Michael Crawford

Can We Keep Our Gay Eyes on the Prize?

Filed By Michael Crawford | March 23, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, ENDA, health care reform, OFA, Organizing for America

To those claiming that nothing but a "storm the barricades" approach to LGBT activism will work, take note of these actions generated by Organizing for America in just the last ten days of the push for health care reform:

  • Made nearly 500,000 real-people calls to Congress.
  • Sent 324,000 letters to Congress.
  • Held nearly 1,200 health care-related events with more than 10,000 attendees.
  • Sent nearly 1 million localized text messages.
  • Called nearly 120,000 supporters using OFA's Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool online

No handcuffs, flashy protests, celebrities, or self-congratulatory media interviews. Just the grinding and thankless work needed to get to 216 votes in the House of Representatives.

This kind of grassroots organizing effort is not beyond the scope of the LGBT movement. If we spend less time attacking one another and more time focused on getting to 216 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate, we could see the passage of an inclusive ENDA and repeal of DADT this year.

Eyes on the prize.

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Very good point. We do too often distract ourselves with ourselves. I'll have to remember this. Maybe each time I tell a student to get out of his or her own way I'll remember to get out of mine.

That is if you consider the passage of the Senate "health care/insurance" bill a victory.

I do not.

In fact, while I probably agree with your overall point about tactics/strategy, asking for a comparison to the absurd failure of substance and process that accompanied the health care debacle, may not be wise.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 23, 2010 12:08 PM

i'm not asking for a comparison to the substance of the health reform bill. I'm pointing out the intense grassroots efforts OFA put into getting the votes needed to pass the bill.

If LGBT people were to let go of the some of the internal drama and focus on getting the votes needed to pass ENDA, DADT repeal, and repeal of DOMA, we'd be in a much better position.

You are not getting it. Just because this is the electronic age where E-mails and texting are the norm, doesn't mean you abandon other old tried and true methods of bringing attention to an issue. Would Dr. King have substitute the March on Washington in favor of blogging and E-mailing about the issues? Just because the 21st Century has given us more tools to fight our fights doesn't mean we scrap the old tools.

Enron Activism. You don't put all of your efforts in one form of activism. History has many lessons to learn from. Let's not turn our eyes away from them. And, if you don't feel comfortable doing certain things in activism, don't poo-poo others who do. Thank them and turn to your own efforts.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 23, 2010 12:22 PM

Monica, you should read my last posts on Bilerico and Huffington Post about the necessity of a multi-faceted strategy including lobbying, electoral campaigns, media advocacy, direct action, online organizing, and lawsuits before you say "you are not getting it."



Since I have more respect for you then a few others here on Bilerico, I read your Bilerico article. I missed it previously.

I apologize for misunderstanding what you wrote in this article. Thank you for the clarification.

Thanks for the reminder, Michael. We need to remember that we are an effective force.

Juston Thouron Juston Thouron | March 23, 2010 12:59 PM

What LGBT organization can pull together all of the LGBT centers nationwide, member lists from GLAAD, GLSEN, NGLTF, Progressive Party, Green Party,Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Salon, AfterEllen, AfterElton, Perez Hilton, IGLCC, Log Cabin Republicans, GoProud, liberal college campus organizations, the LGBT blogosphere, etcetera and organize their members into a coordinated and monitored campaign with achievable goals?


Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 23, 2010 1:39 PM

I don't think its necessary to pull every single LGBT group or entity together. It would be a start to let go of the need for petty attacks against one another and instead focus those attacks on those who oppose our being treated equally under the law.

I'm wondering if there is some organizing to be done within OFA. During the election there were glbt affinity groups on the website. Maybe there is an in there?

I'm thinking the reason some of those orgs are around is because they don't want to work with each other.

The flaw with your argument Micheal is you assume that all those activities changed votes in the Congress. There is no evidence for that assertion. In fact, common sense says just the opposite.

The White House struck a few deals with Stupak and others, resulting in just enough votes.

Members of Congress made their decision based on polling data in their District/State versus their own personal conviction (if they actually have any). The number of calls, emails, marchers, etc. is not part of their decision because it is the least reliable data they can consider. It's almost like claiming "i'm voting for Healthcare because their protesters had the best posters." It's juvenile.

When Kucinich agreed to support the Bill, he did so reluctantly and not based on voter outcry from EITHER side. Screams in the street or over the internet had nothing to do with his vote. Nothing.

These efforts cancel each other out because there is no way to keep score and most people simply find it amusing or annoying. It's just a bunch of noise.

