Thursday, October 15, 2009

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: EQCA's Marc Solomon Talks About Relaunching 'Let California Ring', 2010 and 2012

There's been a lot of talk lately about the progress Restore Equality 2010 has been making throughout California, a coalition of grassroots groups who believe in returning to the ballot in 2010 to restore marriage equality. They've created the Davis Plan, which divides California up into 10 regions which will then elect their own representatives, and have established an Interim Administrative Group that is helping organize the process.

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.

The Announcement

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."
  1. 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."
  2. 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."
  3. 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."
How will this differ from all the work going on right now, especially for 2010?

"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."

Marc paused.

"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.


  1. I am glad to hear that EQCA will not support efforts to discourage people from signing the petition to repeal Prop 8. I hope everyone understands that it would be downright outrageous for people who claim to advocate for equal rights to do that. One thing I don't understand. If Let California Ring is "not about the year," why is it that everyone involved is part of the Prepare to Prefail cadre?

  2. Thanks for doing this interview -- very informative, and very encouraging. EQCA's strategy sounds smart; and in every interview I've read, Marc comes off as a leader who can build consensus.

  3. Prepare to Prefail? Really, Lester? Those are fighting words my friend. But, I'll let it slide this time. How would you feel if we call the Restore 2010 Campaign "Steamroll 2010 trainwreck?" Just sayin...

  4. Everyone who's working for marriage equality has a place in California. I'm personally glad to see EQCA working hard on this!

    Let's not turn a positive article into another pissing match about years.

    I do take issue with the statement that the energy of the grassroots is waning - just look at all the CA people who went to the National Equality March!

    The grassroots energy is not as visible right now, perhaps, because so many are organizing for signature gathering - but it's real and it's there.


  5. And, whoever started the rumor of a decline to sign for 2010 is irresponsible.

    I also agree that the idea that the energy of the grassroots will not be there for the long haul is ridiculous. This is going to be a long hard slog peeps, believe it or not. If people are really committed then they should commit for the long haul, otherwise it's pointless.

  6. Marc Solomon personally has contacted big donors and told them not to give any money to the 2010 campaign. Fairly recently I might add. That's not a rumor. Right Marc? And if you're gonna respond please don't lie. Just don't respond if you can't speak the truth. It's better that way.

  7. Lester, thanks for asking! It's true that some of the people on the executive committee are with organizations that signed onto the Prepare to Prevail letter, but there are just as many people on the executive committee whose organizations were not a part. The executive committee members are individuals and not organizations.

    As the post points out, this is a 501c3 effort that is not focused on an initiative campaign. Organizations who join commit to doing only 501c3 activities under the Let California Ring banner. The good thing about this is it is a place where we can all collaborate regardless of what year we think is best to return to the ballot. We welcome any organization to get involved.

    -Marc Solomon, Marriage Director, Equality California Institute

  8. Actually, Derrick, it's quite the contrary. When I was reaching out to big donors before EQCA made its recommendation about when to return to the ballot, they were pretty monolithic that the combination of stock market crash, huge demands from not-for-profits providing social services to the LGBT community, and lack of real movement in the polls meant they were very disinclined to support a 2010 campaign.

    Derrick, I have not contacted big donors and asked them not to give to the 2010 effort.

    Jane, I appreciate your comments...the work before us is huge, and there are plenty of things we can do together. So let's do it!


  9. I find Marc and the EQCA to be a band of marry lairs. They have taken our money and started pouring into their wallets, while telling us they are working to restore our equality. Sadly EQCA is a group people more concerned with their jobs then the state of our marriage rights. What happens if they loose in 2012? The same damn thing that happens if we loose in 2010, we keep fighting. I find it amusing that people are under the impression that if we get our right to marry back that the fight will just be over, sadly it will only be the beginning of it all. We will have to fight to keep out rights once we have won them, and this battle will never end. All i ask is that EQCA stop bleeding us dry and paying incompetent people to do jobs they have no passion to do.

  10. All I've heard is accusations, accusations, accusations. They'll remain accusations until there is proof. And I don't think you'll find any.

    Calling someone a liar is not a small thing - please post something here to back yourself up. Until you do, I'll support EQCA because they have shown a smart roadmap to victory where as all the 2010 people have is rhetoric. The LHC blueprint was laughable at best, and they didn't even test their ballot language when they submitted it, possibly doing much greater damage! It's all reckless!

