After the No Campaign failed last week and Proposition 8 passed, the orgs that worked against it were quick to point out why they had really done a great job this year. Sure, some mistakes were made, but there are always some mistakes. All in all, they didn't do a bad job, and we'll get 'em in 2010!
Yeah, 48% of the population voting against the measure is a great number, until you realize that you need 50%. Sorry, the campaign wasn't good enough to cut it. In the real world, when an organization fails to achieve its clear and stated goal, that means that it failed. In the gay organizing world, if they gave it the ol' college try and had a good time while doing it, it's good enough.
This is a losing mentality.
Get this from the No campaign's concession letter:
Today, we fought to retain our right to marry and millions of Californians stood with us. Over the course of this campaign everyday Californians and their friends, neighbors and families built a civil rights campaign unequalled in California history.
You raised more money than anyone believed possible for an LGBT civil rights campaign.
You reached out to family and friends in record numbers--helping hundreds of thousands of Californians understand what the LGBT civil rights struggle is really about.
You built the largest grassroots and volunteer network that has ever been built - a coalition that will continue to fight until all people are equal.
And you made the case to the people of California and to the rest of the world that discrimination -- in any form -- is unfair and wrong.
We are humbled by the courage, dignity and commitment displayed by all who fought this historic battle.
Victory was not ours today. But the struggle for equality is not over.
Because of the struggle fought here in California -- fought so incredibly well by the people in this state who love freedom and justice -- our fight for full civil rights will continue.
Activist and writer Anne Lamott writes, "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."
Well, no, you don't give up. But you don't keep on trying the same failed ideas over and over again and hope to eventually, magically win.
The postmortems on the campaign are rolling in, here are a few of the top criticisms of the campaign:
- The campaign did almost no outreach to communities of color. They started a week or two before the election and didn't try hard enough. There was only one townhall meeting on it in a predominantly black neighborhood, the early ads all focused on white people, and they didn't play ads on radio stations with predominantly black listenerships. As Richard Kim pointed out, the Yes campaign has more racially diverse rallies than the No campaign.
- They were slow in responding to the Yes campaign's lies, and when they did they weren't that effective. Jeez, I was even emailing Bil about two weeks before the election asking him if he knew if the latest lie from the Yes campaign was true and he didn't know either. When your side's advocates don't even know which side to believe, you have a communications malfunction.
- The campaign didn't mention the real effects on same-sex couples if Prop 8 passed. It was once the movement to help same-sex couples, then we became worried about same-sex marriage exclusively, then we de-gayed that and made it "marriage equality," and the the No campaign de-marriaged that and made it "equality for all." Is it any surprise the ads were ineffective? Is it any surprise that people didn't link this fight up with larger struggles against economic and social injustice?
The list could go on and on.
But the point is not that they made mistakes. They are correct in pointing out that every campaign will make a few.
The point is that they weren't willing to accept this criticism and improve their methods. They just plugged on with the same top-down operating structure that they use in lobbying and litigating, which is effective in those fields, but not in an election campaign.
Here's a comment left on TBP from a volunteer:
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.
The current paradigm circles the wagons around a few leaders, doesn't open up decisions to the movement, and stifles dissent, ideas, and creativity from the LGBT community. And if we keep it up, we're just going to fail again. We need to get a clue from the Democrats who turned around the party after 2004 by fostering the creativity of anyone who wanted to help out. Listening to the people out in the field not only brings in fresh ideas, it also increases participation and investment in the process.
But this isn't going to happen here without a fight - these folks don't want to give up the reigns of the movement to just any old queer.
The fact is that none of the flaws in the campaign that have been going around weren't mentioned well before the election. People like Pam Spaulding and Michael Crawford have been harping about the lack of resources and interest from gaystream organizations in fighting homophobia in communities of color. I don't know how many times I read from people on this site and others, and in listserves, about how those ads that tip-toe around gay couples need to be made more specific.
But the current structure isn't set up to do a better job. After fighting, and losing, 20-some of these battles, they're still making the same mistakes.
There's no point in rewarding this mentality. California's not going to be any more supportive of same-sex marriage two or four years from now without a better fight. There is no general, passive movement towards acceptance of same-sex marriage - if we want it we're going to have to do a better job pushing for it.
Or, if these campaigns are to be believed, this really is the best that could have been done in one of the most liberal states in the country with the largest population of LGBT people. If that's the case, then we just ought to give up on marriage, because it's never going to happen. Lord knows that there are enough other causes that serve the LGBT community that are starving for attention.
Just as I post this, Michael Petrelis posts this email from HRC (remember that there have been protests every day for the past week in California that HRC isn't even recognizing):
Subject: Don't Miss Tonight's HRC Spa Night at Nickel Spa! (6-10 PM)
Date: Monday, November 10, 2008, 9:03 AM
HRC invites you to an evening of pampering and relaxation while you sip wine, snack on appetizers, and mingle with friends! We are proud to partner with Nickel Spa on this evening spa event.
Nickel Spa: http://www.nickelspa.com/
Services available to both men and women during our event. (receiving a service is not required/mandatory!)
Where: 2187 Market Street (15th and Market)
San Francisco, CA
When: Monday November 10th, 2008
6:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Please RSVP to Nickel Spa for this event at: (415) 626-9000. When calling to RSVP, you will need to make an appointment for any services you would like to receive.
Note: There is a 50 person maximum for this event, you must be on the list to attend! Receiving a service is not required to attend.
20% of proceeds from spa services to benefit the Human Rights Campaign.
Spa night? What the fuck?