Karen Ocamb

Will the Repeal Prop 8 Campaign Look Like No on 8 After All?

Filed By Karen Ocamb | August 10, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics
Tags: Repeal Prop 8, Steve Hildebrand

It was a breathtaking moment. Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs introduced Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the cavernous dance hall at Jewel's Catch One Disco filled with about 150 marriage activists fell still and listened.
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(Hildebrand and Jacobs)

No LGBT post-Prop 8 meeting or rally has been as respectful as the Next Steps Working Meeting. It was organized by the Coalition for Repeal of Prop 8 (formerly the Coalition of the Willing) to get down to planning for the initiative campaign. It helped tremendously that the goal of the meeting was to discuss ballot language and assess what individuals and organizations could do to contribute, rather than engage in yet another heated debate about whether the initiative should be placed on the ballot in 2010 or 2012.

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(Marc Solomon and Matt Szabo)

Advocates for trying to repeal Prop 8 in 2010 feel the urgency of the looming Sept. 25 deadline to submit ballot language to the attorney general's office. They need to collect about 1 million signatures to ensure getting the 694,354 valid signatures needed to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. The group consensus reached out of morning workshops was that there should be no religious or education exception in the initiative. Then-Assemblymember Mark Leno's marriage bill twice passed the state legislature with a religious exemption. The current initiative submitted to the attorney general by Yes on Equality's Chaz Lowe has both a religious and education exception.

The 2010 ballot advocates clearly hoped Hildebrand would spell out exactly how they could win - a position supported by the Courage Campaign, with a caveat: if they cannot raise the $200,000 required to do immediate research and polling on ballot language by Thursday, "We will have to accept that our movement is not ready to repeal Prop. 8 in 2010," Jacobs wrote in an email to his members.

And there were other wrinkles. Carlos Marquez, chair of Pride at Work of San Diego and director of Community Programs and Public Affairs at the LGBT community center, noted that Pride at Work was signing onto the "Prepare to Prevail in 2012" letter issued by several people of color organizations that said more time was needed to reach out to people of color who voted yes on Prop 8 or might be part of that 15-20% "movable middle," the small number of still persuadable voters. Marquez told the group that while labor leaders supported the No on Prop 8 campaign, many of the rank and file voted yes and time was needed to reach out to them.
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(Carlos Marquez)

And Jeffrey King, executive director of In The Meantime Men, an health and HIV/AIDS group for black gay men, said African Americans will feel disrespected if white gays come into their neighborhoods and talk about gay marriage as a civil right. Hildebrand said it is a civil right - but said the campaign needed the help of black leaders to show them how to proceed.
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(Hildebrand and King)

Hildebrand was both inspirational and offered what he described as "tough love." Noting upfront that he is "an outsider" from South Dakota, not California, he said his 22 years of experience is largely with federal candidates. And he, like Jacobs, stressed the importance of winning the ballot initiative fight in Maine. (Jacobs called for an "October vacation in Maine" - though it is unclear if that is in addition to or instead of the Oct. 11 March on Washington.)

Hildebrand noted that "California is a tough state" and stressed that "if you walk into 2010 half-cocked, you will lose." From his outside perspective, he said, "you have to go in with guns blazing, showing great confidence.....I think you've got to go [in 2010] but go with great confidence or don't go."

Hildebrand noted that the polls were not favorable for the Obama presidential campaign - but they believed in their hearts that they would do it. However, he said, "we had to run a good campaign and they had to run a bad campaign" in order to win. He noted that support for marriage equality is consistently between 46%-49%. "What are you waiting for? You have a narrow window" and he said the odds are "not bad."

The LGBT community is waiting on its leaders to "win this for them," he said. "They will get involved if you show leadership."

However, it is imperative that the ballot language be tested - and here's where inspiration turned to "tough love."

"This is about winning and if you don't run a smart campaign, you're going to lose." That smart campaign entails: coming together in unity, creating a smart governing structure, finding the right campaign people who know how to win, and being bold.

