Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Working Together for Equality: The Interim Organizational Structure & Signature Gathering Meeting for 2010 Campaign

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 also volunteers for AIDS Project LA, and twitters @janewishon

The California LGBT and Ally community has now held 3 statewide meetings in the past 5 weeks and, as they say, practice makes perfect. Last Saturday’s gathering in San Francisco brought activists from 2010, 2012, and undecided groups together in respectful dialogue and coalition building.

The day started, before we even arrived at the meeting venue, with an email about the surprising op-ed in that day’s Sacramento Bee. The co-founders of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club (a prominent 2012 proponent) called for a coordinated strategy with those who are driving towards a 2010 proposition to repeal Prop 8. Could it be that the LGBT Community was coming together with a common goal of equality?

Several of the attendees in San Francisco had previously stated their preference for a later poll date, yet there they were at a meeting with the stated purpose of creating structure for signature gathering for 2010. Molly McKay [of Marriage Equality USA] stood at the podium and gave a stirring speech about the importance of coalition-building and keeping all our options open.

After the total chaos of the July Leadership Summit in San Bernardino, the anti-equality forces crowed and celebrated. The National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family sent their members congratulatory emails filled with examples of our infighting and claiming it as proof that they will win the battle to exclude LGBT people from equal marriage rights. What a difference 5 weeks makes!

Because of this glimmer of cooperation, I believe that the day was already a success before the activists began to work on the stated goals:
  1. Elect a group of individuals to oversee the formation of an Interim Administrative Group (IAG) that will be charged with creating a Recipient Committee.
  2. Hear proposals, discuss, and reach consensus on a structure for a signature gathering effort to restore marriage equality; officers would be elected to the positions created at later meeting(s).
What a bonus that real progress was made; real decisions were reached!

The meeting began with a brief explanation of the agenda by Robin McGehee (who did a fantastic job of facilitating the day) and rolled into a conversation with the second nationally renowned political consultant to address the LGBT community in recent weeks.

Ace Smith is a veteran campaign strategist based in San Francisco. He helped win Hillary Clinton's Primary campaign in both California and Texas despite being considerably outspent by the opposition. In 2005, Smith managed Antonio Villaraigosa's underdog campaign for Mayor of Los Angeles. Despite being outspent by over $1 million in the primary campaign, Villaraigosa beat the incumbent mayor, James Hahn by 11%, and went on to rack up a 19-point lead in the general election. One activist confided to me that Smith is one of the top five political consultants in the state.

Smith took the time to explain campaigns to the grassroots activists. Like Steve Hildebrand three weeks before, Smith told the crowd that this is a civil rights issue, so traditional wisdom does not apply. Smith also agreed with Hildebrand’s statements that there is no reason to wait – that this is a winnable battle for 2010. Citing Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns as examples of times when conventional wisdom counseled “wait,” yet elections were won, Smith reminded us that there is no crystal ball to foretell the outcome of an election.

Hildebrand had emphasized the need to get a campaign structure in order. Smith opined that there is a need for a two-pronged campaign structure that empowers strong leadership while enabling the grassroots. He emphasized the need for the energy and enthusiasm of grassroots activism. “This is a civil rights movement. You can’t script it. You have to let people go. They have to be able to organize freely. Capturing lightning in a bottle, it either happens or it doesn’t, you have to let it happen. It’s what you’re seeking to achieve, but you don’t do it by planning a typical campaign.”

That said, there also must be an executive committee that is nimble and able to act quickly, as in responding to new tactics by the opposition.

For me, one of the most remarkable statements Smith made was when he was asked for advice about what to do when the opposition runs ads that make false claims about gay marriage being taught in school. Smith replied that it is important for the campaign to act quickly to tell the public that those are lies. He reemphasized the importance of being frank with the public that they are being lied to because the public does not like being lied to and manipulated. Smith cited examples of similar campaign practices he had countered in other elections.

Taking Ace Smith’s advice, the assembled activists heard and discussed presentations of five potential organizational models. By the end of the day, an event occurred that I had despaired of ever seeing in the California LGBT community: consensus! A clear indicator that things have changed!

The activists chose the Davis Plan, so named because it builds on ideas created in Davis, CA while activists there watched the live stream of the August 9 meeting in Los Angeles. Linda Waite of GSAFE in Davis collaborated with John Patterson of RENWL in Los Angeles to flesh out those ideas and create the plan that calls for 10 regions in the state to elect representatives to a leadership body. (See video of August 9 meeting)

Those representatives will be joined by representatives elected by diversity caucuses and those appointed by the top LGBT organizations in the state. That combined body will elect an executive body that will then hire or appoint specialists as needed. This structure has the potential to morph into a leadership structure for the campaign. The framers of this structure were asked to fine-tune the plan in collaboration with the authors of the other plans.

Acknowledging the need for leadership while the positions in the Davis Plan are populated, activists self-nominated for an Interim Administrative Group (IAG). This group will serve as interim leadership going into the signature gathering. The activists also empowered the IAG to add to their own number should it determine that specific skills are needed.

The new IAG is nicely diverse. Discrepancies in geographic representation will be addressed this week by the newly elected administrative group:
  • Kelechi Anyanwu (San Jose)
  • Lester Aponte (LA)
  • Aaron Bloom (LA)
  • John Cleary (LA)
  • John Henning (LA)
  • Misha Houser (Orange County)
  • Zakiya Khabir (San Diego)
  • Lisa Kove (San Diego)
  • Jordan Krueger (LA)
  • Chaz Lowe (Sacramento)
  • Jane Wishon (LA)
Next steps: The Davis Plan will be refined and published. Regional meetings will take place to elect representatives. The IAG will begin the hard work to create a Recipient Committee for the signature gathering. Watch this space for updates on how you can help to restore marriage equality to California.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very gratifying development. Is marriage equality is an important goal, then we have to act as though it is and repeal Prop 8 in 2010.