Sara Whitman

What Can I Do?

Filed By Sara Whitman | November 07, 2008 8:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: circular firing squad, learning from mistakes, Prop 8, self-recriminations

I've read some armchair evaluations of the No on 8 efforts. I have to admit, it hurts too much to read the criticisms of the campaign.

Was it perfect? No. Even if we won it was not perfect. No campaign ever is. But everyone worked so hard to make it happen. To quickly type off statements that include how much better it could have been done it feels disrespectful to all the volunteers and staff who only wanted to do the right thing- always.

While the rest of the country celebrated a great win for Obama- sweeping, commanding mandate for change- I can't help but feel completely kicked to the curb. My rights? Not so important.

I am deeply grateful for the efforts to get Obama elected. I can breathe now that our supreme court will be fair. that women's reproductive rights are safe. the war, education, health care... the list is long.

But I am hurt.

And angry.

So before anyone writes to opine about how it shoulda, coulda, woulda- which I do believe we need to do in order to learn from the mistakes which will only help other states in similar efforts- stop for a moment and ask yourself what could I have done better. Look in the mirror first.

The next ten years will be the most significant shift in LGBT rights in history. That cannot be stopped. We will need all of us, working together, to move forward.

Today? I woke up, ready to reach deep down and remember, it's time to make the world change for LGBT people.

It will.

I promise.


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Don't let anyone around here in Bilerico hear you, Sara. We all know that your incompetence led the efforts to fail, or so many of the "we (they say we, but I highly doubt they participated in the Prop 8 efforts personally) failed to do X, and because of it the No On 8 campaign failed" crowd will seek to tell you.

Nevermind the fact that it was the biggest campaign ever to be raised, with such visibility and fundraising power. No, let's ponder how the election of a Democratic president has enough meaning to override this caustic defeat. Because we all know that it's Party first, Community second (or third, or fourth, or fifth, or sixth...)

Reformed Ascetic | November 7, 2008 10:05 PM

The No campaign in California, as far as I can tell from my armchair position across the country, was quite impressive. As were the similar ones in Florida and etc.

There is a fine line between showing respect to those who are responsible for accomplishing so much and the discussions that naturally arise.

No one critiques a success even it resulted from pure blind luck.

Everyone critiques a "failure" whether they know what they're talking about or not.

Regardless, the incredible level of fund raising and organization demonstrated across the nation in the various political battles have not only strengthened the LGBT, but demonstrated to everyone what the minimum level of struggle is.

We, and they, know we will keep this up and more until we are successful. They need to examine themselves to see how long they are willing to fight this hard.

You and everyone actively involved have my praise, love and respect. And deeply felt gratitude.

Sorry, to disillusion you. the NO on PROP H8 campaign...WASNT one at all. They collected $$ and RESPONDED poorly to the attacks by the HOMOBIGOTS of Evangelicism. They refused to do ANY ads showing Gay families, Gay weddings, Gay lives that would be hurt by its passage. .... and they LOST.
But then they got VERY LITTLE activist help from ANYONE else either.
This issue, and Arizonas, and Floridas will be the catalyst to renew a activist mode in many I hope...and I am a STRAIGHT for Equality Ally!!
WE need to get together and demand a fully inclusive ENDA, repeal of DOMA and DADT...keep demonstrating in California, so when our brave Judges return our rights to us they will know they have lots of support in upholding them.
...and FLORIDA...just imagine all the harm this will do to unmarried het couples!! As a physisican I understand fully why the elderly cannot remarry...they lose all kinds of benefits and rights if they do..now that is legislated and HORRIBLE.

Roll up your sleeves folks..and get out here with your Allies and keep fighting.
Remember Be Careful Who you H8....it Could Be Somebody you LOVE.

Sara,
You all did a superhuman job. Up or down the rest of the country owes each one of the no on 8 activists and staffers a big hug and thank you.

There will always be postmortems on why campaigns win and lose, but it's surely not productive to blame the folks who sweat bullets trying. I know exactly how you feel, as my wife and I were on the losing end of the 80%/20% passage of the horrible Kentucky constitutional ban on marriage.

