned well before the election. People like Pam Spaulding and Michael Crawford have been harping about the lack of resources and interest from gaystream organizations in fighting homophobia in communities of color. I don't know how many times I read from people on this site and others, and in listserves, about how those ads that tip-toe around gay couples need to be made more specific.

But the current structure isn't set up to do a better job. After fighting, and losing, 20-some of these battles, they're still making the same mistakes.

There's no point in rewarding this mentality. California's not going to be any more supportive of same-sex marriage two or four years from now without a better fight. There is no general, passive movement towards acceptance of same-sex marriage - if we want it we're going to have to do a better job pushing for it.

Or, if these campaigns are to be believed, this really is the best that could have been done in one of the most liberal states in the country with the largest population of LGBT people. If that's the case, then we just ought to give up on marriage, because it's never going to happen. Lord knows that there are enough other causes that serve the LGBT community that are starving for attention.


Just as I post this, Michael Petrelis posts this email from HRC (remember that there have been protests every day for the past week in California that HRC isn't even recognizing):

Subject: Don't Miss Tonight's HRC Spa Night at Nickel Spa! (6-10 PM)
To: xxx
Date: Monday, November 10, 2008, 9:03 AM

HRC invites you to an evening of pampering and relaxation while you sip wine, snack on appetizers, and mingle with friends! We are proud to partner with Nickel Spa on this evening spa event.

Nickel Spa:
Services available to both men and women during our event. (receiving a service is not required/mandatory!)
Where: 2187 Market Street (15th and Market)
San Francisco, CA
(415) 626-9000

When: Monday November 10th, 2008
6:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Please RSVP to Nickel Spa for this event at: (415) 626-9000. When calling to RSVP, you will need to make an appointment for any services you would like to receive.

Note: There is a 50 person maximum for this event, you must be on the list to attend! Receiving a service is not required to attend.

20% of proceeds from spa services to benefit the Human Rights Campaign.

Spa night? What the fuck?

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Nothing mobilizes the queers more than a night of pampering and self-indulgence; didn't you get the memo?

No, I think I was at the spa when that one went around!

Why didn't the NoOnProp8 (Equality California) use Governor Arnie's statement in ads as follows:

"You know, I’m wishing everyone good luck with their marriages and I hope that California’s economy is booming because everyone is going to come here and get married."

Given that the state is $3 billion in the hole, the economic argument should have been an easy sell. Have quotes from florists, caterers, and other people who'll be financially impacted. Talk about how much money the counties take in from wedding licenses and ceremonies--and how all of that money will go elsewhere if 8 passes.

That and Obama's comments, which he made months before the election.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 10, 2008 7:48 PM

Well, if the ideas for the next time around are to have another group of "experts" to run this campaign and to stifle more dissent, ideas, and creativity from the LGBT community, then we're just going to fail again.

While I wouldn't state it quite so starkly, I totally agree with you.

I volunteered a fair amount for the No on 8 campaign and donated a bunch, but never really felt inspired by the campaign. I was put off by its focus on money, fear of "offending," overwhelming white middle-classness, and absence of queerness. But I chalked all that up to being in San Diego. And kept most of my criticism to myself for fear of possibly alienating any potential No-supporters.

Reformed Ascetic | November 10, 2008 8:08 PM

The history of organizing from the 70s and early 80s shows a lot of in-fighting between the more grassroots radicals and people who might be described as more conservative but with greater access to financing.

Personally, I believe there are times and places for either kind strategy (if we reduce it to two camps), but it certainly seems like as a group we have drifted to one side.

I assume "Spa Night" was planned some time ago, but it certainly seems like someone should have realized that it would probably be better to encourage those who might to attend to go pick up a picket sign.

I also think the campaign did a horrible job of controlling the message. They never were able to control a news cycle or really get the word out in a voice louder than the bigots.

And things really spiraled out of control when the fundies got hold of this pics of the gay wedding attended by the children Seriously, did the brides think that one through? The sentiment is nice, but the PR angle was fatal. The no campaign never recovered from those images.

Paige Listerud | November 10, 2008 9:34 PM

One of the things that angered me about the YesOn8 ads were the implications that children needed to be defended against same-sex marriage or the sight of same-sex married couples. So, I am particularly disturbed by the suggestion that there is something wrong with children attending a same-sex wedding. I know the fundies will throw that at us--we should be ready to throw back, not backdown from having children be a part of a beautiful event in a couple's life.

