Today, the Courage Campaign announced that it had raised enough money to take a first step towards a 2010 campaign. An hour later, Equality California (EQCA), the largest and most powerful California LGBT organization, announced that it was going to move forward and work towards a 2012 campaign.
Right now, the California LGBT population is experiencing whiplash and fears that these announcements will drive the wedge of division that already exists deeper into the heart of the community.
Courage Campaign has been steadfast in its support for 2010, and early on, so was EQCA, but with the latter's decision to now focus on a 38 month campaign, many are wondering what does this spell for the community's next steps? Will a consensus ever be reached?
Last weekend, those who would become the California Coalition for Marriage Equality held a Next Steps Working Meeting, and though it was billed as an inclusive meeting for all view points, it was a decidedly pro-2010 planning event with very few 2012 groups attending.
Unite the Fight spoke with EQCA's Marriage Director Marc Solomon, who attended the event. In a one-on-one interview in Marc's sparse office, I asked how EQCA was going to move forward in a community whose grassroots is charging ahead with or without his organization, especially in light of today's announcement and the release of "Winning Marriage Equality Back in California: Analysis and Plan," their pro-2012 road map.
“I don’t view this as the end of discussion and conversation," Marc said about the announcement right off the bat. "We promised the LGBT community that we would let them know what we think the wisest course of action is. It's our responsibility. That’s why we put something out today. But we’re not saying that it’s our way or the highway. We certainly can’t force anyone to adopt our position."
"We hope people read [the analysis] and use interactive sites like Unite the Fight and others to discuss it," he said. "I encourage everyone to read it and think about it."
I asked Marc what he hopes will come of the road map, and he spoke of the motivation behind its release.
"There are two things we wanted to do. One, we wanted to get the work started. We know there's work that needs to happen in moving people our way on marriage. Two, we wanted to do a lot of due diligence on what we think the smartest approach is for moving forward to overturn Prop 8.
"A lot of factors came into play. One that isn’t talked about a lot is moving people on this issue of marriage equality happens best in a cultural context, when people can let their guards down and really listen. In a political context, it’s a lot harder to do – it's a 'he said, she said' political battle. People put up their defenses in a political campaign, instead of realizing, 'Oh, I didn’t know this couple lived down the street from me.' Trying to condense this down to 14 months is really hard, in the midst of a political campaign, when there’s a lot of going back and forth."
It's safe to say that almost all of the community can agree that winning is about changing hearts and minds of voters, but no one is clear about how to unite the LGBT community to come to a consensus and to go out and do exactly what is needed to win.
I asked Marc about what he thinks needs to happen in order for this to come into fruition.
"One thing that is clear to me that Unite the Fight pointed out after [the summit in] San Bernardino, is how much hurt and pain there is in our community post Prop 8. And it sort of dawned on me, 'Oh my god, I get it.' All these people, including myself, are sort of wounded from this loss and we’re acting it out in lots and lots of different ways. I think we need to acknowledge that.
"When I first got out here, I thought, 'Of course we’re going back in 2010. We can’t wait.' And I heard people say, 'Well are you sure? Does that make sense?" From funders and more."
Marc paused. "And then I really started listening. I listened carefully. I think the people need to listen carefully to the POC LGBT groups who feel they are being steamrolled. I think they felt steamrolled when we first came out for 2010.
"There’s this feeling that when it’s convenient, that people will listen to what [the POC groups] have to say and when it’s not, they won’t. I think we all have to think about that. Think about what these communities went through after Prop 8 passed and the blaming of POC communities. I think it’s important that people listen to that perspective, that they're thinking 'Our communities got blamed for Prop 8.' And after, people said a lot of work will happen, and now the work hasn’t happened and we’re saying we’re going right back to the ballot. That’s an important perspective to keep into account."
Marc rebuffed the claim that those who support 2012 are wanting to "wait."
"We all want to win back marriage as quickly as humanly possible. The question is, 'Can we get it done by 2010 or not?'"