The plain fact is that this was a heckuva lot closer than the Knight Amendment was - that's what. 8-years ago? Progress has been made. When it all comes down to it, more straight married people will have to be convinced that gay marriage isn't functionally different than straight marriage. It didn't fail by much, there aren't that many minds left to change now. And, if you'll listen to a straight married person for a moment, there's nothing that's going to change those minds like the living examples of committed same-sex couples they're bound to encounter in the years to come.

I have no knowledge of CA law, but would an initiative to repeal Prop 8 then be a YES vote, instead of a NO? Don't the YESs normally have a built-in advantage in these sort of things? Does it require a supermajority of voters? Or just a simple majority?

The only ones I'm interested in being mad at, are the Mormons, Knights of Calumny, er, Columbus, FotF, Southern Bastard, er Baptist Convention, and whomever else pumps in millions to enforce their own twisted pseudo-Christian moralistic beliefs on an unwitting state. They did you in. They do in anything they don't like. They twist Christianity far beyond anything Christ would have recognized. I've crossed their kind many times before, over blue and Sunday-closing laws, over adult video rentals, over carrying certain movies (Last Temptation of Christ) in my stores, and in the GLBT rights fights here. It is personal between me and them. May they fry in hell!

Just the opposite. In terms of trends, the conditions were stacked on NO's favor. People tend to vote no on amendments, as changes to the constitution are rarely welcome. The language in the ballot was on NO's favor. Endorsements were all on NO's favor.

The prejudice of religion was just too big to overcome.

Correct, we should have won this. We had the youth vote, we outspent them and we had the help of unions, women's groups, the NAACP and MALDEF.

Exactly, and we know where it came from. The prime source was Obama. He is why we lost. Obama pulled the bigots up form the sewers and led them to the voting booth. And it stinks.

McCains contribution, and that of the cults was just as bad, but secondary.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | November 8, 2008 2:17 AM

Anyone who criticizes the efforts of the volunteers in No on 8 or the many local and campus groups that formed to oppose 8 ought to be horsewhipped. The volunteers worked their asses off.

The problem is that they never had a chance because of the ineptness and political immaturity of the No on 8 leadership and their connections to the Democrats. They were timid when audacity was required. They left the field of battle in Black and Latino communities to the bigots, ignoring the influence of bigoted christer cults until the last minute and wasting the opportunities opened by the powerful support of women’s groups, unions, MALDEF and the NAACP.

The other big factor that led inexorably to our defeat was the cowardice of McCain and Obama. From the primaries until November 3rd both constantly vied for the bigot vote, trying to outdo each other pandering to christers. In that effort Obama made huge gains, digging deep into Rove territory and closing the ‘bigot gap’. Unlike the youth vote and others, christers are regimented, disciplined and have real clout. They know the game; they elected Obama and now they own him. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/05/AR2008110503908.html?hpid=sec-religion

I worked on the first of these right wing initiatives, Prop 6 in 1978 which would have disqualified GLBT folks from teaching jobs. No on 6 had some of the same problems as No on 8 did and the misleaders of the 2000 effort. We organized the LA Committee against the Briggs Initiative as a grass roots, democratically run group that emphasized mobilizing our own communities not to compete with No on 6 but to cover things not addressed by dueling TV commercials. Instead we went to unions, the NAACP, and women’s groups. We partnered with the Bay Area CABI to build a mass action alternative to No on 6. And we had one huge advantage that we lacked this time. Both Carter and Reagan, already running hard for President, publically blasted the Briggs Initiative, calling it bigoted and undemocratic. When that happened our numbers changed dramatically.

Now however, both parties pander to the religious right. It a tradition that began, naturally, with Clinton’s gutless capitulation on DOMA and DADT, Then came the Republican use of DOMA as a wedge issue in 2000 and 2004. When the Democrats regained the Congress in 2006 they continued the drift towards theocracy by gutting ENDA and tossing it’s corpse along with the hate crimes bill in the garbage.