"You need to surround yourself with the best and the brightest and then take marching orders," he said. "Egos have got to be checked at the door."

Donors are willing to help, he said. "Their only trepidation is that you run a good campaign. You need to prove to them that you have the confidence, can raise the money and turn out the bodies and the support will be there."

Most immediately, it is imperative to raise money to test the ballot language. He explained how the initiative campaign to overturn South Dakota's total ban on abortion consistently talked about rape and incest - not the right to have an abortion. Similarly, he said, you can talk about gay marriage and same sex marriage all you like - but "you need to swallow hard and get the right language to win."

"I'm all about repealing Prop 8," he said, but that's not the right message. 'I want civil marriage rights' should the consistent message.

That did not please the number of people who angrily said they would not support any campaign that did not prominently feature gay couples.

I will have more with Hildebrand later in the day.

See some of the other people who were at the meeting here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/?saved=1

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One possible clarification. You say "The group consensus reached out of morning workshops was that there should be no religious or education exception in the initiative. " which is not how I remember it. To the best of my recollection, it was decided TO include the religious language and NOT include the education language.

Hey Matt - That's what my notes say....but I hope YOU are right. Adding the religious exception is how Leno's bill got passed.

Any final language will be polled and researched anyway so this is not the last discussion.

I just got back from my half-hour interview with Steve Hildebrand. He cleared up some points - so I'll leave the link here too, after the piece is posted later this evening.

If "religious exemption" means that religious organizations are not forced to perform same-sex ceremonies or recognize SSM, then that provision is essential --- obviously, trying to force religious groups to do either could invite a constitutionality challenge.

As for an "education exemption" ... duh, I don't know what that means and this could use a link or an explanation.

Jane Wishon | August 10, 2009 10:26 PM

I have read all the comments and I wonder why so many are willing to wait until 2012 for the restoration of their right to marry?

As a straight ally, I can only assume that the right to marry isn't all that important after all.

If Marrige Equality's important? You don't wait until the fight's convenient, or safe, or a sure bet. You fight each and every time you can until the right is restored.

Am I wrong? Should I, an other straight allies, take our money and our volunteer hours and find another cause?

As Hildebrand said yesterday - what are you waiting for?


Hi Karen,

Thanks for your amazing reporting. I have posted videos of the meeting at Unite the Fight.

Matt is correct. And, technically, there was no "consensus," but rather a decisive majority view. As for the discordant note from Carlos Marquez, whom I do not know, Pride at Work Los Angeles is on board with the 2010 effort as are many other Latino and African American groups and individuals. Why you chose to highlight Mr. Marquez over Maria Ochoa I don't know. He is, if course, entitled to his opinion. The lack of mention of Lisa Powell's speech in strong support of 2010 also puzzles me. In any event, that was not the purpose of the meeting and, by all accounts it was a very productive gathering.

Pride at Work, national I believe is who will be signing on to the Prepare to Prevail. But I would like to point out this is all conversation going on in Southern California. Hello!! We won up here in November and I just don't see any sign of participation of NoCal in these conversations. There is still no agreement on anything except the need for money, leadership, organization and hmmm, unity. None of these items are present.

Carlos Marquez and another member of his organization were actually quite rude during Steve H's speech. They didn't listen, talked to each other, texted on their iPhones, updated Facebook, and finally were asked to be quiet by someone sitting near them so they could hear Steve's speech. I'm not sure why they were there.

And I agree with Lester - why no mention of Lisa's speech?

After reading your blogs, it is very apparent that you are a 2012er. Of course you're entitled to your opinion, but you really should make that known publicly so your blogs, which are widely read, will have the proper context. The subtle cynicism and "they don't really have their sh*t together" tone you inject in these recaps isn't fair to those of us who are working our butts off to make this happen.

