But during all this progress, I've wondered, "What progress is being made for November, 2012?" One of the major accusations against those who support 2012 is that they prefer to wait for their rights instead of fighting for them immediately. They object to this claim, stating that for the next three years, they will be working hard to navigate California's complicated demographics through field work and messaging, leading to a well-developed campaign for 2012.
So I decided to check in with Marc Solomon, Marriage Director for Equality California (EQCA), whose organization has become the forefront of the 2012 movement. When I called him up, he remarked on my timing. EQCA had a major announcement to make.
We sat down together at Java Detour, a local coffee house haunt, and I asked, "What's the big announcement?"
"We are relaunching Let California Ring," Marc answered. "By that I mean, we’ve added new people to the Executive Committee and the idea is to bring together resources and leaders who are doing critical work on the ground."
A press release issued today stated, "Let California Ring is the country’s largest marriage education effort of its kind. Today a broad-based coalition re-launched Let California Ring, a comprehensive campaign to build support for marriage for California’s same-sex couples with a focus on work in communities of color."
"Let California Ring (LCR) is a not-for-profit marriage education campaign. It’s not about a specific year - it’s about educating and moving people on the issue of marriage," Marc told me. "Between 2006 and 2008, it invested 15 million dollars of moving people on the freedom to marry. It did a lot of work – it invested about 4 million in paid advertising and different kinds of media – newspaper, radio, some television, all in the people of color (POC) communities.
"There was a lot of good work done, but it was overshadowed by the win in courts [the marriage cases] and the NO on 8 campaign, which was a much bigger and intense campaign."
Though Equality California Institute is the fiscal sponsor, LCR is a coalition of groups. "LCR is housed at EQCA Institute, we’re the convenors, but the Executive Committee of LCR is charged with developing budget, raising the funding – so it’s a true coalition and partnership."
The New Let California Ring
So, who are the new people on the LCR's Executive Committee?
"The people who have stayed on is Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry; Matt Foreman of HAAS Jr. Fund and former Executive Director of the Task Force and Empire State Pride Agenda; Thalia Zepatos, consultant of the National Collaborative, and Shannon Minter [of NCLR]," Marc informed. "New folks are me, Marc Solomon; Louis Lopez, founder of Honor PAC, who in my opinion, is the most sophisticated Latino LGBT organization that I’ve run across; Karin Wang, who's on the board of API Equality LA; Ron Buckmire, who chairs the Jordan Rustin Coalition; Rev. Madison Schockley, an amazing supporter, who is an African American United Church of Christ minister in N. County San Diego; Kathy Schwamberger, Vice Chair of EQCA Institute Board; and Roger Doughty, Executive Director of the Horizons Foundation out of San Francisco."
So what's the plan?
"We want to raise at least 15 million over the next three years," Marc said. "The primary focus of this work is going to be to move POC communities on the issue of marriage."
By partnering with organizations represented in the LCR's Executive Committee, as well as faith organizations, such as California Faith For Equality, Marc informed they plan "to do message testing development across the board, but particularly develop messaging that will work in these specific communities." All of this will be part of an education campaign.
"What we want to do in 2010 is research and work on pilot projects to put in place the messaging and delivery mechanisms that work, and put people on the ground to do the field organizing. So yes, it involves message testing."
And after that?
"The next step is to improve our messaging and then to add more components to a field education campaign. The additional components are media, TV, radio, online, newspaper ads, direct mail, mobilizing leaders in the community, getting news stories placed," he said.
Marc then refers to the work LCR did in the past, which he characterizes as having been "pretty scientific."
"They picked Santa Barbara and Monterey, which are similar communities in many respects," he said. In Santa Barbara and Monterey, they did polling before any work was begun. Then in Santa Barbara, they began an education campaign with paid media and field work. In Monterey, which was the control variable, they did no work.
"It was a two month experiment and there was some pretty dramatic movement in the polling [in Santa Barbara]," Marc said. "People from 18-29, the movement was 19% and Monterey showed no movement."
"It created this echo chamber [in Santa Barbara] where you see the TV ads and you talk about them, and you see someone at your fair and festival, talk to someone about marriage, you get a knock on your door, you get a direct mail, and it spurred on lots and lots of conversations and it spurred on a lot of volunteer activity," Marc continued. "So Santa Barbara was more prepared for the NO on 8 campaign. If you talked to the Santa Barbara people at the Gay and Lesbian Center, they were really ready and put on a strong local effort."
Santa Barbara voted against Prop 8, a marked change from Prop 22.
"People move only one way on this issue, and it’s our way," he said. "It’s about provoking conversations, hearing people’s personal stories, seeing things that relate to you and on television."
So how will LCR look today?
"We want many more groups and organizations involved with this work as much as possible," Marc said. "We’re creating three committees to help them get involved."
- Messaging Committee - they will work with a team of experts, some with more specific expertise in POC messaging. "What we’re envisioning is that all the people out there with the ideas of messaging - because many people have become real analysts of media - we want to provide a way for plenty of input and suggestions and then test them and try them out. We then want to go out and do real training on how to use the messaging. And have different methods on line and use our field operation as a means of disseminating that messaging. Having a task force for the back and forth is important."
- Families Committee - this committee will focus on getting the stories of the 18,000 same-sex couples legally married in California during the "summer of love" before Prop 8 passed out to the public. "What we’ll do through this committee is organize and train married couples, their children, their parents as well as those who aspire to get married to tell their stories," Marc informed. "And specifically, one of the projects is going to set up a speakers bureau, and our field organizers will identify places for them to speak – such as churches and community groups and labor meetings, you name it. With the message research that we will have done, we will conduct training of the couples, but the most important part of the training is help people speak from the heart as to why marriage matters to them, or to their moms, son and son-in-law."
