Editors' Note: Guest blogger Kara Suffredini is the Executive Director of MassEquality. She is a seasoned LGBT movement veteran and has extensive background advancing laws that promote justice and fairness.
It's the oldest play in the book: organized people and organized money win elections. And on November 2, 2010, we saw once again that it works regardless of whatever else is shaping the political landscape--including a Great Recession.
In the last six years, the LGBT movement's most significant advances have taken place at the state level. There's little reason--especially after Tuesday's shift to the right in national political power--to believe that's going to change. Now it will be even harder to secure more wins. Merely defending some of the rights we already enjoy will prove difficult.
Consider Iowa, which lost three of its marriage-equality-supporting Supreme Court Justices as well as its House to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) hate machine. Or Maine, which did not get the pro-equality governor they hoped for, necessitating a longer-term plan to re-attain marriage equality. And New Hampshire, where Governor John Lynch became even more critical to protecting marriage equality in the Granite State by stymying NOM's efforts to unseat him for signing a marriage equality bill last year. Republicans won every other race in New Hampshire, taking control of the Senate and widening their majority in the House. Each of these states can and will continue to advance equality -- but it will be harder.
Amidst this electoral toxicity, Massachusetts bucked a perfect storm of voter discontent and stayed the course. Voters reelected Deval Patrick, the most pro-LGBT governor in U.S. history. Over 70 percent of the lawmakers they sent to the Massachusetts State House publicly back LGBT equality. And all other statewide candidates for office -- attorney general, state auditor, and state treasurer -- all of whom are vigorously pro-LGBT, defeated their staunch anti-LGBT opponents.
So how did we do it? The old fashioned way. We engaged with voters -- on the phone and at their doors. We embedded staff in key campaigns and made call after call to raise money. It may be tempting to dismiss our success last Tuesday because Massachusetts is, well, Massachusetts (George McGovern and 1972, anyone?). But it's not that simple. Last January, in a foreshadowing of November 2's results, Massachusetts voters sent a Republican Senator to Capitol Hill to replace the liberal Ted Kennedy-- their first since 1972 when Sen. Ed Brooke won his bid for reelection. (It's worth nothing that unlike Brooke, however, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown does not support LGBT equality.) Brown's victory over a popular attorney general who'd already won a statewide election stunned political experts, many of whom believed that Massachusetts was in for more of the same on November 2.
But it didn't happen. And MassEquality, Massachusetts' only grassroots organization working to advance LGBT equality, was a big part of the reason why. Eighty percent of our endorsed candidates won last Tuesday, and they won by 25 percent of the vote, on average. By contrast, our losing candidates lost by only seven percent of the vote, on average. On Election Day, MassEquality made over 2800 get-out-the-vote calls from the office, and made more than 1800 calls and knocked on more than 2500 doors in the field. But that was just the icing on the field cake. In the months leading up to Election Day, our field staff worked closely with endorsed candidates to support their campaigns. We made approximately 46,000 get-out-the-vote phone calls, and an additional 9000 calls to district voters about our endorsed candidates. We mailed out 88,000 pieces of campaign literature educating our members and key district voters about our endorsed candidates. We recruited 62 organizers for the Patrick campaign (each of whom pledged to get 50 of their friends to support Patrick on Election Day) and 110 campaign volunteers. We also assigned a dedicated volunteer to work full-time on the Patrick campaign who liaised with the LGBT community. And during an October LGBT fundraiser for Gov. Patrick, MassEquality brought in a full third of the money.
There can be no doubt that MassEquality's field game--which was developed and finely tuned during two state election cycles held during the height of the state's marriage equality battles -- was a game changer in Massachusetts last Tuesday. In short, we had done the work of building the muscle, and on November 2, we flexed it.
It's a lesson for all of us working on the ground at the epicenter of the fight to achieve full equality -- the sustainability of our short-term victories lies in our commitment to building long-term, grassroots power. And to do that we have to stick to the basics, soliciting support and votes from our friends, families, neighbors and peers -- one by one, one on one. Harvey Milk knew it in 1978, when he famously "recruited" LGBT people to come out and share their stories. And, we saw the fruits of this hand over fist organizing as recently as 2008 when, despite losing the Proposition 8 vote, the narrow loss revealed how several years of systematic, one-on-one conversations with Californians was the central tactic that moved voters an astounding nine points in favor of marriage equality.
Asking for votes one on one is simple, but it's not easy. (And it will be even less so for those now working in harder climates.) It requires significant human and financial resources. It requires the personal courage to come out and talk about LGBT issues in the face of rejection. It requires thousands of phone calls and doorstep conversations. And it requires the sustained vigilance of a long-term investment in LGBT equality. But, quite frankly, it's easier than losing. And we know it's what's required to win.
In Massachusetts, like elections past, we didn't take anything for granted in the months leading up to Election Day 2010. And it's a good thing. If we had, we would have been trampled at the polls. Which leads me to another lesson from November 2: the work never ends. Not even in Massachusetts.