    All I've seen from most of the 2010 group is bitterness and knee jerk reactions instead of strategy. They're so out to prove EQCA wrong that they may end up doing more damage than good.

    Now there are good people on the 2010 side, but they're few and far between in my opinion.

    I was for 2010 for a long time, but the vitriol on that side drove me away. They seem more obsessed with proving that they can beat EQCA than winning marriage. And some of the comments here have proven my point. This article was about great work that is being done. A VERY necessary educational campaign (undoing Prop 8 damage) that will help EITHER year because it will be moving people to our side. But all you have to say is they're liars and thieves?! Seriously, what is wrong with this picture?

    The more immature name calling, the more "Prepare to Prefail" type dissing, the more empty accusations, the more you drive people away.

    Seriously, just focus on the good. I'm very excited to see what LCR will accomplish and how I may be involved.

  11. Somebody in the blogosphere or gay press should take Marc up on his suggestion and contact the folks in Santa Barbara and get their take on all this. Perhaps they could provide some insights from a field campaign that was clearly successful.

  12. One thing that may be of consideration in regard to the 2010 versus 2012 debate is the question of fundraising. Not our ability to fundraise but our oppenents.

    I am agnostic about the issue of 2010 in California, but lean toward it, because I think not to fight in 2010 is to say that the designation "marriage" is not very important. If that is so, then we shouldn't pursue it in either 2010 or 2012. But what bothers me is that not to fight in 2010 is to give our enemies an enormous lift. We may be hurting in this recession, but so are they. We can be sure that if they don't have to spend money in 2010 in California, they'll use it elsewhere.

    But what makes me hopeful is that our opponents seem to be hurting in their fundraising efforts in both Maine and Washington. I realize that this may be smoke and mirrors, since the Washington funders waited until the last minute to announce a $200,000 contribution from the Washington Focus on the Family, and I am convinced that we may see a huge increase of Mormon money in Maine in the last three weeks of the campaign. But in both states, we have significantly out raised them so far.

    This suggests to me that they are having problems convincing their supporters that same-sex marriage is going to destroy the country. Not that they are doing badly in the polls (in both states the campaigns are in dead heats), but their supporters seem not willing to pony up the necessary money to blow us out of the races.

    I have long resented the fact that we have "fag taxes" in this country. We have to spend a lot of money to get something approaching equal rights and we have to spend a lot of money to defend the rights that we do get. I think the least we can do is to impose a "homophobia tax" on our enemies.

    One reason for fighting in 2010, then, is that we need to make our enemies pony up. If they hate the idea of our having equal rights, then make them put their money where their hate is. Since they seem to be losing their enthusiasm for writing checks (and the Roman Catholic dioceses are deep in debt because of the pedophile priest scandals), they may not be able to match us in fundraising in 2010.

  13. Late to the party here, but I'd like to say the following:

    1. I see this like an intra-party primary battle. The heated debate has happened and the outcomes have (for the most part) been determined. Now, we must all agree to disagree, find the places where we do agree and collaborate in areas in which we may move forward. Inflammatory public language does not serve anyone at this point, and we must lead by example. I also want to make it clear that there is a seat at the table for EQCA in our organizing structure at Restore Equality 2010, and they are welcome to it at any time.

    We also have a very confused community in the wake of this 2010 vs. 2012 debate, which is an unfortunate consequence of how the debate was done. I personally believe a cooling of grassroots activity is a direct result of the debate. It is what it is, and I hope this result informs how we all handle situations like this in the future. This won't be the last time we all disagree.

    2. There is a basis for the "decline to sign" worries based on one religious organization communicating a "decline to sign" policy. There is no reason to believe that EQCA was involved in this communication, but there is no reason to believe that EQCA was not involved. Nevertheless, it is not useful for the LGBT activist community to get bogged down in a discussion about any "decline to sign" issue unless it becomes significant. At this point, it is not.

    We at Restore Equality 2010 are vigilant, though, and fully expect people in positions of power in the LGBT activist community to act with integrity, to refrain from dwelling in the area of plausible deniability in their actions and come from a place of valuing the work of others in the activist community.

    3. A considerable effort is being made in fundraising for the 2010 campaign. A major initiative will be announced after election day, as we feel that the priority should go to Maine and Washington until then. We hear good things from large donors, but by and large they want to see how the community responds to the comparatively small amount required for the signature-gathering effort before donating to the 2010 campaign. I don't blame them, and would do the same if I was in their position. I personally believe that we can cover signature gathering with a collection of small-to-medium donations, and look forward to making this happen.