Monday, January 26, 2009

Unite the Fight's Camp Courage Op-Ed

Of the countless meetings I've attended after the election, focusing either on the postmortem of the No on 8 Campaign (including Saturday's Equality Summit), brainstorming strategy, figuring out how to build coalitions, planning events and actions, and trying to determine next steps for the movement, I have not been to one meeting that was as effective, inclusive, practical and educational as the Courage Campaign's Camp Courage.

Held in West Hollywood and knowing that it was going to last from 8:30am-5:30pm, I thought spending my whole Sunday at the event made the whole thing seem daunting. And I was skeptical. After feeling let down after so many attempts to do what the Courage Campaign was attempting, I was prepared to get bored, lose interest in the speakers and eventually tune out altogether. But amazingly, they held my attention the whole time, and I learned a lot. Borrowing the mantra, "Respect - Empower - Include" from the Obama campaign, Camp Courage succeeded in doing just that.

(Due to my having to write the Equality Summit report, I missed the kick off reception the night before, where many told me Cleve Jones gave a riveting speech. Unfortunately, I can't report the details, but if any of you were able to make it, please write me and tell me about it, and I'll post it. Also, I hear there is video of this - please let me know when it is up!)

Camp Courage kicked off strong with Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs telling the attendees that California is a "state that is tarnished" with discrimination. Indirectly referring to the Equality Summit and its panel of leaders who populated the stage throughout the whole event, he pointed to the empty stage behind him and said, "There are not a lot of people on this stage. You're the stage!" And that's how the rest of the day went.

Lisa Powell, lead facilitator who had worked with the Obama campaign, did a great job in leading the overbooked event, involving the crowd divided into predetermined groups with active sessions which lasted throughout the day and included:
  • Story of Self: finding your voice as an activist. After hearing examples from people telling their stories as to why they're fighting to repeal Prop 8, Lisa broke down the storytelling technique, handed out a worksheet so that each person can shape their own story, and then each participant told their tale to their own group. Learning how to tell your own story is extremely effective in getting others involved in the movement, or opening the eyes of the opponents to the harm of Prop 8. After the sessions amongst the groups, a few were picked to share their story to the whole crowd. Many heart-wrenching tales were given, the unearthing of the motivation driving these activists.
  • Story of Us: the amazing Mike Bonin lead this session about building the movement, one leader at a time.
  • Voter Persuasion: how to talk to the others in one-on-one encounters. Led by Liz Moore of the SEIU, this was an extremely educational and effective session. After an improvised moment between Lisa Powell and Jenny Pizer, portraying a peaceful interaction between neighbors who voted differently on Prop 8, the groups were given worksheets with various scenarios that they had to improvise amongst themselves. Given tools in how to communicate with the opposition, many learned the power of proper persuasion without making those you disagree with uncomfortable or under attack. The emphasis of persuasion was on baby steps - you can't change someone's mind with one conversation.
  • Online Tech Tools: this session, led by Julia Rosen, Online Political Director for the Courage Campaign, debuted the organization's online, grassroots tool, Equality Hub, which allows individuals and grassroots organizations to effectively plan events, socialize and organize. It also includes a voter phone banking tool that allows the individual to make phone calls from their own homes, similar to the Obama Campaign site. Definitely worth checking out.
  • Into Action: this session broke out into groups that contained practical education on door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, tabling, organizing a political house party and online organizing (which went into further detail about the Equality Hub, but also networking and education about online tools that are effective for planning events and keeping your organization's members or participants active and updated).
  • Our Commitment to the Cause: Lisa Powell talked about the organization's commitment, to the movement, but as well as the activists, and referred to the Courage Campaign's project "Please don't divorce us . . . "
Inserted throughout the sessions were touching (and amazingly concise) speeches from married couple Jenny Pizer of Lamda Legal and Doreena Wong, who, speaking on the legal and political context of marriage equality, spoke about their years in activism and told the story that after 24 years together, Doreena's mother felt that Jenny was finally officially a part of the family after marrying her daughter; Torie Osborn spoke on organizing and movement building, focusing on respectful interaction with the opposition and learning how to actively listen; and Mike Bonin, telling his story of self, confessed that after working extremely long hours on the Obama campaign, and feeling ashamed that he didn't do enough for the No on 8 campaign, promised he will never allow himself to put an LGBT initiative "on the back burner."

With so much material covered in a relatively small amount of time, it's a marvel that it was all accomplished, and miraculously, on time and on schedule! These Obama-turned-LGBT and equality campaigners know how to lead a large meeting, communicate and educate, but above all, inspire. Led by multi-generational activists, some new and some experienced, Camp Courage offers something for everyone of all ages and backgrounds. Either this is all new to you and you learn the essential basics, or it's a refresher on old skills, you don't leave empty handed.

The Courage Campaign plans to hold many more Camp Courage sessions around the state. They are asking us to vote on where some of them will be. I recommend you do, find one near you (Fresno is already confirmed and they intend to schedule more in San Luis Obsispo, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco) and GO. In order for this movement to propel forward and succeed, we must be educated, we must know how to work together, we must be on the same page, and we must remain inspired. Camp Courage is the step in the right direction. Do not miss out. GO.

Shout of thanks to Waiyde Palmer for the pictures.

Lead Facilitator Lisa Powell and Jenny Pizer.

The legendary, first openly out Queer elected to the California Assembly, Shelia James Kuehl, watches from the back as it all goes down.

Rick Jacobs, founder of the Courage Campaign.


  1. Hmmm, seems I picked the wrong choice of two all-day events this past weekend.

  2. They'll be doing it again in LA. Definitely go to that one.