Marc then addressed the philosophy of returning to the ballot each election year until we win.
"We [EQCA] don’t believe we can go back to the ballot in [2010 and 2012] - it’s one or the other. If we lose, it will be very hard to go back to the ballot before 2014, 2016 or 2018. The thought of spending 150 million dollars three election cycles in a row is totally unrealistic.
"If you keep going back to the ballot over and over, you appear to the movable middle, to the people you need to persuade, as a zealot. Regular people will say, 'Oh my god, they’re back again. Haven’t we already decided this?' And we say, 'We’re fighting. We’re fighting to win.' But we have to think about who needs to come our way and who we need to move."
I then pushed Marc again about the practicalities of how we can all work together with a mobile grassroots coalition already moving forward on 2010, and the largest LGBT organization in California announcing it's for 2012, not to mention the vast array of organizations in the Prepare to Prevail coalition who also support 2012.
So I got to specifics. Will he or someone from Equality California attend the California Coalition for Marriage Equality convention in San Francisco, the objective of which will be to hammer out a campaign governing structure.
“I would like to be there. If not, Andrea Shorter, who is our Deputy Marriage Director and who lives up in San Francisco, will be."
I asked him if he, as a representative of EQCA, could help get the pro-2012 POC groups involved in planning the structure.
“First of all , I think they feel dissed. They weren’t engaged. I don’t blame them at all for sort of taking a step back. I think they feel they were disrespected.
"I'm brainstorming here. Maybe there should be a session where it isn’t a debate, but where they explain what it's like to work in the Latino community, what it’s like working in the African American community, and people really agree to listen instead of writing the position off. We have plenty to learn from groups who are working in communities of color. So I think how we’re going to pull together – we need to listen to each other more, respect each other more."
I pushed for more specifics about developing some sort of governing structure that will be flexible enough for any campaign year.
"For practicalities," he said, "There are a few different divides. There’s the 2010 vs. later divide. (As an aside, we’ve made very clear the we're not the “or later” position but the 2012 position. We are prepared to play an active role in a 38 month campaign to win back marriage.) There’s also a divide between grassroots and more established organizations, and I think that’s something we need to figure out. It’s complicated.
"One the one hand, I don’t think it makes sense for an unincorporated group to have the same vote as EQCA on something, or the same vote as the Courage Campaign or Marriage Equality USA. At the same time, we’ve all listened and heard loudly and clearly, that the grassroots voice needs to be an active voice."
Marc made it clear that they will not ignore the movement that is being made. "We’re taking all of this seriously. We’re engaging seriously everywhere with as many hours as there are in a day, we’re engaging. I believe in doing something in a united kind of way. With as many waking hours that I have, I will engage and I will talk. It’s important for me to be accessible.”
Will he support a 2010 signature campaign?
"Will I go out and urge people to go collect signatures? Probably not. But I respect people who are going to go out and collect signatures. And I really mean that. I wish we were all on the same page. That’s what I hope for."
“We are not going to get in anyone’s way of anything," Marc added. "And people who want to move forward in 2010 have every right to. Of course you can make an argument that by putting our point of view out there, we’re getting in their way. I don’t think that’s a fair point. I heard some point-of-views that if you’re not with the program, then just be quiet and don’t say what you think because otherwise you’re getting in the way. That’s not a definition of getting in the way that makes any sense.”
On the EQCA conference call with reporters and bloggers about the 2012 announcement, Rex Wockner pushed hard on Executive Director Geoff Kors and Marc Solomon, asking how they couldn't think it was going to be a PR disaster for EQCA to not support the grassroots. Kors responded he didn't see it that way at all. So I asked Marc, who works with and deals with the grassroots everyday, the same question.
“I think that we owe it to the community to let people know our best thinking," was his response. "And if we’re going to take some hits for it, it’s OK."
"Nobody likes to take hits," Marc quickly added. "I would feel a hell of a lot worse not saying what we really thought the smarter approach was. To lead our community in another direction just because we were concerned about the flak we would take - I couldn’t live with myself for doing that.”