We won't achieve our equality until we stop wasting our time with publicity stunts and political games. Ultimately we need to enroll our fellow citizens and get them to stand with us. That comes from communication, not demonstration.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 23, 2010 1:36 PM

So, we get our fellow citizens to stand with us, then what?

I don't share you belief that constituent pressure on elected officials is a waste of time. It works. It takes time and a sustained effort, but it works.

You have NO evidence that it works. It would need to supersede polling data. Perhaps you can find a single Member of Congress who admitted to being influenced by calls, emails or even text messages.

There is nothing scientific or reliable about either side's efforts. We make a million calls, they make a million calls.

Last week a staffer in Pelosi's office confirmed they do not count the number of calls or emails and they very rarely even listen to the voice mail messages. The reason? "We don't have the staff or the time."

Just because you "think" these methods are effective doesn't make it so. Find some evidence.

Until we get people to stand with us - we'll remain a small minority without any clout. ALL the tactics you mentioned do NOTHING to add to our ranks. They do nothing to encourage people to join us.

We'll never out-scream, out-text, out-email, or out-call the other side, and because politicians know those efforts do not provide reliable data, they simply find them amusing. Politicians promote this behavior because they're trying to make you believe that you can influence them, but, they know otherwise.

Even though mistakes may have been made, the CD actions of last week did more to focus the conversation on the need for an integrated approach to movement activism than any other to this point. Granted, this was not their objective, however the movement is finally discussing the benefits of integration, (See Kerry Eleveld's excellent article in the advocate from yesterday 3/22: http://sn.im/v0pcc )

No one party is to blame for this lack of integration; no one tactic or strategy is good or bad on its own. The problem isn't just that the smaller grass-net-roots activist organizations don't know how to work in unison with the larger organizations agendas. The larger "Gay Inc" organizations share the blame for their inability to even see the grass-net-roots point of view and co-opt their energy and desire for direct action. The lack of outreach and cooperation by the large organizations with the smaller more energized groups is equally to blame. The smaller direct action organizations cannot simply be ignored or pushed to the sidelines, or worse yet, told to "get in line" with Gay,Inc.

Michael - Where did your OFA numbers come from? I am having a hard time verifying the accuracy of those numbers on my own.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 23, 2010 1:49 PM

Jeff, here's a link to where I got the OFA stats: http://techpresident.com/blog-entry/organizing-americas-role-health-care-battle

I agree. Both larger and smaller organizations share blame for not working together in a more coordinated fashion. My hope is we can all agree of the importance of us pushing from as many angles as possible to win equality as soon as possible.

Thanks Michael - I did see that TechPresident link while I researched the OFA numbers but it appears that they are just repeating data, not claiming to be the source. Do you have any information from OFA or anyone claiming that they received the data from someone at OFA?

It's weird to start seeing "CD" used in a queer context to mean "civil disobedience." I keep on thinking "cross-dresser." :)

Only way to be AS GOOD AS OFA.... is to hire Plouffe from them
His return started the whole huge ball rolling right down hill to the signing this AM.

And his latest is that even YOU can sign the bill. Here is the link.

But truly we do need to organize by IT. If you are interested please take the time to follow acitivst groups.. and then join the one that works as you wish it would.

I don't condemn any approach. If I think an approach won't work, I just don't join in.

Well except for the celebrities thing. But it's not that I think celebrities can't change anything. It shows a lack of confidence and self-esteem to prop up celebrities as leaders.

There are 260,000,000 adults in the US.
There are 170,000,000 Registered voters in the US.

You really want to suggest that

500,000 phone calls or

324,000 letters, or

1 million text messages

changed any votes in the US Congress?

That is just plain delusional.

This is a self-promoting industry that provides salaries to so-called advocates and a false sense of purpose for those who fall for it.

IF these promoters (commenting above) have ANY evidence that these activities do anything but provide THEIR salaries, please provide it.

Accountability requires that every organization provide real evidence that what you "make your living from" is effective.

All the evidence I've gathered confirms that is is completely ineffective. I agree with John Aravosis who called these activities "political masturbation." It may feel good, but it doesn't make any babies - or votes.

Juston Thouron Juston Thouron | March 23, 2010 5:18 PM

Andrew, are you saying that the only Democratic votes that were changed in favor of H.R. 3590/3692 were accomplished by back door deals made by Members?

The White House claims to have made last minute deals for about 20 votes - including the Stupak-Executive Order dealing with Publicly financed abortion.

I can find evidence that any House Member was influenced by calls, emails, text messages, etc. Some Democratic Members said their "sense" was that constituent contact was about 50/50, but nothing scientific - like actually keeping track of numbers.

