Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moving forward together towards full marriage equality in California.

I spent all Sunday morning and afternoon at a gay bar. Actually, it was the historic “Jewel‘s Catch One” bar in South Los Angeles. I was there with approximately 160 representatives of the California LGBT community and we were there to move forward to reclaim full marriage equality in California. This meeting was called as a follow-up to a meeting held in San Bernadino, California two weeks ago. That meeting revealed a highly polarized and emotionally charged LGBT community.

Why the polarization? Essentially, the issue that seemingly divides the community is should we move forward towards a restoration of full marriage equality in California in 2010 or 2012 (or later)? Why the high level of emotion? Well, you know the old recipe for a problem: put two people in a room and close the door. If the people in the room all happen to be community organizers and people in leadership positions then, things can get even a little more intense.

As the day progressed, several salient points emerged and we moved far closer to collaboration. The first and most obvious point is that we all passionately support and are working for full marriage equality in California. Secondly, we all seek the legal codification of human and civil rights for LGBT people. It is important to remember these two points as we proceed to discuss other matters.

Steve Hildebrand flew in from South Dakota; he was the #2 person in Obama’s successful campaign. Before saying anything else here, we need to recall that when candidate Obama was running for the presidency, especially in the early campaign, he was not seen as the most probable winner of the nomination for the Democratic Party, let alone the presidency of the United States. When someone who was instrumental in securing two underdog victories speaks, you would be a fool not to listen.

Steve Hildebrand stated bluntly, “you [the LGBT community] can win in 2010.” HOWEVER, there are certain things you must do first. What are those things?

1) Establish a governing board with real and binding power to act.

2) Hire a campaign manager who is given freedom of action.

3) Unite as a community and commit to working together for victory.

Before speaking about a calendar date for a ballot initiative, it is worthwhile to review those three points, because regardless of when we decide to move forward with a ballot initiative we will have to do these three things if we seriously want to win back our rights.

I cannot overemphasize this, we need to sit down and effectively accomplish all three goals as a necessary precondition to any civil rights victory. Another necessary step in the process, in my own opinion, is to look back at the “No on Prop 8” campaign of 2008. What did we do that worked? What were our mistakes and how can we learn from these mistakes? WHO made these fateful decisions and HOW (by what process) were these decisions made?

What worked was a very successful fund raising campaign. In fact, we raised more money than the “Yes on Prop 8” side. What also worked was political networking. We obtained the endorsement of countless organizations, public figures and politicians. EQCA did wonderful and good work in this regard.

What were our mistakes? Dolores Huerta stated succinctly: “We lost because we didn’t do our homework.” We failed to reach out to people of color. Cristina Chavez and the United Farm Workers supported us, yet we failed to use their voices in Spanish language radio and television ads. Julian Bond, the president of the NAACP, gave an impassioned and powerful speech at an HRC dinner in Los Angeles in which he stated that THIS IS a civil rights issue, yet we failed to use his voice. Grassroots organizations were ignored and discouraged from actively going “door-to-door.” The California Central Valley was effectively “written-off” to the other side and activists like Robin McGhee (who organized Meet in the Middle for Equality) were sidelined. Faith communities were ignored and written off to the other side in the 2008 campaign.

Remember, we lost by less than 3% of the vote in California. If we had done just SOME of these things, we probably would have won. I believe it was the Roman Senator Cato who said, you could tell much about your leaders by listening to how your enemies speak of them. On November 5 2008, our enemies in this battle for civil rights and full marriage equality said, “we were pleasantly surprised [by the election results].”

How does Steve Hildebrand know that we can win in 2010? Because, we should have won in 2008! This is a critical point, because regardless of the calendar year 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, IF we do not learn from our mistakes, we will repeat those same mistakes and we will never win. HOW decisions are made has to be changed and agreed upon by our community and our donors prior to the next campaign. WHO is making the decision and HOW the decision is made regarding the calendar year of our next campaign needs to be examined and discussed as much as the calendar year itself. The point here is learning/transparency and not recrimination. We need to do things differently in 2010, 2012 or whenever, or we will lose then for the same reasons we lost the last time.

We all long for simple justice. For human dignity for LGBT people. For the protection of the civil rights of a minority which has been viciously targeted for discrimination by bigoted organizations and individuals. The Jesuits have an old saying: “Think how much more could be accomplished, if less time were spent on trying to assign credit.” People in positions of leadership must be authentic leaders who are willing to set aside personal ego in order to secure justice for our community.

3 comments:

Leonardo Ricardo said...

YES, and then what? Was there agreement? What action will the group take to unify and work together as a team as a whole?

Jackie said...

I so agree Father Geoff. There has to be more LGBT forming a group that has a sense of unity about marriage equality's importance and how to achieve their goal. Strong leadership is critical, less infighting is imperative and a strong belief that we can win will bring the donations that are needed for this fight.
I do think a strong presence of real LGBT people reaching out to show their fellow Californians that they are just ordinary citizens, with hopes and dreams that are the same as theirs would have great impact. They must show that they are not the evil people that some religious organizations proclaim them to be.
Let's do it right this time!

Birdie said...

I think the splintered factions are the greatest roadblocks toward progress in the LGBT community. Very few seem interested in compromise that leads to advancement.

Growth comes in spurts, a little at a time. A business plan that acknowledges all while going forward with small steps will accomplish so much more than trying to advance with too much too fast. Hildebrand gives me great hope for success.