Imagine "Dynasty" 2008 - only Democratic, dressed down and Tudor-style. In this scenario, Blake Carrington is played by supermarket magnet Ron Burkle, a billionaire Democrat with a rich sense of humor - naming his palatial estate, the former home to silent screen star Harold Lloyd, "Green Acres."
On Oct. 22, Burkle opened his Beverly Hills estate to No on Prop 8 - an event that raised $3.9 million to mount new, fresh, and hard-hitting ads in the final two weeks before the Nov. 4 election to compete head-to-head with what the campaign called "lies" and "distortions" from the Yes on 8 campaign in their desperate push to overturn marriage equality.
Instead of cat-fights in Nolan Miller '80s dresses, the mostly gay 200 or so casually dressed party-goers strolled past the long pool behind the mansion to a huge backyard with a concert stage. They paid $1,000 each for a three-song concert by rocker Melissa Etheridge and three jump-in-your-seat, tear-your-heart-out-songs from Mary J. Blige, strutting the stage in killer high heels and a serious body-clinging dress.
The guests who paid the big bucks - $100,000 and $50,000 - were treated to dinner with Barbra Streisand. Unfortunately, the legend did not make an appearance at the main event.
Ron Burkle, the Democrat's Carrington, welcomed everyone to his home, and turned the mike over to san Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the marriage equality hero, who rallied the crowd about the reason they were there" "This is the last great civil rights movement," he said.
Newsom introduced Melissa Etheridge who joked: "I just realized I do not have money," referring to the surroundings. She talked about how she and her wife Tammy Lynn Michaels talked about what she was going to sing and wear. And in the end, she chose to "entertain," starting with the old Laura Nyro's song, "Wedding Bell Blues."
In between songs, Etheridge talked about her kids and how one had an earache and when she leaned down, her son said, "They will never stop gay marriage." She then talked about all the money the Mormons were raising - "$15 million dollars!" she exclaimed. "Could you imagine all the people they could have housed in Louisiana? Send it to Darfur! Send it to Tibet!" She tried to raise money, "putting her career on the line" - offering to sing a song of someone's choice for $50,000. With no takers, she sang Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee." She closed with a rocked-out "Somebody Bring me Some Water."
Instead, Bruce Cohen, the Oscar-winning producer who co-produced the event, brought her back onstage to announce that a gay couple was pledging $50,000 if Etheridge would sing at their wedding. She said yes and the crowd erupted in applause.
Lorri Jean, CEO of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, one of the No on Prop 8 leaders and the other event co-producer, announced that Burkle had underwritten the entire event so all the money raised was going directly to No on Prop 8. She talked about the wake up call two weeks ago when the campaign found itself $10 million behind the Yes on 8 campaign, which has "pulled out all the stops" to pass Prop 8.
Everyone had to "step it up a notch" - and in those two short weeks, the No on Prop 8 campaign raised that $10 - "that's almost a million a day." That's more money raised in the history of an LGBT fight - with $25 million for No on Prop 8, compared to their $27 million - "we're close - but not close enough." Even as polls show the No side gaining.
Jean introduced Patrick Guerrero, who talked about being the "cold, strategic guy who rarely gets emotional." But when the campaign got the "gut-check" of losing - "we were down big time" with the polls showing the campaign "in free fall," he said it took him half-a second to say yes, when he got the call to come help the campaign with a come back. And when the cold person looked at the scroll of names of those who were contributing to the cause - he saw "a lot of hotel workers, and janitors, people living on minimum wage" and college students - "it was remarkably moving." And he saw that something was happening here.
Now, Guerrero said to loud applause, "for the first time, we have a spot matching every one of theirs." He said all of the state's major newspapers have editorialized No on Prop 8. And said Guerrero, the one-time executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, the intends to wage a non-partisan fight with "courageous Democrats and courageous Republicans standing together" to say No on Prop 8.
They hope to tap into the "surge" of new voters brought into the election by the Obama campaign, and get out of the LGBT "silos" and reach out to others - mentioning the African American leaders who held news conferences throughout the state today expressing their support.
Guerrero said he hopes that in the early morning of Nov. 5, he'll read a newspaper where on the top of the fold it says "America has a new President! The Bush years are over! And along side it will read the headline: "For the first time, LGBT Americans have full equality forever!"
Jean came back briefly to thank the big-time donors - Bruce Bastion from Utah, who has given over one million dollars, and David Bohnett and Tom Gregory - but was cut off by Cohen who said that because of a noise ordinance, Mary J. Blige had to perform immediately. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced her.
The audience erupted as she came to the stage, telling everyone she was pleased to be there - "This is what tonight is about - love."
With heads bobbing, and couples clutching each other's hands, Bruce Cohen dancing wildly, the scene looked and felt more like a secular revival than a political concert. Blige opened up about how she had survived being her own worse enemy, when on one would accept her - and "you say, 'No more...no more pain, no more tears..." as tears started welling up in the eyes of those listening, identifying. "I chose to win!" she said, raising her fist in the air - to screams of glee and thunderous applause.
"I am so sick and tired of people judging me..." This song, she said, was for all the people who felt the same. "Keep doing what you're doing," Blige said, and feel "how close we are in the universe."
With that, she eased into U2's "One." When she closed, she thanked the audience by blowing kisses - as if SHE was grateful to be there as much as the audience was thrilled with her.
(Later, Joel Flatow, Senior Vice President of the Recording Industry Association of America, the man responsible for securing Etheridge and Blige for the event, said that Blige was actually at the end of her tour and made a special effort to be there. In an interesting side note to history, Flatow came to the No on Prop 8 campaign because he was talking to San Francisco Assemblymember Mark Leno won day and indicated his support for marriage equality - and Leno said, hmmm - would you like to help the No on Prop 8 campaign?)
Villaraigosa returned to the stage and told how he was standing there as mayor "because there was a civil rights movement." He talked about the campaign's effort to reach out to the Latino community and said, "I'm prepared to be the face of those commercials...I'm ready and willing to do that. But we need you."
Cue Lorri Jean who returned to raise more money - noting that Gavin Newsom that night had contributed $100,000 and others had stepped up, as well. She talked about the Sacramento Bee story describing how this heterosexual couple had donated $35,000 to Yes on 8 - sacrificing their vacation and a new car "because it is that important to them....How much are you willing to sacrifice for equality?"
The big donors were done...but the momentum started to pick up when Center board member Eric Shore pledged $25,000, followed immediately by actor David Hyde Pierce who also pledged $25,000.
Jean has hoped to make $4 million - but after two hours of seeing and being seen, and the excitement of the concert - people were starting to leave. So she quit at $3.9 million.
There was a real sense of jubilation in the air as people left. There was a sense of - dare anyone say it - victory.