Did the brides think it through? What if those children were the brides'? Fatal from a PR angle? Is every ceremony to celebrate a same-sex couple's love to be submitted to some gay committee for PR approval? Are we going to yield to the right-wing implication that children should be nowhere near us?

We have families with kids! Let all of America see that whenever the right uses "protecting the children" as a worthless excuse against us. We need to be bolder and prouder of our families, not asking them to hide--or make sure there are no kids or cameras at their weddings.

Paige, with all due respect, continue to hold those views. And continue to lose campaigns.

"Is every ceremony to celebrate a same-sex couple's love to be submitted to some gay committee for PR approval?"

Sorry, but I don't think it is particulary galling to ask that a few weeks before a historic vote to preserve your wedding ceremony that someone actually thinks about the greater good.

"What if those children were the brides'?"

They weren't. And that is exactly why the fundies were able to use those photos against us. You and Brynn know full well these children were not "flower girls." They were students, pulled out of class. The fact that they had permission is not relevant, because no one, including the teachers or parents, bothered to enlighten us until weeks after they had been used against us.

We lost two Presidential elections by taking the high road. This time, we fought back with a disciplined message. Note the difference in results.

We don't win elections with Pollyanna antics (and to those who think Obama's campaign didn't fight dirty when it needed to, you didn't pay attention).

Again, my point-we didn't control the message, we let it control us or others control it. A lot of it was poor organization, and a lot of it was information, however innocent in reality it may be, we fed the other side.

I agree - there needs to be a broader movement against the cynical use of "protect the children" in the same way that "you're a terrorist" or "she's not patriotic" got retired.

But those took a huge amount of work to move past. And there's no investment to move past the children rhetoric.

To be fair, the brides didn't plan it. The parents and school brought their kids along as a surprise for the brides.

And they did say immediately that the children had permission. But no one cared about that.

Would that 'spa' were not synonymous with 'homosexual hedonism'.

I'm MtF post-op. Right now I'm in Tokyo. And every other night I'm going to the Japanese equivalent of a spa -- the 'sento' or 'onsen'.

Why can't America be that way, where such shrines to cleanliness, health and reinvigoration are not condemned as a gateway to sinful homo-sex but are revered by all as a basic feature of living well?

I didn't think of it that way, hazumu, but I don't think HRC's spa night is that kind of spa!

I must have missed that one. I saw it buried in a few articles about the subject, but I really just remember the press conference a couple weeks later by a few parents.

And I was paying attention. Imagine what those who just watched the news every night saw.

2010, eh?

Why wait till then?

How about getting started on the campaign NOW?

Because my lack of civil rights isn't going to wait.

well, because the next election is in 2010.

Allan Brauer | November 11, 2008 1:44 AM

Yes, the next election may be in 2010. That's why the work must begin now.

This weekend, there are rallies all across America. Rallies don't win elections, but they do help to begin to form a sense of community and shared goals.

I hear this!

Speaking as a total outsider to the game of politics I am dismayed by the lameness of our ads vs. theirs. The people who are pushing this Jesus-based sharia have learned the skill of pushing people's emotional buttons very well. We need to do the same.

What I would like to see are some ads really focusing on the harm these bigoted laws do TO THE CHILDREN.

EG: Start with a long shot of a group of fundie protestors. Make 'em all white & rednecky-looking, with vicious signs, fists raised and and angry faces. (Play to every negative stereotype of the group!) Pan back to the troubled face of an absolutely adorable little girl, tears trembling on her lashes, as she watches them. Follow her gaze as she turns to her mothers and says "Mommy, why do those people hate us?"

IMO, something like THAT would give the lie to all the bs about "protecting families" in a way that no amount of rational argument can.

Because it's clearly not reason that people are basing these voting decisions on.

That's a great idea! This is what I'm talking about. Maybe that ad wouldn't have gotten produced, but at least talking about it would have spun off some other ideas that would eventually have gotten used. Or put pressure to show some actual queer people in these ads. Or at least have gotten us all thinking about a vision for these ads.

And I agree, the No campaign's ads were lame, except for the one Ellen did. That was pretty good: star power, concrete message, and simple.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 10, 2008 11:25 PM

We need to be bolder and prouder of our families, not asking them to hide--or make sure there are no kids or cameras at their weddings.

