Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Leadership Summit Organizations Going Back to Community to Assess Next Steps on Marriage Equality in CA

On Sunday, the day after Meet in the Middle, 250 leaders and community activists from all over the state representing many different organizations and regions came together in Fresno, CA to a Leadership Summit to discuss the next steps towards achieving marriage equality in California. The attendees were either made aware of the summit by email or came from the open invitation announced from the rally stage at Meet in the Middle. The topics ranged from when the next campaign to repeal Prop 8 should take place, how it should look and who might make the decisions.

Organizations in attendance included Courage Campaign, Marriage Equality USA, One Struggle One Fight, Equality California, Equal Roots, API Equality Los Angeles, Yes on Equality, California Faith for Equality, and many more.

The meeting kicked off with the attendees, seated at numerous round tables, discussing amongst themselves what they were hoping to get out of the meeting, then facilitator Tanya Nayo, who works for the city of San Francisco, recorded concerns and topics to address.

See more video of the summit at our Qik Channel.

As seen in the video above, learning how to get passed differences of opinion and working together as a whole was a major theme that attendees wanted to address. Also, concerns on how to continue to involve the community in the decision making process on when to return to the ballot to repeal Prop 8 was brought up numerous times.

"I was happy that we could all be in the same space and meet the people that we haven't had the opportunity to meet before," said Robin McGeHee, lead organizer for Meet in the Middle told Unite the Fight (UTF). She also hosted the Leadership Summit along with Yes on Equality. "We knew not everyone statewide was going to be here, but we wanted to take advantage of Meet in the Middle with so many people attending."

"There was great resolve to figure out how to work together in the months ahead moving forward," Marc Solomon, the new Marriage Director for Equality California, said. "I think people are ready to figure out how we're truly going to put together a strong grassroots campaign that is, on the one hand, cohesive and powerful, and also empowers leadership at the local level."

Another heavy topic and major focal point for most of the meeting was the 2010 vs. 2012 debate on when to go to the ballot in an effort to repeal Prop 8. First to address this concern was Diane Abbitt, who co-chaired the campaign that defeated the Briggs Initiative aka Prop 6. (See video above before the internet feed drops.)

She discussed at length the LGBT population's pass success with defeating Prop 6, but also pointed out that at the time, we were smaller with fewer organizations needing to collaborate.

Now we've grown and have many more people eager to be involved for equal rights, and though this is a great situation, it creates a slower process and many more hurdles to clear.

But Marc Solomon felt the meeting helped. "I think overall I was really pleased at the willingness of the people to work together, to come up with a campaign that works for everybody, that has a really strong, empowered grassroots, but that can also raise the money and develop the messaging that's going to be most successful in moving California voters our way."

Sarah Callahan, who has run field on campaigns for twenty years and is one of the most experienced campaign hands in California, spoke after Diane. She clearly described what she believes a successful campaign would look like, and communicated that, basically in the environment in which we find ourselves here in California, it needs to be a near perfect campaign to win.

"I've won many campaigns, I've lost many campaigns," she said, but went on to say it was the lost campaigns that taught her the most. "Prop 8 was what we needed to learn from."

After Diane and Sarah fielded questions from attendees (UTF working on getting video), the big portion of the meeting began with pollsters David Binder and Amy Simon presenting the results of the biggest marriage equality poll ever conducted in California.

At this point, the press was asked to leave, all bloggers asked to stop blogging and Tweeting, and the wi-fi internet in the conference room turned off. They wanted to be clear that the reasoning behind this is that this poll, having cost the LGBT organizations who collaborated on it and the Calfiornia LGBT population they represent thousands of dollars, contained information that the opposing side, such as the National Organization for Marriage, could easily use to campaign against us, causing another defeat in either 2010 or 2012.

However, some of the polling numbers were released to the press recently. This is what was made public:

1. Opinion in California is closely divided, 47% support, 48% oppose, indicating not much has changed.
2. There is 1-3% advantage to a 2012 ballot compared to 2010, but other external factors may have greater implications than complexion of the electorate.
3. Voter support increases when language specifies that clergy would not have to perform services that go against their faith.

After the polling presentation was made, a long discussion among the attendees on how to use this powerful information took place, specifically in regards to when to return to the ballot.

John Henning, co-founder of Love Honor Cherish, who have been strong proponents for 2010, told UTF, "The fact that you can do a little bit better in a couple years is not a reason to wait a couple years. You can argue to wait until 2014 to do even better, but it's not a reason to wait when you're a second-class citizen."

"So already we're neck and neck," he went on. "And when you put in the religion exclusion language, you're ahead."

John wanted to make something clear about the polling. "The poll was measuring opinions today, but it wasn't taking into account if they change their minds over time if there is a campaign. With an 18 month campaign for 2010, we can change minds."