Now comes the latest betrayal. McCain blasted us saying that we’re second class citizens who have to right to get married. Obama agreed and took it a step further. His comment “god’s in the mix” said that god disapproved of us, that same sex marriage was a sin. (A sin is what ever interferes with a priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, preacher or grand gazoo making money. Marriage is their stock in trade.) McCain and Obama caved on us, and their strident bigotry was an excuse, a green light for bigots to clobber us. The other betrayal was that most liberals and Democrats gave him a pass on his bigotry. Their silence was deafening.

Now we need to pick up the pieces and build a nationwide mass action movement independent of the twin parties of bigotry. The road to equality will bypass the Democrats and Republicans

Whatever your opinion on how well the Prop. 8 people fought this or didn't, i'll say this one thing - when we get ready to do another campaign for GLBTQ rights, we need to get Obama's campaign people on board.

The shockingly wrong headed idea of giving Obama and his team another shot at betraying us goes so far beyond mere gluttony for punishment that it’s almost clinical. Hundreds of thousands of the people who voted for Obama also voted for 8 and against us in LA County alone.

Why would anyone want a repeat of that? Weren’t the lessons of California, Florida, and Arizona enough? Why would anyone imagine that Obama and the Democrats are on our side? Because they say so? Or because you’re making the same error that all Democrat and Republicans voters make. You’re projecting your hopes on opportunist hustlers who don’t give a rat’s ass about the GLBT communities. And that, as we saw in this case, with ENDA and the hate crimes bill and the appointment of right wing judges, is a recipe for disaster.

We just lost three more states and we don’t have many left.

Based on the actions, not the election year promises, of Obama and McCain the power and influence of the bigots trumps us every time.

Obama and his team did not "betray us" (whoever "us" is). Betrayal implies a shift from support to opposition or covert opposition. Nothing of the sort happened. Obama spoke out against Prop 8. Repeatedly. His language during the general election around "civil unions not marriage" wasn't new--he held that position all through the primaries.

And Obama's organizing machine (which wasn't very active in CA, since CA isn't a swing state) was damned effective at turning people. Which I think is what Jordan meant by us needing to get those organizers and strategists on board. They're good at their jobs.

More broadly, the idea that somehow Barack Obama is responsible for Prop 8 passing because he may have marginally increased black turnout in California is bad politics. It implies that, if only less people had voted, particularly less marginalized people, then we would have won. Saying "too many non-elites voted and that's why we lost!" is not an argument that's going to win us any public opinion points.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | November 8, 2008 7:21 PM

Laura, that was quite a list of delusions.

Obama and his team did not "betray us" (whoever "us" is). "Us", of course, refers the GLBT communities.

Betrayal implies a shift from support to opposition or covert opposition. Nothing of the sort happened. He whispered his support late in the campaign. The rest of the time he trumpeted his bigotry –“god's in the mix”. Laura, if that’s not betrayal, then it’s just ordinary bitotry. Take your pick.

Obama spoke out against Prop 8. Repeatedly. Bull. A letter to a breakfast club and a couple of insultingly late statements is what he did. The rest of the time he was 'god's' candidate pandering to the christer right. He and McCain did that from the beginning and Obama made huge inroads, grabbing votes that Rove long ago tried to reserve for Bush. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/05/AR2008110503908.html?hpid=sec-religion


His language during the general election around "civil unions not marriage" wasn't new--he held that position all through the primaries. Well at least your ideas agree with reality on this point. He’s always favored forcing us into the second class status of civil union. The accurate term for that is bigotry. Superstition driven bigotry. The Clintons had the same position and both of them supported “States Rights” and like George Wallace they promote the rights of states with DOMA’s to deny us full citizenship. Obama’s positions on civil unions and states rights are even more despicable because he knows better. He’s a constitutional scholar.

And Obama's organizing machine (which wasn't very active in CA, since CA isn't a swing state) was damned effective at turning people. They and he were damn good at bringing out the bigot vote. They're good at their jobs. That's the problem.

