Editor's note: This guest is written by Jon Hoadley, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats.
There is a hush this week in South Carolina as February begins to fade the memory of the recent presidential contest here in the Palmetto State. Oprah is gone, and along with her Bill Clinton. The press has packed up but, while national Democrats have moved on, the efforts of National Stonewall Democrats are still moving here.
It might seem odd for me to be here this week, after the presidential primary of last weekend. Some would say I have missed the big party, but that would be missing the point.
As we move into 2008, it is crucial that our community adjust our approaches to organizing if we are to achieve long-lasting change in this country. It was great to see LGBT organizers from across the country come to South Carolina last weekend on behalf of their preferred candidates. Participation like that is important, but we should also be focusing on how to secure change well beyond Election Day.
That is why I am in South Carolina this week. We’re in it for the long haul because we know that national change on Capitol Hill will only come if it is supported by local efforts in places like Columbia.
Two years ago, we knew that the presidential contest in South Carolina presented us with unique opportunities to impact state and national politics and we immediately began organizing. On the local level, we had a state Democratic Party that was largely hostile to the LGBT community prior to 2006. Today, thanks to Stonewall Democrats across the state, the South Carolina Democratic Party is actively engaging our community – and especially LGBT communities of color.
These local efforts are impacting national politics as well. Many presidential campaigns were surprised when we organized LGBT voters at the Congressman Jim Clyburn Fish Fry in Columbia last spring. For some candidates and staff, it was a learning experience to talk with LGBT people at a largely-black event. Our statewide chapter president Keith Riddle later wrote of the experience “I think presidential candidates expect to encounter our community at black-tie events on the Upper West Side, but not necessarily on historically Black college campuses in Orangeburg, South Carolina.”
Our efforts, along with the International Federation of Black Prides, helped secure the participation of presidential campaigns in the South Carolina Black Pride celebration in June – the first time that presidential campaigns had participated in such an event. One of our staff members recalled soliciting the participation of one presidential campaign at the time: “The campaign wanted to participate, but they were worried that they didn’t have a full-time LGBT organizer in the state. I had to point out that, even though they didn’t have LGBT organizers, they did have several organizers already working within the Black community in South Carolina and it was like a light bulb going off. They got it at that point, and then they got real excited about expanding their African American outreach into the LGBT community.”
Our work didn’t end on Primary Day. It continues. We now are focused on moving LGBT Democrats into positions that will ultimately shape the policy of the South Carolina Democratic Party. We’re doing this by organizing in every congressional district. We’re also helping the party send LGBT Democrats to the Democratic National Convention this August in Denver. Thanks to our efforts, the South Carolina Democratic Party, whose previous LGBT delegations have never been more than one individual, has set a goal of sending at least 3 delegates from our community (and we’re hoping to help them beat that).
South Carolina is just an example of the work that where doing across the country – work that will lead to legislative change in the state house as well as change within the halls of Congress. As part of our Pride in the Party program individuals can sign up for information on the delegate process in their state. We’ll certainly help you navigate your delegate campaign that can send you to Denver.
This program isn’t just about delegates. National Stonewall Democrats is using this opportunity to train party leaders across the country. Once the convention confetti has finally fallen and the media has moved on, we’ll still be working with you to move our country forward.
For more information, visit: www.PrideInTheParty.org