So what if the California Coalition for Marriage Equality gets enough signatures for a 2010 ballot?
“If something is on the ballot, we are going to do what we can to help it succeed. If our rights are on the ballot, that’s our job. Even if we don’t think it’s the right time, it’s our job to fight for the LGBT community to help support it. We have committed to doing that work - the persuasion work. We have 18 full-time organizers across the state - the purpose of that work is to move voters our way. That work is valuable whenever there is an initiative on the ballot. The work on the ground is not out of sync.”
But is it in sync?
“We all need to talk about how this works," he responded. "We just put something out there [their road map]. We want to engage in conversation now."
Marc delved into what he thinks EQCA's role could be in the upcoming days, working with those who support 2010.
"[EQCA]'s work moving forward is going to be persuasion work at the door for marriage equality. We think community wide, working with our coalition partners, we need to do some messaging work to see what will move specific demographic voters our way. That’s what we need to do together. Every consultant I’ve talked to has said you need to have more consistent messages when it comes to marriage equality. Our opponents are really disciplined that way. I think having knowledge of what’s most effective will be helpful."
Will EQCA encourage its donors to give to a qualifying 2010 campaign?
"If our rights are going to be on the ballot, we will do everything we can to succeed," Marc firmly stated. "Everything we can. We really do think we only get one shot at this in 6-8 years. And if the community decides this  is the shot we want, then we’ll support it. We will absolutely encourage donors, staff, everybody."
I asked him for a response to Courage Campaign's membership raising over $100,000 before its given deadline. Did he see that as an encouraging sign for 2010? Though he applauded the amazing feat and enthusiasm behind the money raised, he said -
“We need to raise $700,000 a week until next November to go in 2010."
Marc thought for a moment. "It’s been said [in the community], 'All we have to do is get the signatures and then EQCA will open the spigots and the money will flow.' No, that’s not what’s going to happen. All you have to do is look what’s going on in Maine right now. The last reporting showed our opponents were out-raising our side more than 2-to-1.”
But now that Courage Campaign and Marriage Equality USA are near their fundraising goal for ballot language research, will EQCA kick in support some way?
“We said we will help Courage Campaign and Marriage Equality USA and others to come up with campaign messaging. We will help with ballot language too with respect to wording. If someone is going to introduce ballot language, we want to be best. The school’s curriculum discussion – someone has to figure that one out.”
Marc continued, “We want to be sure it’s the smartest best ballot language we can put forward. I do think the messaging piece is also very important. We’re going to need good, crisp messaging. We’re going to need to know what our best case is to present to the voters. The piece that makes sense for us right now is general message. Let’s explore if we can do that together because I think it can be.”
Marc wanted to conclude by reiterating that he wants to work with everybody. Just because he may not agree about when to return to the ballot, doesn't mean he'll now disappear. He also expressed his excitement about what is happening.
"I’ll truly listen to everybody. I think one of the most exciting things about being in California right now is all this new energy and new groups," he said. "I think it’s so exciting, being an activist working on this issue 8 years now. It’s such an incredible moment. The perspectives from One Struggle, One Fight and Equal Roots and a whole slew of others is really neat and good, and I have plenty to learn from people who are inspired post Prop 8.
"For the first time in California and in the country, our community isn’t playing defense. From the Briggs Initiative to Prop 22 to Prop 8, our opponents picked the election they thought was best for them and they moved forward with a plan to do it. This time we get to choose when we think we can put or best effort forward."
Marc added one finishing thought.
"One thing I would ask people to do is give a good, close read to what we’ve put out there," he said, referring to their "Analysis and Plan" for 2012. "And if they have questions, send them to me and let’s discuss them.”
Equality California will continue soliciting feedback from community members and will hold a virtual town hall via livestream moderated by Bay Area Reporter Editor Cynthia Laird on Thursday, August 13, from 5 to 7 p.m. PDT. To join the town hall, visit www.livestream.com/equalitycalifornia at that time.