Right on, Paige!!! I, too, was struck by chuck's reaction. Children go to weddings all the time--hence, the tradition of "flower girls" preceding the bride down the aisle.

The No on 8 campaign should have expected the Religious Right to go after us on the issue of teh children, and been ready to meet the myth head-on. Maybe with testimonials of grown children of gay parents, talking about how hurt they were by the hatred of the Religious Right when they were growing up, ending with "Is that 'Family Values?'" Or some such.

But to not have seen that attack coming?! It's almost criminal.

Everyone knew/should have known the children attack was coming. It happens every single time. And not just marriage - every single issue we push for.

The kids going to that wedding, no matter the effect, wasn't the No campaign's fault. But something like that was going to happen.

If you think about this campaign from the perspective of the insiders who got to spend your money, they did a hell of a job.

Since the only insiders who are inside enough to get a voice, let alone a vote, are professional queers--by that I mean they make a living being queer, not that they're lawyers and accountants--they have to realize that they don't know how to move undecided voters.

Therefore, they relied on data from other states' campaigns ('Hey, the WI campaign showed a family, and we lost, so never use a cute baby in an ad!' 'Okay, and the AZ campaign won so don't show any gay couples!') and their own focus groups. If you live in a ghetto, it's smart to recognize that fact; but due to it, they were unable to apply any common sense or reality filtration to those data points.

More embarrassing, though, is the obvious fact that a campaign for 'equality' can never beat a campaign for 'family'. If you're running on 'fairness' you're about to get spanked. Given that, why wouldn't the campaign focus on our families? Why not show and tell the black, Latino and white voters how people just like them have benefitted from access to marriage? Why wouldn't you lead with the happy grandparents whose son has finally delivered a spouse and grandchild into their family?

If one strategy requires undecideds to become civil rights lawyers and the other asks only that they learn about the gay family next door...neither one is guaranteed a win. But a positive , family-first message allows us to lose forward.

When I saw the first ad that talked about "fairness," I actually thought, "Well, life's not fair. Get over it."

So true about the bubble mentality.

Sadly, these are pretty much the same complaints I had about the campaign against amending the Hawaii State Constitution in 1998.

While I totally agree with Alex on this part - because I lived it with him...

They were slow in responding to the Yes campaign's lies, and when they did they weren't that effective. Jeez, I was even emailing Bil about two weeks before the election asking him if he knew if the latest lie from the Yes campaign was true and he didn't know either. When your side's advocates don't even know which side to believe, you have a communications malfunction.

...I feel obligated to point out that the list of accomplishments the No on 8 campaign achieved is also impressive. They didn't lie in their release - all of the things they touted are true. It's just that they left out some, shall we say, negatives.

Or, if these campaigns are to be believed, this really is the best that could have been done in one of the most liberal states in the country with the largest population of LGBT people. If that's the case, then we just ought to give up on marriage, because it's never going to happen. Lord knows that there are enough other causes that serve the LGBT community that are starving for attention.

Yes - how about refocusing our attention on HIV/AIDS? While I'm upset that my upcoming commitment ceremony means absolutely nothing to anyone but me and my partner, neither of us is going to die because Prop 8 passed. People are still dying of HIV/AIDS. Why?

I find it interesting that we have gone full circle to where we were when the Briggs Initiative qualified for the ballot in 1978. We looked at the disaster from Florida when Anita Bryant ran her homophobic campaign and said we had learned our lessons. They were:
1. We could not let "straight allies" speak for us. We had to reveal the many faces of our community. We had to come out and have conversations with people we did and did not know. We had to go talk to the school boards, unions, PTAs etc and win their support.
2. We had to be very public and visible--and have everyone participate as they were able.
3. While there was a state coordinating body, many local organizations in counties sprang up and ran the campaigns that would work in their counties. Local people controlled the message and the medium.

That campaign was all about the children and we WON. We were honest and visible.

Oh yeah--we also had a get out the vote strategy--something that is needed in every campaign.

The other thing I would add is:
4) we realized that if we wanted allies we had to be an ally. We had to make the connections between racial injustice, poverty, the prison system, etc. We had to be involved as gay people with more than gay rights - with all human rights.

There was a powerful No on 8 ad that showed Mormom missionaries barging into the home of a white lesbian couple, gleefully snatching off their wedding rings and ripping up their marriage license.

Why wasn't the same ad done substituting Black ministers and catholic priests doing the same thing to Black and Latino/a same sex couples?