"Will the Repeal Prop 8 Campaign Look Like No on 8 After All"? You've asked one of those loaded questions much like Fox News uses to provide a negative slant on something before the reader has a chance to make up his own mind. Is that really the question at this point? Why couldn't the headline be "Over 150 GLBT Activists Meet to Discuss Next Steps"? Or "After a Contentious Summit, GLBT Marriage Rights Groups Set Aside Differences to Discuss Next Steps"?

Come one, Karen. Play fair.

Mike and Lester -

First - my apologies. I got home late yesterday and had to deal with some life stuff here so I wasn't able to write anything then. So this morning I was hurried in writing the blog because I had a morning meeting with Steve Hildebrand and therefore left a number of points out or didn't think of them.

About Lisa Powell - I've known Lisa since the early 1990s when she founded United Lesbians of African Heritage. Had I KNOWN she was speaking, I would have of course covered it. But I was at home trying to get the live streaming video feed and I had tremendous problems. Ask Phillip Minton - he can verify. I emailed him for help and he explained that he had problems getting the feed out - etc.

Anyway - by the time I connected, I heard Carlos Marquez. I don't know him at all - but the point he was making was one I brought up with labor leaders on a conference call - yes they gave a prized endorsement and much needed money - but what about the rank and file - weren't they more inclined to vote yes? The leaders said that was a good possibility. So - I thought it was an important point - and one I haven't heard brought up in the context of the efforts to repeal Prop 8. I HAVE heard the labor-Prop 8 connection with the boycott against Doug Manchester - but that's not the same.

Also - I was fixated on Hildebrand so I really only glanced at audience reaction - and I don't condone anyone being rude. Actually - that's what I thought was one of the best things about this meeting - that if was so civil. Good work by the coalition.

As for the title - again - you're probably right. It was just something that stuck in my head after hearing Hildebrand speak - especially after the "swallow hard" and make difficult choices to win part, which I interpreted to mean not clamoring about gay marriage and showing images of same sex couples - but rather talk about marriage as a civil right - which the No on 8 folks tried to do. Also - his description of the governing structure with the small group running things and others following orders was a complaint often made during the past several meetings. I'm not sure how else to run a campaign - but it clearly has been about who do you trust to be that small group.

As to being a 2012er - I am leaning in that direction mostly because of California's economic situation (AIDS cuts in particular) and the distress I hear from people of color who are just not on board with marriage as a top priority. I don't think enough cultural competency work has been done here. That is not to say that - like Hildebrand and the other consultants have said - with a strategic plan to win by a sizable margin and trusted leaders with a real understanding of how marriage is "different" from any other social issue and demands cultural understanding - 2010 might be do-able.

But truthfully - walking my dogs in West Hollywood, talking to folks in the grocery store, etc - the vast majority of the gays and straights with whom I speak - including gay couples - don't know, don't care and don't know enough to pick a year. I think there's more work to do than we realize.

That is not to say that we all don't appreciate the hard work everyone is putting into this. This is the training ground for our new leaders. So thank you.

Karen - I just wanted to say, despite our different opinions on these issues, I commend you for replying to all the comments, even the ones that take you to task, with an evenhanded tone. Guilty of incendiary language myself, we need more call and response like yours.

Thanks, Mike. I can't reply to all the comments - I'm still working on other stories - the AIDS story, in particular, of course. But I thank you for the compliment.

I have many friends with whom I disagree - and we try to adopt the policy that we can disagree without being disagreeable. Kind of like love the sinner, hate the sin - if you want to kid around about it. And lord knows we could all use a good splash of humor every now and then.

Take care -
Karen O.

I will verify that Karen attempted at the beginning of the meeting to watch the streaming. She emailed me twice. It was technical issues on Ustream's end that unfortunately cut off most of Lisa's speech (and when it came on, we had audio interference for a few more minutes). Oh, and I can also vouch for Karen's fixation on covering Hildebrand. :)

As for what Karen has written in the above comment, I completely agree with her that this is our training ground for new leaders. Developing leaders takes time however - as Torie Osborn said at Camp Courage East Los Angeles, leadership is taught. It doesn't come naturally.

