Monday, January 26, 2009

UPDATE: A Unite the Fight Report on the EQCA Summit

UPDATE: An article from the San Francisco Gate on the Summit.

Equality California's Equality Summit was defined as "a gathering of community leaders committed to winning back marriage equality in California to network, share information and resources, and plan next steps" on the organization's page, and though EQCA obviously spent a lot of time tailoring an agenda to meet this definition, the many grassroots organizations that attended had other agendas in mind. One in particular: holding the leaders accountable for the failure of the No on 8 campaign.

After a peaceful invocation by Rabbi Denise Eger and Rev. Jonipher Kwong, the latter cracking the smart joke that he didn't need to define invocation after what happened with Rick Warren, the light mood quietly turned sour as the staff and Executive Committee of the failed campaign took the stage. (Panel: Chad Griffin of Griffin-Schake; Yvette Martinez, political director; Sarah Reece of the TASK Force; Kate Kendall, Executive Director National Center for Lesbian Rights; Geoff Kors, Executive Director Equality California; Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center; Chris Maliwat, the campaign's web strategy director who came late in the game - others listed were Julie Davis, Delores Jacobs and Marty Rouse who were not on the stage.)

After perfunctory summaries told by rote from the panel about what happened and what "might've" gone wrong, nothing that hadn't been heard before, a half hour had gone by and attendees were getting fed up and the tension was palpable. One note to mention was Chris Maliwat, who began his portion by saying he didn't begin his job until five weeks before the election and he was just a volunteer. Of course, this illicited shouted responses from the attendees as to why the committee had waited so long to put together the essential web campaign. It's no secret that the No on 8 website was a disastrous failure.

Lorri Jean responded that the campaign had essentially begun in 2005, and after the initial launch and death of the original site, by the time they really needed to relaunch, the money had dried up. They also said they used Black Rock, who they weren't happy with.

The room really began to sizzle when Marriage Equality USA's Molly McKay and Pamela Brown took the stage, issuing an in-depth report with a power point presentation on the mistakes of the campaign, citing information that their organization knew before the election and that had been ignored by the campaign's executive committee, and what needed to be done next. (The reports can be found on the organization's home page) They really drove it home and received a standing ovation afterward.


Many at this point wanted to hold the Q&A, interrupting the moderator with their demands, but David Binder of David Binder Research, presented his statistics on Proposition 8 Post-Election California Survey, an in-depth report that EQCA said will be posted on their site soon.

So when a Q&A finally came up, it was pretty brutal. The event planners collected the questions on 3x5 cards and "organized them by topic." This section was moderated by Karen Ocamb, news editor of IN Los Angeles Magazine. Though she tried to begin by having each panelist member answer what went right and wrong with the campaign, and how to heal the rift between leaders and grassroots, the attendees became extremely vocal in overruling her, pressing for their questions to be answered.

With neutral questions handpicked from the submitted cards being asked (such as comparing stats on those who voted for Obama and those who voted "No"), the attendees started speaking up, asking follow-up questions and not heeding the moderator. At one point, one of the event organizers grabbed a mike and said, "These people worked long and hard on the campaign. They did the best they could!" She got a standing ovation from another part of the crowd, but many people stayed seated.

Robin Tyler, activist and one-half of one of the couples who fought in the courts for the right to marry, even had to stand up at one point and said, "Hey, we're all on the same side. We have to work together now." Lori Jean later in the session grabbed the mike said, "Hey, there were other people involved in the campaign as well. It wasn't just us!" (She was referring to Geoff Kors) She went on to mention that they had at least showed up to talk about the campaign.

Karen, the moderator, did push for answers on using gay consultants for the campaign, and not handing it off to straight, professional political consultants who didn't understand the LGBT lifestyle. Lori Jean fumbled a bit, trying to find words to answer this question, agreeing that it was a mistake to hand everything over to the consultants and trusting them for the results. She added, "There were no LGBT consultants available." Someone cracked that they didn't even know they exist, and Karen quickly mentioned David Mixner. They didn't have a response. Geoff Korrs echoed Lori Jean, saying instead of the consultants, "It should've been us because it's about our lives." He says he lies awake at night thinking about it.

Another mistake was admitted by Yvette Martinez when she said that the campaign headquarters should've been in Los Angeles. This was met with applause.

It was a feat barely accomplished by the moderators to move on. Assemblymember Tom Ammiano spoke quickly but with great humor, quipping, "Thank you for not throwing a high heel at the panel."

He was followed by Eva Paterson of the Equal Justice Society. Equally funny (she admitted to being extremely nervous about the tough crowd) but full of great insight, she talked about what it was like to be straight and black after the election. With the immediate exit polls saying that 70% of the African American community voted for Prop 8 (which was later disputed to be around 58%), she said she would get hateful glances from gays and "felt for a nanosecond what it was like to be a progressive white" after a discriminatory initiative passed against African Americans. "That quickly passed," she joked.

Her speech focused on trying to reveal why African Americans, especially church going members, voted the way they did. Reminding the crowd that a perversion of Christianity was once used to legitimize slavery, people still actually believe that gay people are going to hell, and after hearing time after time from the pulpit that gays are abominations, it's not hard to understand why they voted the way they did.

Eva opened her speech by repeating what Rev. Kwong did during his invocation - holding a minute of meditative silence to bring back the peace and calm to the group in order to focus on unity.

Unfortunately, it didn't last. Half the attendees disappeared at the lunch break.


  1. It was just as I reported from the Williams Institute event in November. We had to write down our questions and then they summarized. Ugh. I'm glad we passed out ACT UP NOW fliers beforehand. I was hoping the summit was going to be different, but they never learn, do they?

  2. Sigh, not only spin but outright lies from the Spin/Mia Culpa panel.

    The energizing presentation by McCay and Brown of Marriage Equality might have saved the morning session for me, if it were not for the Matt Foreman Op-Ed linked to right here on UtF which pointed out the fallacies in the gay wish list for a campaign.

    Marriage Equality went thru their study of what gays wanted to see - - more gay families, more gay stories ... but as Foreman wisely pointed out, these elements which speak well to gay audiences do not necessarily influence the voters we need to move ... and likely do just the opposite (i.e., the ick factor is alive and well).

    So the Marriage Equality presentation, though lively, seemed like debunked news to me. And the various election statistics reports - though remaining accurate - were really old news as well.

    The speakers referred to in Phillip's post were great, though. And a "surprise" visit by Mayor Villaraigosa was rad.

    The breakout sessions were a little weak ... Most of us have already been talking with each other about issues and stratgies and tactics ad infinitum for months. Guided sessions of the same was hardly groundbreaking stuff.

    But I can't say the day was unenjoyable. It was nice doing workshoppy activist stuff with all my activist pals and meeting a few new people.

    An impromptu breakout session for the budding OUT West coalition was surprisingly effective and successful. So I won't consider the day a total waste.

    But it was a looooooong day ... and I didn't make it till the very end. All in all, though I enjoyed myself, the event seemed rather useless. EqCA was essentially scooped in this type of thing by the similar, back-to-back Equal Roots and Marriage Equality events in December. This just seemed like old-hat re-hash at this stage of the game.

    If Geoff Kors and Lorri Jean had been more candid about their fuckups, the main event of the day might have had more resonance. But a giant spin cycle followed by endless workshops and reports ... Hmmm, I'd have to give the event a C+ at best.

  3. Thanks Phillip! David G

  4. that was a crazy event, bu those people have better learned their lesson.