Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Restore Equality 2010 - There Is No Wrong Time to Fight for What's Right

Guest Post: Jane Wishon is a straight mother-of-three who has been married 33 years. She actively campaigned against Prop 8 and has started a cause for straight allies on Facebook. Jane, now a member of Restore Equality 2010's IAG, also volunteers for AIDS Project LA, and twitters @janewishon

Lightning in a bottle. Electric. Grassroots. Groundswell.

Notice how the best terms to describe the outpouring of energy since the passage of Prop 8 last fall are tied to nature – beautiful, chaotic, unstoppable nature? The fight for marriage equality in California has taken on all the beauty and awesomeness of a natural phenomenon, and the very last thing we should do is try to contain and control it. But channel it? Yes! Then we should take that energy, step back and watch the movement go!

First, the California LGBT grassroots gathered to create a checklist of “next steps” with Steve Hildebrand (Obama Campaign strategist) showing them the way to start.

Then, activists came together to choose an Interim Administrative Group, form a ballot committee and select a grassroots organizational plan with Ace Smith (Hilary Clinton Campaign strategist) cheering them on.

And this past week grassroots activists gathered in town halls all over the state to elect representation to a statewide advisory panel and lay the groundwork for selecting an Executive Committee for the campaign. And there’s more to come until each and every inch of California is represented.

Like a tidal wave, new activism with new energy is rolling over the state, making no apologies for disregarding the “expert advice” of more established institutions. At San Diego’s Town Hall, lesbian activist and academic Pat Washington urged these activists on, saying “You have a truly -- I mean absolutely unequivocal -- grassroots movement. So what if the powers that be don't like it? What if they don't like your timing? What if they don't like your message? ... There is no wrong time to fight for what's right.”

So how does a political campaign create momentum from this wonderful, chaotic energy? After all, the energy has to have a focus and discipline to be effective. Fortunately, John Patterson, board member of RENWL in South LA and co-author of the plan, has co-authored an organizational plan for California that is both structured, yet flexible enough to maximize local input and statewide communications. Simply, this plan calls for community based “hubs” of activity (everything from signature gathering to fundraising) formed within existing communities, gay and straight. These hubs are within 10 regions across the state. The regions are represented by democratically elected Regional Representatives as well specially elected Affinity Representatives. These Affinity Representatives are chosen to insure that all cultures, religions, labor, etc. are present “at the table” in decision-making.

These Regional Representatives and Affinity Representatives will join with representatives of the major Equality Organizations in California to form a Statewide Advisory Panel for the campaign. Yes, that’s right -- the traditional LGBT rights organizations will join with the democratically elected activists to create the Panel.

Once the Panel is seated in November, it will select the Executive Committee for the campaign. At that point, the Interim Administrative Group (IAG) will sunset and hand off the campaign to leadership selected by the people whose rights are at stake.

This past weekend saw the election of Regional Representatives from San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Hollister, Santa Cruz, and the Inland Empire. More regions will be meeting in coming weeks. Meanwhile, hubs are forming and Affinity Representatives will be elected soon. Check for updated information.

Asked why she agreed to serve as a Cat Wrangler for the movement, noted San Franciscan activist Jo Hoenninger commented "I'm doing this for all of the people who didn't get a chance to be one of the 18,000 same-sex couples who got to get married last year."

The political graveyard is full of candidates and campaigns who were told to wait. For those like Mario Cuomo, the right year never came. Other candidates and campaigns, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, ignored the ‘experts;’ put their trust in the electorate to do what is right; and stepped boldly onto the stage of history.

"When people come to me saying there's too much to do – fighting for HIV/AIDS patients who have had their funding cut, working for change at the Federal level and all the other things that we must do – I tell them that we can do it all. We are not small people, and we have no idea how much we are capable of doing,” Jeffrey Taylor, another Cat Wrangler from the IAG.

When do you want your rights back? Now? Then join the movement – gather the signatures to get back on the ballot in 2010 – be a part of history. There is no wrong time to fight for what’s right.

Jane Wishon, Member of the IAG
Straight Ally Women 4 Equality


  1. You are absolutely right, Jane!

    We want our equal rights NOW so We must start NOW!

  2. Tracy:

    Yes, we do need to start NOW, but that doesn't mean we should fix a vote in 13 months. We control the timetable and we will lose if the vote is in 13 months. We have 27 full months of work ahead and we should give ourselves 27 months to do it.

    Repeating the word "grassroots" like some kind of magical chant does not make a ballot win possible. The Yes on 8 people had 100,000 volunteers with 5 volunteers in every precinct in CA on election day. In sum, it was run like a Presidential election campaign in a battleground state. I am delighted that after 3-4 months, the Tenners have developed a checklist and have held their first meeting. But they have no resources and no realistic plan to even collect 700,000 signatures by the deadline - let alone actually fight and win the election in 13 months.

    Let's take the time and do it right.

  3. This debate is not about one year over another. It's about doing the work. Whether we win or lose in 2010 is not the argument. It's clear that the community is going to try to go sooner than later.

    So anonymous, let's say you're right and we're forgetting about the ground we gain by working to win in 2010. We gain more grassroots activists, we gain more structure and organization to continue to do the outreach.

    Some of the assumptions made by those who want to wait are based on a terribly run campaign that did little to reach out to diverse communities and to people of faith. The media was terrible and did nothing to change hearts and minds. It was slow to react and completely unresponsive to the grassroots activists.