Eric Nakano, representative of API Equality Los Angeles at the Leadership Summit, is on the other end of the spectrum on making a decision about when we should return to the ballot.

"Our position has always been that we needed additional information to make an informed decision, and the polling data goes a long way of providing us with that. We are studying it closely and hope for some additional analysis as to what date will be better."

The polling included analysis done in Mandarin and Cantonese. "We will have to look a little deeper into that information and determine what the responses were to the information that was tested, specifically in regards to persuasion."

API Equality Los Angeles has had a lot of reasons to deliberate before making a decision on the timing of an initiative. "The audit for the No on 8 campaign has not been released - how can you possibly run a campaign when you don't know how the money was spent for the last campaign? We just got the [polling] information yesterday. We'll have a huge drop off from 2008 vs. 2010," said Eric. "All these things had not been addressed. Our steering community would be irresponsible for supporting something without enough information. Such committees may have to make the unpopular decisions that goes against the popular opinion."

"There's a process on how we make a decision," Eric said.

"I was disappointed that we didn't have time to come to conclusive results," Robin McGeHee told UTF, referring to the summit lasting much longer than scheduled and with many people facing long drives home.

"However, I really didn't have that expectation that it was possible to come to any conclusion because there wasn't enough time. And there are deep-rooted differences of opinion on next steps. But what I do believe happened is that it created an environment that we will trust each other enough to come back and meet again."

"We agreed together to meet again in July at a summit that that Courage Campaign and Equality California will co-facilitate because we didn't get through everything," Marc Solomon said, adding that they plan on holding the summit in the Inland Empire.

"I think the stage is set for the community to work together to come up with the right initiative and to come up with the right campaign structure. And my belief, in 8 weeks it will be done," Rick Jacobs told UTF, referring to the July meeting. "I think people are ready to buckle down and get to work. I think people heard from Sarah and Diane about assessing what their organizations are good at and how we can build a powerful, winning grassroots and smart political campaign."

So how is the community going to be engaged in the decision making process so that they're fully represented at the July meeting?

All roads lead to Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA and regional organizations hosting "Get Engaged" town halls, an idea and strategy of engaging the community that she presented at the summit.

Robin McGeHee called the "Get Engaged" town halls "the best idea" with lots of support coming from the organizations that attended the summit, including Courage Campaign and Equality California.

So what is "Get Engaged"? Marriage Equality USA and regional organizations are planning over 80 "Get Engaged" community gatherings across the state to share the polling data and obtain community insight and feedback on how to proceed in the next campaign. The gatherings will help identify local volunteers and establish or expand regional coalitions that can be integrated into a future statewide campaign.

"The community is already engaged," Molly McKay first pointed out to UTF. "Now we need to take an inventory on what we need and what we have. We need to get people, all different organizations, on the same, united message for equality with the latest polling data and analysis to craft a field plan from the ground up."

Molly said that at the town halls, "the polling information will be given out in the form of a polling presentation and the community will have the opportunity to ask questions."

"Then we're going to also sit down and look at each region's voting analysis, how they voted for Prop 8, determine what the regional LGBT organizations have as resources now and what they need moving forward," Molly continued. "This way they can tell us what kind of campaign they want to see and how best they think we can implement that strategy."

If you have questions or want to host a gathering, contact getengaged@marrigeequality.org.

If - and this is a big if - if we're to go back to the ballot in 2010, do we have enough time? Is waiting until July to make a decision wasting it?

When asked directly if we can wait until then to plan a 2010 campaign, Marc Solomon simply said, "Yes."

"I think what needs to happen between now and July is that we need to reach out to many different organizations that have expressed questions and concerns about the date," Marc continued. "And not just me, we all need to reach out so we can have conversations between now and July, so that we can approach a place to make a decision. All the groups need to reach out to others in their communities and their networks. This is not just an EQCA job, it's Courage Campaign and Marriage Equality USA's job among others, and then report back."

"We need to figure out a governance plan for a campaign that includes a role for the grassroots in respect to governing the campaign," Marc said. "We also need an outline for a winning campaign, and we need a fund-raising plan. We have to collectively find 20 million plus dollars to run this campaign, and in this economy, that's going to be a challenge."

"I'm very exciting about [the summit]," Rick Jacobs said. "It was a really great meeting in which everyone got a chance to voice their ideas and people learned both from the polling and from real experts like Sarah Callahan and Diane Abbitt."

"I thought the atmosphere was terrific," Rick continued. "I think Meet in the Middle and yesterday's summit were historic events. It was an outpouring of affirmative energy. And we haven't seen that in our movement in a long time. And I think that's what will win."

Thanks to Marta Evry who blogs at VeniceforChange.com for the amazing pictures.

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