ALL of these supposed ways to influence Congress have never established their value or effectiveness. We just do them because we "are told to." That is ending this year.

"No handcuffs, flashy protests, celebrities, or self-congratulatory media interviews."

True - they also had no fashion shows for "elegant activists" and no hiding under the desks when they thought those genuine protestors might stop by the office.

Or was that not the impression you were seeking to dispel?

It was amusing to hear one wag describe one leader as hding under his desk while quaking in his go-go boots - though I'd have actually been moved to see him take your suggestion to heart and actually participate in that multi-pronged approach.

Faux demonstrations to bolster reality show stars careers and activist fashion shows fit neither the "storm the barricades" nor the "effective insider" strategies. They're just embarrassments.

I think we posted on the same thing today, Michael.

Honestly, a year or two ago I would have been all "independent activists are awesome! Orgs suck!" Now that I've gotten to know more people, and seen some of the (massive) egos involved, and how they can be destructive, I can see no one's hands are really clean.

In the end, I'm glad we have Gandhi's, Jesus's, Harvey Milk's and Harriet Tubman's grand-child on the case. We're so lucky!


If you are so CERTAIN about calls, emails and letters influencing anything, please provide it.

These actions have been promoted for decades by "experts," but without any evidence. Let's find some - soon, or we will abandon these tactics.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 24, 2010 12:16 AM

Micahael wonders if we can forget and forgive the long history of betrayals by the Democrats and Republicans and their front groups.

The answer is no and it's because US society it due for some powerful changes. Right now it's undergoing a series of sharp pre-shocks.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that real unemployment climbed again by 0.3%, to 16.8% in March from 16.5% in January. The “Non-Seasonally Adjusted” rate was flat at 17.9%, a slight decrease from January 2010’s record 18%.

Homelessness, always a problem in the land of the “free to do they damn well please looter class” is the result of intractable mass unemployment has produced a bumper crop of foreclosures and thrown millions into the streets, among whom were 1.35 million children and 150,000 vets last year. Tent cities, Obamavilles, are spreading across the country and especially in temperate areas.

These stubborn fact are shaking up society and politics. They’ve produced polarization and bitter partisanship between the parties and in society as a whole.

As one of the sectors of American society most provoked by the deepening ‘culture wars’ and the radicalization the LGBT movement is far from immune from internal polarization. That’s a good thing.

The time is long past due to clean house. The divisions in our movements go much deeper than the mindless squabbling and mutual insults of LGBT front groups for the twin parties of bigots. They’re tearing into the consensus of silence that’s paralyzed our movement as a whole while we were tossed under the bus by the Dems and Republicans.

It’s a bit late for HRC alumnae like Michael to bemoan the fact that the group that formed his political thinking is unlikely to survive, much less prosper. It’ll inevitably be eclipsed by national organizations with a mass action perspective, a democratic internal life and a political life determinedly independent of the Democrats and their Republican cousins.

What Michael dismisses as name calling is in reality the rejection of self appointed misleaders with ties to the Democrats so deep that they helped the Dems toss us under the bus.

The national radicalization, fueled by unwinnable wars and an unforgiving economic crisis is burning through the old political consensus like a prairie fire. It’s creating powerful independent political tendencies that will dismiss HRC and LGBT Republican and Democrat groups for their consistent history of misleadership.

Might I suggest a thoughtful reading of the lead column and all the responses shows the validity of a major point: we must stop taking each other's inventory. That said, I suggest that we simply do it all--flashy (demos, CD, marches, celebrities) to get attention and motivate folks, and grunt work (phone calls, precinct and district work, letters) to mobilize energy and focus it on creating change. If enough people believe change can happen it will. That is what is often missing in these arguments: an understanding of the, dare I say it, spirituality of change....getting people to believe it can happen so that it will. That is what OFA does well I think.

Michael @ LeonardMatlovich.com | March 24, 2010 1:17 PM

One shouldn't have to link to earlier articles to explain what one means in the current one which contains some truth as well as some unnecessary cheap shots that one could interpret, also based on things you've previously written, as,

"You have my permission to criticize Our Lord & Savior Obama Christ, just be polite."

The criticisms against the original posting focus entirely too much on issues inherent in the comparison to healthcare. As Michael notes, this misses the point. In these avowedly hope-hungry times, any sort of action seems revolutionary. This is a country where Obama can be labeled a socialist. A journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step. Or, the boldest seeming move is the one from 0 to 1. Fighting over the meaning of micropolitics often loses the horizon of revolution, whatever that may mean. Queer politics needs to refocus on what it holds as its goal, especially if that entails something less tangible than ENDA and DADT.