    It's time to consider that there is a better, far more effective way to run this campaign.
    1. media campaign that is in the first person. I really like what I've seen from the Truth and Hope guys, and think that's what will work.
    2. dedicated grassroots structure giving every region, community, faith groups access to resources, ability to talk to campaign leadership and be heard. No one knows their communities like those who live in them and their input will be vital to the success of this campaign.
    3. campaign leadership that has deep experience winning tough field battles. I'm not going to snipe at those who were in charge before, because they stepped up to the plate. The problem was that they weren't experts in field and campaign strategy. So this time around, let's make sure that we choose those at the top who will actually lead the charge for their ability to win tough races.

  4. This would all go a lot better if organizations stick to the things they do well, and have the grace to defer to others that have more expertise. In 2008, EQCA did not do that, and we all lost as a result. They are an amazing advocate for us in statewide government and are darn good at raising funds, but had no experience in statewide voter initiative campaigning until last year, and they failed miserably. It was the ultimate in mission creep fail.

    I just cant fathom why EQCA seems to believe they are in an authoritative position to advise the LGBT population on when to fight when they have not proven themselves effective.

    This is a state that had a grassroots movement move massive percentages against us and defeat the Briggs Initiative...OVER 30 YEARS AGO. We can do it again, if we work smarter, work harder and ensure we run a financially sound campaign. The ingredients for success are all there now. We just need people to step up and SELFLESSLY lead.

  5. 2 points:

    Although EQCA completely screwed up Prop 8 and should not be allowed to lead the next fight, their report on why it makes sense to have a vote in 2012 makes sense. The arguments have to be assessed on the merits, regardless of the source.

    As far as the argument that we should do it in 2010 and then again in 2012 if we lose the first time: unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. You don't get stronger as you suffer successive defeats, you grow weaker. The money doesn't show up and voters become fixed in their positions.

    If you doubt me, do this thought exercise: consider all the important issues that are voted upon by initiative in CA. This includes issues that involve highly motivated and sophisticated interest groups, like doctors, insurance companies and public unions. Have any of these interest groups - with all of their resources and political expertise - ever attempted to put a preferred measure on the ballot in 3 successive elections? Ever? The answer is no. And the reason is because it doesn't work. If we lose in 2010, we would have to wait 6, 8, or 10 years before trying again.

  6. I'm not interested in whining. I'm interested in winning. My rights are not subject to the conjecture of experts about events yet to happen. Cut the paternalistic bubble narrative and remember the grassroots did it with Briggs in a far worse percentage spread.

    We're certainly not going to wait for the time when any campaign manager with a brain would trust EQCA again.

  7. Proven winners like Ace Smith (Hillary 08 CA campaign) and Steve Hildebrand (ranking Obama 08 campaign staff) are suggesting that there is no good reason to wait for a ballot initiative. The idea that the 2012 group speaks for the seasoned political voice lacks merit.
    I read in the 2012 rationale that 1) they are scared of losing, and 2) they don't think that there has been enough outreach to people of color. The campaign is less than a month old. There is way more time this time around to gather support than we had in 2008. There doesn't seem to be enough evidence to make that argument yet. Lets see how things unfold over the next few months and re-assess.
    Many things have happened since we lost in 2008, 5 states have granted equal marriage, a ground swell of supporters have organized themselves and are on-track to accomplish a historical task, and a marriage equality advocate will be at the top of the ticket in 2010. All things that we didn't have in place 14 months before the election last year.
    Take courage CA, a more equal state looks like it is within reach sooner than later!

  8. I have mixed emotions about whether we should go in 2010 or 2012, but my ambivalence is not because I think it would be easier to win in 2012 than 2010.

    My ambivalence comes as to whether the symbolic value of the word "marriage" is really worth the cost of an expensive campaign. Gay couples in California, unlike in, say, Louisiana or Alabama or thirty other states, have all the rights of marriage except the name. I think the name is significant, but I wonder if it might not make sense to use the money it would take to restore the word marriage to gay couples in California to move other states toward civil unions or domestic partnerships?

    But if the word marriage is deemed crucially important, then I think 2010 is a better year than 2012. The Presidential year will not help our cause. The candidates that the top of the tickets in both parties will not be in favor of same-sex marriage. Moreover, the Obama candidacy will inspire an enormous turn-out of religiously motivated minorities, who will not vote for same-sex marriage.

    In 2010, the Democratic candidate for Governor will be on record in favor of same-sex marriage. Newsom or Brown will not be able to run away from their outspoken support of marriage equality.

    I think the group that can make the difference is the libertarian wing of the Republican party, and that is who we need to make a special outreach to (in addition to the outreach we make to minority groups). With Republicans like Steve Schmidt, Theodore Olson, and Megan McCain announcing their support for same-sex marriage, I think Republicans can be moved from a 90% vote in favor of Proposition 8 to at least 25% in favor of marriage equality.

    Another reason that I favor 2010 is simply because we should not give our enemies a free pass. Yes, it will be difficult for us to raise sufficient money to wage a successful campaign. But it will be difficult for them as well. Moreover, we have a better chance in California to win at the ballot box than in almost any other state, and you can be sure that our enemies will be targeting other states if they get a free pass in California.