- Field Committee - "The idea is to expand the reach and level of involvement of door-to-door canvassing. The concept that we’re thinking about or envisioning is a statewide field committee and then the local committees that will support the field work."
"This work is persuasion work on the freedom to marry no matter when we go back to the ballot," Marc answered. "It’s not connected to any year. It’s to build greater and greater support by having personal conversations. In order to be effective, we have to grow the numbers of people who are taking action."
The Work for 2012
What’s actually being done for 2012 that’s different?
"I think that this is the work right now that needs to happen to get ready to go back to the ballot down the road," Marc said.
But he immediately added, "So why am I saying down the road? It's because LCR is not-for-profit - it’s educational, it’s a 501c3. This work done by the EQCA Institute cannot be about a specific year."
Marc paused, thinking hard about his next words. "However, wearing my advocacy hat, we want to be in a place where were are prepared to go back to the ballot in 2012. That might sound a little convoluted, but because 501c3 is about education, it’s not about ballots."
"EQCA, the advocacy organization, has made it very clear about when we support going back to the ballot, and that’s November 2012 and not later, " he added. "We think reasonable deadlines have power."
2010 Decline to Sign Campaign?
This led to my next question on a touchy subject. There's been rumblings amongst the 2010 groups that a Decline to Sign campaign has been in the works against a 2010 ballot initiative. I asked him directly if EQCA was engaging in this, or if he knew of one in the works.
Marc shook his head and said emphatically, "I can say definitively - no. Absolutely not. And that it is shocking to hear that word is floating around, and I wonder, 'Where is this coming from?'"
I asked if he knew.
"I have no idea," he answered. "Honestly, it’s sort of sad that that idea is floating out there. Disappointing."
Thoughts on 2010 Progress
Recently, Love Honor Cherish submitted several different versions of ballot language to the Attorney General as place holders for 2010. It was reported that EQCA had input on the language. But how much?
"It was mainly Geoff," Marc said, referring to Geoff Kors, EQCA's Executive Director. "He’s a Stanford educated lawyer and has much more legal expertise than I do."
"So look, the idea is that when anything that is submitted on behalf of our community, we should be putting our best selves forward," he quickly added. "We don’t want to end up with a summary from the Attorney General or a title from the Attorney General that disadvantages us because once there’s a precedent, that could be used for future ballot language as well. We don’t want ballot language that would hurt kids and create a precedent there either. So even though we couldn’t be more clear that we think 2012 is the right time to go back and that 2010 is the wrong time to go back to the ballot, we still are providing technical support because whatever is submitted could have long-lasting ramifications."
I was curious to know what he thought of the progress made by Restore Equality 2010.
"I know a lot of the people who have gotten involved in 2010 well."
Marc then laughed as he thought of a story. "I was out this past Saturday night, and it’s almost comical. I went up to a friend of mine who is a 2010 person and asked, 'Are we allowed to talk because you’re 2010 and I’m 2012?' We just laughed about it because in some ways, it’s become this sort of dividing line. One the one hand, it’s very serious, and on the other, you can sometimes be lighthearted about the fact that we are all fighting for the exact same thing, and we are divided into these different camps.
"I respect lots and lots of people who are fighting for 2010. I admire the motivations of many of them - the passion and the reasoning. And I disagree. Period. And I wish we weren’t in this situation and I wish we were all pulling together behind a plan."
The Status of California's Grassroots
It's been almost a year since Prop 8, and I've observed energy is waning. So I asked Marc for his view was on the current grassroots situation in California.
Marc mulled this over a bit.
"In the wording of the website of LCR, which we’ve updated, we’ve made very clear that the world is a changed place and that grassroots leadership is exceptionally important to the success of the equality movement," Marc answered. "I feel EQCA, and I personally feel, a great sense of responsibility to support, nurture and learn from the new grassroots activists.
"I see some groups that are really finding niches for themselves and continue to do really important work, groups that have a lot of staying power, like Equal Roots and FAIR," he said. "I was very impressed at the leadership of Kip Williams of One Struggle One Fight. He is someone who has a huge amount of integrity. I think what he pulled off in helping put together by co-directing the [National Equality March] was really exceptional. These kind of leaders need to be supported."
"At the same time, I think the idea that we should go back to the ballot as soon as possible because if we don’t, the grassroots is going to die, is sort of the tail wagging the dog. The grassroots needs to be in this struggle for marriage equality and equality for all LGBT people for the long haul."
How Supporters Can Get Involved
So where can people plug in? I asked.
"One, we’re going to have a field committee that a lot of people can plug in to," he said. "The best place is to go to your local [EQCA] field office. We’re canvassing every single weekend out of our nine field offices around the state."
These field offices will continue to operate under the EQCA name but will be supported by the work being initiated by LCR.
"The LCR field committee will be to there to enhance, support and build on existing field efforts. In some places I’m sure will work hand-in-hand with the EQCA field operation on the ground, and in other places."
The LCR website is a work in progress for now. It will provide over the next few months the most cutting edge grassroots mobilization tools available.
"Between now and election day we are phone banking everyday from 2:30-5:30pm out of our field offices to support Maine, and in the evenings to support Washington state. We’ve committed to 25,000 phone calls and I want to blow that out of the water.
"And as we roll out programs, like the speaker’s bureau, we’ll reach out to you if you're married or you can reach out to your local field organizer," Marc informed.
"If you live in the Central Valley or Silicon Valley or San Diego, I promise you our organizers will put you to work, work that is really important to winning marriage back. We need the people power now."
Read Marc's post about the relaunch at California Ripple Effect.