More broadly, the idea that somehow Barack Obama is responsible for Prop 8 passing because he may have marginally increased black turnout in California is bad politics. It's not just bad politics, it's racism. The turnout of black voters was a small percentage, 6-7-8 percent of the total if I'm not mistaken. What Obama did was give a green light to the EuroAerican christers, especially Republicans, but also bigoted liberal Democrats, who came up from the sewers and kicked our ass.

But why is that sentence in a reply to me? Please, explain.

It implies that, if only less people had voted, particularly less marginalized people, then we would have won. Saying "too many non-elites voted and that's why we lost!" is not an argument that's going to win us any public opinion points. I suppose that That’s true, if blindingly hackneyed but it has no relation to this discussion or to anything I said.

Laura, if that’s not betrayal, then it’s just ordinary bitotry. Take your pick.
Well, my objection was to the word "betrayal." I have no objection to the "civil unions not marriage" position being named as bigotry.

On your broader point, I read your post (wrongly, it appears) as saying that Obama increased turnout of african-americans, which, combined with his anti-marriage/anti-prop8 confusion, pushed the "yes" vote over 50%. That's what lots of other people were arguing, and since you didn't specify clearly (or I didn't understand) what group's turnout you thought Obama increased, I assumed you were talking about the same group as other commentators.

That said, Obama's organizers did not focus on turning out evangelical or religious voters. The two groups that had sharply increased turnout were African-Americans and (to a lesser degree) young voters. Young voters voted against Prop 8. So I don't think it was illogical for me to assume that the group that Obama's organizers turned out, who you would have preferred didn't vote, were African-Americans. Yes, Obama tried to reach out to evangelical and other religious voters, but the same Washington Post article that you cite says that he didn't have much success in doing so, at least not among white evangelicals.


I wrongly thought Obama would win in a landslide, but he didn’t. Only 60% of eligible voters voted, up a bit. (The rest of us, were as usual, underwhelmed by the hoopla and the lies and stayed home.) Obama won 65.4 million to 57.4 million after raising 678 million plus the 400 billion spent on his behalf. That’s the first billion dollar campaign and his votes cost roughly $15 dollars a head. His campaign was a lie.

Obama won because voters identified Bush with the war, theocratic attacks on civil and constitutional rights and with economic collapse. And because they were lied to by people who said that Obama would end the war, that he was not a theocrat, and that he and his party were not responsible for the recession/wanna be depression

The claims of Democrat shills that Republicans were solely responsible for NAFTA, deregulation and economic collapse were untrue. The historic record is clear that economic policies like deregulation, tax breaks for the rich, exporting jobs and union busting are always passed with broad bipartisan support.

What that lie will cost us can be clearly seen in the members of President-designate Obama’s transition team to deal with the economic crisis. They included Warren Buffet, an economic speculator and vampire who buys companies, sucks out their wealth and tosses the corpses, and the workers and stockholders in the garbage. Also in attendance were the CEOs of Xerox, Time-Warner, Hyatt, and Google; two of Clintons former treasury secretaries, Rubin, CEO of Citibank and Summers, fired by Harvard for saying that women couldn’t understand math; and Paul Volker, Federal Reserve Bank chair; a former chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers; a former secretary of commerce; and Clintons former Labor Secretary. Some how they forgot to invite the AFL-CIO and consumer advocates like Nader. That list of attendees makes it crystal clear that Obama, having championed Bush’s giveaway $700 billion giveaway is going to continue the bipartisan policies of Carter, Reagan, the Bushes and Clinton.

Throughout the campaign Democrat party flaks treated us to vistas of world peace and an end to the oil wars. The increase of the vote for Congressional candidates was in part a sign that people, very gullible people, believed them. Obama however, has made it clear that he’s not going to end the war anytime soon. He calls for ‘phased’ withdrawal. Nixon’s phased withdrawal from Vietnam took 7 years and hundreds of thousand of deaths including roughly 30,000 of the 55,000 GI’s killed there. Obama wants to ramp up the murder of civilians in Afghanistan, approves of cross border raids in Pakistan and Syria and promises to continue funding apartheid against Palestinians. Saying he would end the war was a lie and a betrayal. The lies that he would end that war were a betrayal.