In my post on the San Bernardino summit, I made a call to our community to trust our leadership again in order to unite and move forward. Since many of those who want to go back in 2010 have issues with current leadership, this provides a problem.

I also mentioned new leadership in the post. Many asked whom I was referring to. Since Prop 8, Marc Solomon and Rick Jacobs comes to mind, as well as Marriage Equality USA who was, for the most part, shut out of the No on 8 governing structure. They have been around for some time, but as I see it, they are our new leadership (Marc Solomon is with EQCA, but again, did not arrive in California until after Prop 8). I even held these leaders accountable in my statement, asking them to sit down and talk things out (I wasn't the only one who asked for this, either). And acting as true leaders, they have done so since then.

All this to say, if you want to win in 2010, we need seasoned leaders who can bring resources to the table, and in this case, the campaign governance table. Many in the new Coalition for Marriage Equality are not capable of that YET. They will be in time, but not by 2010.

You have a time crunch. As a result, you need to trust your existing leaders. Something many in this community seem unwilling to do.

Missing from much of the discussion so far (I was too disgusted by San Bernardino to even listen to the streaming from this past weekend) is the complete lack of coalition building and cultural competency.

The only way we're going to win marriage equality is to build a broad based, multi-ethnic, multi-issue coalition that includes, but is not limited to, organized labor, education groups, and most importantly, communities of color. If these coalitions don't already exist, it's too late for 2010. These allies have their own electoral battles next year, especially if another anti-immigrant ballot initiative qualifies. It seems like the LGBT community is vastly underestimating the ability of this kind of reactionary initiative to turn out conservative voters, who are much more motivated than our base.

And I will say it again, even though it's like knocking my head on the table, a campaign with only token support from communities of color is a failed campaign. These leaders need to put their money where their mouths are and invest the resources to run this campaign the right way, not the expedient way. This means, for example, ALL POLLING, all message testing, all focus groups, all research, MUST BE MULTI-LINGUAL and culturally competent. Including, at minimum, English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Tagalog. That's a lot of languages and resources, correct. Not having the money is no excuse. Investing in this is a first step in demonstrating the campaign value of inclusion that everyone seems to throw around.

The campaign won't be won or lost in the Castro or West Hollywood, it will be won or lost in places like the San Gabriel Valley, San Jose, Milpitas, Vallejo, the Sacramento suburbs, Ventura County, Cerritos, Chula Vista, etc.

Maine and Washington - winnable battles - here and now !!!

I speak for no group, but I think that everyone is aware of the need for multilingual and culturally competent polling and message testing before the campaign begins. That's why Courage Campaign has put down the gauntlet to raise $200K in the next few weeks, so that we can get it done in time to meet our submission deadline. There was a lot of talk of doing this right at Sunday's meeting. I'm sorry that you didn't want to participate, but you might want to consider that since you made that choice and weren't present you might not know all the details of what was discussed.

I fundamentally disagree with you that if the coalitions we all know need to come together don't already exist they can't be built in time for 2010. There's a lot of time left between now and November of next year. No on 8 was a disaster, but even they were able to almost make it across the finish line in less than half the time we have. If 2010 moves forward, if it can do the necessary work to come up with the right ballot language and run a disciplined signature gathering effort, I think that many of the current tensions between groups will start to ease and those coalitions will come together.

The organizational infrastructure that supports queer youth, the trans community, the HIV/AIDS community, the homeless – those most in need – is crumbling due to budget cuts. At the same time some in our community are focused solely on the issue of marriage equality. I believe it to be our moral imperative to construct a movement that simultaneously advocates for equality while working to rebuild our infrastructure to address the concerns of those most in need. The question at the top of my mind is, "can we sustain our infrastructure and build strong long-lasting, cross-movement coalitions by 2010?". My inclination is no.