I'm sitting a panel discussion here on Proposition 8. It includes:
- Marty Rouse of HRC
- Tobias Packer of Equality Florida
- Josh Cohen of Bloggers Against 8
- George Simpson of Equality California
- Megan Kinninger of Freedom to Marry
- Joe Sudby of AmericaBlog (moderator)
There's a lot of talk here about what went wrong in the campaign, and I have summaries of various people's statements after the jump.
But I did want to highlight a quotation from Marty Rouse of the HRC. When Joe Sudby asked each person on the panel what lesson they learned, Rouse said that since he's been working in politics for 20 years, so "There aren't many lessons for me to learn."
People are pointing out various aspects of the campaign that could have been improved, but I didn't get in my question (can't raise my hand and type at the same time), which was about the underlying problem: accountability. We're a fucking smart and creative community, but what good do all the ideas in the world do if they're not used? What's the point of criticism if the people high up aren't going to listen?
That's the baseline here, and the mentality that there's nothing to learn from Prop 8 (duh, because we won in California by a landslide) is what's going to hamper our movement the most. There were some great comments, and they're after the jump.
Most of the panelists mentioned starting earlier in terms of fundraising. Since the California people on the panel were all involved in the campaign in some way, the blame went to "all of us in the community" who weren't invested enough in this movement.
The more interesting comments came from the veritable brain trust in the audience, and focused mostly on messaging.
The Rev Irene Monroe discussed how the ads weren't set up to reach a Christian audience. They played a few of the ads here, and quite a few people laughed and applauded (yours truly doesn't find that sort of thing funny or worth cheering on), but the LGBT activist community, the leadership that saw those ads and thought they were great, are a specific group of people who don't represent all voters. The biggest difference is their inability to reach people of faith, specifically Christians.
She also warned against modeling activism off Massachusetts, a non-diverse, secular state. It's just not a model for the entire country.
Scott of Boi from Troy asked about the closetedness of the campaign. Marty Rouse of the HRC said that the ads were focus-group tested, they did well, and the consultant that was hired for those ads was great on paper when they hired him (he had worked on several other successful campaigns in California).
Lane Hudson then called Marty out for his comment on not having lessons to learn and had a few ideas for what the ads could have talked about (the economy, Obama). Marty Rouse responded defensively that those ideas didn't test well.
But what was interesting is how he went off on how this is really all the community's fault as a whole for not being invested enough from the beginning. As he put it, "We all bear responsibility for [this loss]." That's true, but that's clearly not the point; he's just trying to pass blame on to someone outside of the campaign. The lack of investment from the community came from somewhere, and it's supposed to be (in a normal movement) incumbent on community leaders to impress upon their constituents why something is important and what they need those people to do.
The model of involvement that the LGBT community has used on these propositions up to this point (pay and go away), which has lost in every single state where's there's been a referendum, is the fundamental problem with community investment. People want to do and they want to speak and they want to effect change and they wan to be heard. Yes, they can and should open up their wallets if they believe in a cause, but that comes after they're already invested in that cause.
He also said that HRC was in a "lose/lose situation" - they can't take over the campaign because they'll be criticized, but they can't do too little or they'll be criticized. Maybe they could check into why they're always being criticized by the community for anything they do, no matter how innocuous (start by reading the paragraph just one up from this one, HRC people).
Serena Freewomyn had the next question, and she went back to the Courage Campaign commercial about Mormons breaking into a lesbian married couple's house and tearing up their marriage license. It got a lot of laughs in this room (we can't actually measure its effectiveness since that ad debuted the day of the election), but Serena called that ad "embarrassing."
She said that we can't underestimate Mormons' love of door-knocking - they go on a 2-year mission where they door-knock and then think back to how that was the best time of their lives. More importantly, though, was that the queers can't just go and make fun of the religion of a significant group of voters. There are people within the LDS church who are progressive and gay-friendly and potential allies that could be helping us out, but when we set up a "gays vs. Mormons" game we drive them back to their religion.
Also, queer Mormons are forced to choose which side they want to be on, and they're not likely to choose us when we're laughing at an integral part of their identity and their community. As she said, "They're going to pick their church over us."
Dana Rudolph of Mombian pointed out that our response to the "teaching about marriage in schools" argument was tepid and ineffective. When the campaign said "No, it won't be taught there," they conceded that there was something wrong with it being taught in schools. Josh Cohen responded that it even looked dishonest, because even though it won't be taught directly in the schools, there's enough in the state curriculum about teaching sex-ed and about families and about California law that the Yes campaign was able to win that skirmish.
Greta Christina pointed out that we should have, in the messaging, done more on an emotional level. I love her site because she's so logical, and here she was logical enough to point out the need, for many voters, to have an emotional reason to vote no, instead of abstract claims to equality and legal responses to the Yes campaign's arguments.
She also asked us to do more to tap into the growing secular movement.
These are some great ideas, at least for discussion, and it's definitely not a complete list of everything that went wrong. What is important is that we're having this discussion, not simply a group of people who were directly involved asking themselves what went wrong. Since they lost, they obviously could use some fresh thoughts and perspectives.
But they're going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming. The people who were on this panel were probably among the most-willing of the campaign's leaders to engage the grassroots (I mean, they're here), and even here there was a sense of "Who are you to criticize us?" And that's the fundamental problem - this discussion needs to be happening among queers and allies all over the country, not in a little closed-door discussion among the people who've lost around 30 of these things.
But the internet is changing that, and this campaign has changed that. We're seeing increased participation and discussion all over the country, with spontaneous demonstrations and blog conversations and whatnot. We're getting people involved who weren't previously involved and we should be encouraging that.
I understand that it's difficult for some of the people who've invested so much time and energy in the campaign to have to listen to all these postmortems. I've even heard a few people call it "disrespectful" to dissect this campaign here, on the internet, where anyone can look at it.
But how many people have to be excluded before this discussion is properly respectful? How many people's ideas have to be turned away before we're sure we're not going to hurt people's feelings? How many times to we have to lose these things before we get a clue and take advantage of our community's most valuable and abundant resources: diversity, intelligence, and creativity?
We should be winning these things at this point. We have the money, we have the experience, and we have a growing number of Americans on our side. But, as someone pointed out behind me while I was writing this post (I didn't catch his name), it took this failure to start this conversation. We needed something to send a jolt through the community and start to move away from this consultant/fundraising/insiders-know-everything model of organization.
So maybe this loss was, in a strange way, a good thing for those people working towards same-sex marriage.
Update: Gregory Rae emailed me this:
I only disagree with one point: you claim that the California people on the panel were all involved with the campaign, and were blaming people outside the campaign for not getting involved early enough. That's a bit misleading: I think it was just Marty Rouse who made this point. And I don't see how the panelists were all that qualified to make judgments here: they weren't involved in the campaign until a month before the election (I'm unsure when George got involved with campaign activities, but I think it was around then.)
About the Rouse comment, it was made by another person on the panel as well, before him, but I don't remember whom. I don't know their levels of involvement in the campaign. I assumed that because they were on the panel to discuss the campaign that they were all heavily involved.
I have no information on their level of involvement at this time.