And so were the claims that he and the Democrat party are pro-GLBT. The evidence is overwhelming that they aren’t. Obama’s bigotry brought out the bigot vote in record numbers. His party trashed out agenda last year, all of it.

The only questions are how soon the rage against these betrayals will begin and how deep they’ll be. I wouldn’t hazard a guess on how soon but I do think that the rage will be enormous, enough to propel fundamental changes.

I question the perception of this as a failure. The proposition was really set to win and our community organized against it and did so very well. But it was one piece of a struggle not the entirety of it.

Those organizational bonds can remain in place and be used in this long term struggle for rights. Organizations in other states can learn from this round.

This struggle is going to happen again and again as we try to stop these types of measures from being instituted in the remaining states and then move to overturn them in other states.

The people who wish to deny us our rights have approached this state by state and have raised funds state by state. We have also seen the ability of one church in particular and many smaller churches to pour money into this effort.

Perhaps we should look at a strategy that is long term and breaks it down into multiple local efforts. This will deny them certain organizational advantages and wear at their resources. It will also wear at out resources to some extent but we can minimize that.

Rob, you can play Monday night quarterback all you want but the fact remains that this was an unmitigated failure by the Democrat dependent leadership of No on 8 and similar efforts in Florida and Arizona. It was a disaster.

I sympathize with and fully support the fight for marriage equality as opposed to the second class civil unions that Obama and the Democrats favor. However, these battles about same sex marriage were initiated by the right, following the lead of Bill Clinton and later Karl Rove, precisely because it’s the easiest way to hurt us.

When attacked on this question we have to defend but our best bet is to go on the offensive. We need to build an independent LGBT left to compel Democrats and Republicans them to give us an inclusive ENDA, not the botched version favored by Barney Frank Democrats, Republicans and the retarded Chamber of Commerce types who gave us this recession. We’ll have far better results in terms or mobilizing our own communities and our allies fighting for on the job equality, to end housing discrimination and for hate crimes and hate speech laws.

And as Obama begins to impose austerity we'll have to fight not just to avoid more cuts in HIV/AIDS spending but to mount a crash program to provide good, safe housing and a full education for GLBT children and teens that are thrown away by their parents and of course for all the other young people on the streets.

These priorities can only be won if we bypass the political closets of the Benedict Arnold Republicans and the Barney Frank Democrats.


That's interesting, Rob and I think we must realize we have made great leaps forward.

still, in a moment of defeat, hours later, it stings.

People will be marrying in CT on Wednesday. Let's not lose sight of our wins.

I think we will have Obama's people on board next time. I do. (I'm sucking up to get some inaguration tickets)

seriously, I think this has propelled us forward by taking a huge step back.

and polar, you know, the mormons are really kind of funny ones to talk about marriage... wait for my post later about that.

Mary Bucklew | November 8, 2008 10:42 AM

One TV commentator who was African American said part of the problem was that whoever was organizing and working the neighborhoods DID NOT do enough work in the black communities, churches, etc to get the point across. So absent any new information, blacks across CA voted according to their religious mores. Whose fault is that?

Their eyes were on a different prize, and we forgot to enlighten them.

I agree that it's non-productive to spend a lot of time pointing fingers and doing post-mortems.
We have to be looking to the future -- to more campaigns like Prop 8 in other states. And the religious right is moving their California coaliton effort on to other states.

The biggest problem we face is the IRS. They are now letting activist churches keep their tax-exempt status, even though they break the law by engaging in direct political activity. Since these churches pay no taxes, they have unlimited amounts of money to throw at us.

This IRS problem affects all Americans, not just us. So we need to be putting together a national broadbased coalition that demands enforcement of the law by the IRS. This will put a big dent in the ultraconservative churches' ability to make war on us.

Check out my post tomorrow about this.

