Phil Reese

Election night 2004: The worst night of my life

Filed By Phil Reese | October 22, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: election campaigns, politics, Politics '10

September 2004 was an optimistic time for me. I was starting my first term WatersSexVoteBooth.JPGas Vice President of the Gay Straight Alliance at Central Michigan University, and I was gearing up to apply for the Membership and Community Events co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign Michigan Steering Committee (now defunct). I was working on bringing to campus Wayne State University professor and intellectual hottie, John Corvino, and. though my boyfriend had just moved away to Champaign Illinois, things were going great there.

In September I was on top of the world.

With that spirit and can do attitude, I joined up with the Fair Michigan Alliance, a group optimistic about the fight against Michigan's Proposition 2, a proposed amendment to the Michigan constitution banning official recognition of any relationship other than a state-sanctioned marriage between one man and one woman. The amendment would bar same-sex marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships and even common-law marriages.

Surely solid-blue state Michigan, the last union stronghold, the blue-collar progressive bastion of the north would find this far to extreme to support? After all the consultants were telling us that their research showed that after reading the reading materials, 70% of those who had planned to vote yes on Prop 2 switched. Good news!

So I did the training. I did the phone banking. The canvassing. I had dozens of conversations a day for months. Hundreds a week. Thousands in all. I organized folks to set up near all of the little rural precincts all over the mid-Michigan area to hand out literature at the last minute on election day. I put hundreds of miles on my car just trying to do last minute education.

Oh, there was something else going on around that time too. President Bush was up for reelection, and there were ten other similar state constitutional amendments on ballots from Ohio to Oregon all masterminded by Karl Rove. There was a lot at stake.

My friends were so supportive. I was in the Creative Writing concentration in the English Department, and it was filled with bright-eyed young socialists and leftists, and we all sang kumbayah and partied together (as English majors do) and felt that kinship and bond, and they were all so supportive of what I was doing and what I was fighting for.

So election day came--November 2, 2004--and I trudged around the center of that state going poll-to-poll-to-poll, burning out my cell phone minutes for the month and then some (to add insult to injury, I had to scramble to pay huge fees to Cingular for all of this later).

That night, as my roommates and I flipped between CNN's and the Daily Show's coverage of the returns, I sat with my fingers crossed with optimism.

Then the returns started to come in.

Arkansas' amendment passed. Well that's not a huge surprise. Georgia, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah... I wasn't shocked. But Oregon, Ohio and Michigan had been told they'd had a chance. In fact, pollsters were predicting Oregon's to fail (by a slight margin) for absolute sure, and Michigan was quite near 50/50 in polls and all us activists were quite sure we'd pull it out.

Instead it was a near landslide. 70/30. Scratch that, it was a landslide.

To top it off, Bush was back for another 4 years, and Republicans held both houses tightly.

I was miserable.

But what had happened? We had worked so hard! We had done everything they told us to do! We told people not to vote for Prop 2!

Telling people how you need them to vote on bills that affect your lives is incredibly important. However, none of that counts if they don't vote.

All my cool, creative-type, supportive friends? Less than half actually voted. Some distrusted the system and said that one vote doesn't matter and that its all corrupt anyway. Some forgot it was election day. Some had to go home to vote, but this and that came up and they never did get around to driving back home to Detroit or Grand Rapids to get it done.

The progressives stayed home that night. And for their apathy, they were dealt what was probably the biggest blow to the progressive movement in recent memory. The next two years were a conservative free-for-all, culminating in a July vote on a US Constitutional amendment banning marriage equality (luckily, it died before the Senate took it up).

It doesn't matter that you are liberal if you don't do anything about it. Eating organic and driving a hybrid are important, but so is taking the time to educate yourself about the issues and getting out and voting.

Getting yourself out of the door to vote is only half of the job. As Governor Dean says, "You get a 'C' for voting." That's the bare minimum.

If you believe in progressiveness, in liberalism, in equality and advancing health care coverage to more people, comprehensive immigration reform, environmental reforms, women's rights, fighting poverty and racism and, yes, LGBTQ rights and equality, you have to get everyone you know to the polls on November 2. Let's not make November 2 the date conservatives love. Let's throw a wrench in their plans.

