Thursday, September 17, 2009

Guest Post: About Face - How OUT West Boot Camp changed My Mind About Marriage Equality

Guest blogger Frances Yasmeen Motiwalla is the Director of LA Based Outreach for Peace Action West. She grew up in Chicago, then grew up even more in New York City, and now lives as a grown up in Echo Park with her partner, May, and their parrotlet, Pico. She holds a BA from Wheaton College (IL) in Political Science, and recently helped create the Peeka-Bu Mirror ( - the world's first "intimate" grooming mirror.

To be perfectly honest, marriage equality has been low on my priority list. For the last two years, I've been canvassing for Peace Action West, and focused on foreign policy. Marriage is great and all, so is the environment, and the economy - BUT IT DRIVES ME CRAZY that so many people don't think about how the military industrial complex has bankrupt our society. OUT West Campaign Boot Camp this past weekend officially shot the fight for Marriage Equality up my priority list.

What did it for me, was a realization during David Fleischer's presentation, "Changing Hearts and Minds: Message Development and Voter Persuasion." After laying out informative principles of messaging, David showed us several campaign ads from various gay marriage ballot referendums, from BOTH sides. What became clear to me was that as our side fumbles to present the nicest possible people rationally explaining the fairness and rightness of marriage equality, the opposition is not even really talking about marriage. I don't watch TV at all, so I had no clue that their ads were thinly-veiled, fear-mongering attacks that we are a threat to children and society. That pissed me off.

In the afternoon, we heard from Rose Kapolczynski of Progressive Strategy Partners, who has run Senator Barbara Boxer's campaigns, and has won a myriad of proposition campaigns. One thing she mentioned was that usually "Yes" ballot measures usually highlight a problem and claim to be the right solution. The problem proposed by the Yes on 8 camp is that legitimizing gay marriage will lead to "gayness" being taught in schools, their kids thinking that it's okay, and god forbid, actually turning gay.

While their campaign completely avoids the actual question of equal rights regarding marriage, I think it does illuminate a very real problem that deserves attention:
IF your child DOESN'T learn to accept homosexuality as equal in school, there is a greatly increased risk that they will grow up to be bullies who ignorantly talk about hating gays.
While some parents might think it's in their best interest to propagate their prejudice, our only hope for evolving as a society, ending discrimination and hate crimes and achieving true equality, lies in our ability to stop the cycle of hate. The groundbreaking documentary It's Elementary demonstrates the powerful impact that talking to school children about homosexuality can have on their ability to develop into well adjusted adults. Perhaps this problem calls for a whole other ballot referendum, an Homophobic Asshole Prevention Measure, if you will.

So, boot camp officially sucked me into the fight. I realized the key word is Equality...and that I was sitting in a room with 140 people who are going to be the change in this socio-political battle. OUT West brought together a spectacular line-up of instructors, teaching the fundamentals of campaigning: Finance, Field, Political and New Media Organizing, and Communications. The only downside was that we only had time to pick two!

I took the Finance and Organizing classes. Charles T. Moran's Overview of Campaign Fundraising was my favorite part, well, Charles, himself, was my favorite part. He is a political consultant, mega-fundraiser for the Republicans, and spokesperson for the Log Cabin Republicans. I am still perplexed by his choice of party affiliation, but I was totally enamored by his straight-forward presentation, I want to be just like him when I grow up, and I am very happy that we are on the same side of this battle. He shared tips on being a great fundraiser, but also stressed the necessity of a solid campaign plan, because while personality goes a long way, wise investors want to know their money will be well spent.

The most challenging part of the weekend, was during the second finance class, lead by Moof Mayeda, Sarah Reece and Kathleen Camisano of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force. After a thorough presentation of the fundamentals of one-on-one contacts, we were asked to scroll through our phones and make a list of friends to call and practice the fund raising skills we had just learned, whilst raising money for the No on Prop 1 campaign in Maine.

While I stand on the street and ask strangers for money every day while canvassing, this was surprisingly scary. But as I looked at the list I had formed, I realized, though, that each of these people most likely cared about the issue, and would probably love the opportunity to give. We ended up only having a few minutes to make the calls. I got 5 voice mail messages and they told us it was time to wrap up...I dialed one more, determined now. My friend, Tracy picked up, and, well, it was even easier than I had expected. Tracy was psyched I was getting involved with the campaign, didn't know that Maine was facing a proposition and was happy to help. Even easier than getting people jazzed about foreign policy!

The organizing classes were also very helpful, Martha De Hoyos of Brave New World Films introduced us to the nuts and bolts of coalition building and community organizing. Effectively building relationships by focusing on shared interests with community leaders will undoubtedly be a key to future campaign successes. And Lola Elfman of the New Organizing Institute (NOI) gave us solid tips to refine our use of online tools. From here on out, our e-mail campaigns will be timely, engaging and trackable, our websites will empower and lead to action, and our social networking will be maximized. Fingers crossed. We also learned NOI is hosting a Non Profit New Media Training conference October 5-6 in SF, which sounds fantastic.

We had the honor of hearing from many more speakers - truly inspiring messages from Reverend Art Cribbs, Reverend Eric Lee, Rabbi Allan I. Freehling, and Eric Bauman; a powerful history lesson from longtime activist Diane Abbit; lessons from the battleground from Planned Parenthood's Serena Josel and Sara Shirrell; and to top it off, key note speaker, Christine Pelosi.

Something that has really stuck with me, was from Ms. Pelosi's introduction. It turns out that she has been organizing since she was in a stroller. Every year her mother, our Speaker of the House, apparently, used to wheel her children door to door doing lit drops for the Democratic Party back in the '60s, way before she ever considered running for office. This has given me a whole new respect for Nancy Pelosi. While it's easy for people to point fingers and say she's not done enough, perhaps she's done way more than we know. May we all be as dedicated and long-suffering as we take up leadership in the struggle towards equality. (and a just foreign policy, of course.)

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