"I agree that it's non-productive to spend a lot of time pointing fingers and doing post-mortems.

Thats because the fingers are all pointing at Obama's bigotry and the failure of the Democrats who led No on 8 to call him on it. If I were a Democrat I'd want an end to this discussion too. That's not going to happen.

This is just appalling. Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. Time for the DNA test.

Until we know what happened, how can we possibly do better in other states?

Let's stop trying to hide our failures so we learn from them.

Two major decisions were made that someone needs to be accountable for: The choice to avoid debate about the claims we knew would be the center of the Yes campaign and instead focus on the abstraction of 'fairness'; and the choice to attempt message discipline at the expense of engaging emotionally with voters by using the personal stories of same sex couples.

These were bad decisions on Monday, and they're bad decisions today. We must demand accountability from EQCA about these mistakes. In the face of the disaster at hand, with upcoming expenses to reverse this catastrophe, we WILL get answers.

Had Prop 8 failed by .1%, we would have been stuck with our organizations for another generation, whether their strategies and goals are aligned with our needs or not. Under the circumstances, we get to raise hell in the streets, reach out to our non-gay communities AND fund ongoing litigation...all while ignoring our so-called leaders.

Win-win-win. Except that some people are going to need the favors they have been currying from the Democratic Party to get their next jobs.

Why was voter turnout in San Fran County a pathetic 52% ?? What was the figure for WeHo? Maybe we just don't care enough to get out and vote.

View from someone on the ground. The campaign made some mistakes that were truly deadly. One was to not use handout literature. At the events I worked, people were begging for something to give to friends and family, for things to put up at work. The chief organizers told us that a decision had been made that the No on 8 effort did not want to be a group that passes out literature. There were also requests for hand outs in Spanish and Asian languages; apparently none existed.

All we were expected to do was sign people up for phonebanking and ask for money. Many people said they were too busy calling for Obama to do so. A few of these said that they were making a pitch for us in their Obama calls. Loads of locals were going to Nevada and Arizona on weekends rather than work in California. The local progressive infrastructure was totally wrapped up in Obama.

There was another decision that really bothered me. No door to door campaigning was allowed.

Out reach was restriced to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Nothing at Target etc.

It is really sad that Prop. 8 passed! It is so hard to understand why blatant discrimination on a ballot is allowed. Maybe now that this has happened the Gay community can under stand why the T-People were so upset when we were dropped from ENDA? HRC raised a lot of Money to fight Prop 8 How much did they spend? Regina

The absolute last thing we should be doing is dismissing "armchair evaluations." This campaign failed and, if the fundraising pleas from the No campaign were to be believed, it affects us all.

The volunteers did their best. No one is saying that they didn't. But the strategies failed and we should be enlisting anyone who's willing to come up with better ideas.

How many of these things have we lost? It's over 30 now, I think. And we haven't won in any state (AZ doesn't count anymore). That means that our strategy isn't working and we need as many fresh ideas as we can get to run a better campaign next time.

If the lawsuits fail, this should be put back on the ballot in 2010. And the ideas that will make it succeed that time will come from the bottom-up. Limiting participation in the decision-making process, lowering people's investment in this, and trying the same stale ideas over and over again aren't going to win this thing.

If there's one thing we could have learned from the Democrats and how they turned around the party since 2004, it's that this circle the wagons, the leadership knows best approach is a recipe for failure.

I'm going to dismiss the armchair, knee jerk evaluations.

I was there for a week- I did nothing in comparison to others. nothing at all. but I did get to see it work for a bit.

I don't think it's about circling the wagons, Alex. I think it's about a thoughtful evaluation. Invite people inside and outside the campaign. have a day to go through it. or a week.

the hardest thing activists can get funding for is time to think. and it's the most important thing.

just no potshots.

and Bill.. I'm going to give Obama his first 100 days in office before I complain. sure, the campaign was a pandering to middle america. no question. but before we decide he's going to kick us to the curb, let's get him in office.

let's see his cabinet members. his leadership teams.