Sure. We screwed up. We didn't fight hard enough during the primary season to oust some of the worst Democrats and replace them with true progressives. Don't punish the nation now because of it. You must get out there and vote for the progressives on your ballot. You must get your angry, frustrated or just plain apathetic or defeated friends out to the polls despite it all to vote for the progressives. Where possible, vote Democrat. When the Democrat is a dud, vote Green or Independent. Just don't throw your vote away. Let's stop this conservative march toward victory--it will only spell trouble for the LGBT community. Rather than mourning the leadership's inaction, we'll be fighting negative action.

Yes, the administration has a lot to answer for. Yes, we ought to be disappointed in our legislative leadership. We need to deal with all of that with a vengeance starting November 3. But on November 2, don't stay home. Don't let your friends stay home. Don't vote in anger, don't throw up your hands in defeat. Get to the polls, vote, and make change happen.

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Geez, Phil, didn't you get the memo? The unions didn't get card-check, so their members are staying home; the hispanics didn't get immigration reform, so they're staying home; Guantanamo is still open and our military is still engaged in Iran and Afghanistan, so the civil libertarians and anti-war folks are staying home.

And we didn't get ENDA enacted and DADT and DOMA repealed (that's right DOMA repealed - we cannot enact marriage equality in New York or save it in Maine and Califrigginornia, but we think Senators from places like Arkansas and Missouri and Montana and Idaho - each of which states has as many Senators as does California or New York - are going to buck 2/3 of their constituents and vote to repeal DOMA???), so we took THE PLEDGE and we're going to stay home, too. In order to 'punish the Democrats.'

Punish the Democrats by electing Joe Miller and Sharon Angle and Ken Buck and Christine O'Donnell (okay, probably not O'Donnell), and a bunch of other Christianist homophobes to SIX-YEAR terms in the Senate and by turning control of the House of Representatives over to the same types. So when the next Supreme Court nominee comes before the Senate for approval, it's going to be Miller and Angle and Buck and Ron Paul, and also John Boozman not Blanche Lincoln, Carly Fiorina not Barbara Boxer, Dino Rossi not Patty Murray, Pat Toomey not Arlen Specter/Joe Sestak who are going to be making the decision.

Hey, we're gonna show 'em. It's a democracy - we'll get the government we deserve.

OK, I said it; now where are my meds?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 23, 2010 5:22 PM

Having witnessed the overwhelming failure of the "Scare 'em to death with Palin Memo, Democrats seem to be divided between the "If we lose it'll be the fault of teh gayz, duh unions and dem antiwar freaks Memo" and this newer "Whine till they drop Memo".

None of these last minute, desperate approaches are likely to work.

People take umbrage at being betrayed - Congress and the WH have betrayed everyone but Goldman Sachs, AIG and BP.

The thought of 15 million plus long term unemployed and years of depression because of Obama's policies frightens people. is very frightening.

The idea that GIs and muslim civilians are being murdered to make the world safe for Haliburton and BP is infuriating.

And the idea that American police and spy agencies routinely kidnap, torture and murder foreign opponents of BP and Haliburton, and claim the right to do the same to American citizens, terrifies them.

So yes, LGBT folks, women, youth, antiwar activists, people of color, environmentalists and others will be staying home in droves and refusing to vote for right wingers.

Remember, don't let "perfect" be the enemy of "good" (or maybe "okay").

I don't remember progressive apathy being a big problem in 2004. More people voted for John Kerry than had voted for any presidential candidate in US history except for GWB in 2004. Turnout was up, not just in raw numbers but also as a percentage of the population:

That said, people are depressed now. But the problem isn't just the politicians, it's also the voters generally and our lack of information/abundance of misinformation. It keeps us in line. The problem was bigger than electing Obama and getting Democrats into Congress, and there's still plenty of work to be doing, both in and out of the political system.

But, whatever, get discouraged, don't think we can't live better lives, and see how well that turns out.

Mixed bag. In 2004 I did change my moderate Republican mother into a full fledged liberal Democrat who goes to rallies and marches. I mean, after election day. I suspect because I broke down crying and my usual rational political argument turned into, "These people fucking hate me." Just raw like intellectual debate.

Those anti-gay ballot measures brought it home because there was no way for her to explain it away as people just voting for Republicans for other reasons.

The problem isn't really progressive's centrist apathy.

I'm with you, Phil. 2004 was incredibly heartbreaking but 2000 was even worse when Bush won the first time after the Supreme Court gave it to him. Talk about a while of heartache and anxiety...