Patricia Nell Warren

California Equality Summit: Transparency vs. Good Strategy

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | January 17, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics
Tags: California Equality Summit, gay leaders, Prop 8, religious right, repeal Prop 8, strategy

"In war, practice dissimulation, and you will succeed. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt." Those words were written 2500 years ago by a great Chinese general, Sun Tzu, who laid out some principles of winning strategy so brilliant that they are still used today, not only by the military but also by politicians and marketers and yes, religious leaders. In any kind of conflict, good strategy is the difference between victory and defeat.

As I follow the uproars around the California Equality summit coming up in L.A. on January 24, and watch the organizers buckling to public pressures about media access, I wonder whether they are thinking about that old caveat to keep your plans "dark and impenetrable."

I understand the anxiety about "transparency" in leadership. There's far too little of it in the United States today, which accounts for all the corruption that infests our entire society. I get it that some LGBT organizations failed to create effective election strategies -- that these failures led to passage of Prop 8. I recognize the need for a change in strategy, so Prop 8 can be scuttled.

But I also understand why the L.A. Summit leadership originally decided to bar the media from the most sensitive meetings. They recognized the importance of keeping their plans "dark and impenetrable."

It's not a good idea to tell the enemy ahead of time what you're going to do. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese didn't send President Roosevelt a telegram saying, "Hi, there, we're going to bomb Pearl Harbor this morning." Nor did Al Qaeda send Bush an email saying, "Just to let you guys know, we're going to hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th." The need for "dark and impenetrable plans" applies in politics too. During the Presidential campaign, the strategists for Obama nor McCain didn't invite the media to their planning meetings, and they didn't go around blurting their strategies to everybody in the world. And hello, the yes-on-8 people didn't advertise their strategies either...which is why the LGBT movement wound up feeling so blind-sided by the election results.

So let's not confuse the need for transparency with the need for better strategy. These two needs are not the same thing at all. Inviting the media to all the L.A. Equality sessions may be the politically correct thing to do at this point. But let's not kid ourselves. Having the media there is not necessarily going to produce a winning strategy for same-sex marriage in California.

Brilliant strategy -- the kind that Sun Tzu describes as "flashing forth from the heights of heaven" -- comes out of a few people with brilliant and courageous minds. Sometimes one smart person is all that's needed. In the case of Martin Luther King, the winning strategy came to him from Bayard Rustin, black gay Quaker who had the brilliant idea of adapting Gandhi's successful non-violent protests in India to U.S. civil-rights activism. Brilliant strategy does NOT come out of a lot of public wrangling and media glare. It's never the result of noisy consensus. Least of all does it result from the media's habit of doing obsessive and exhaustive Nancy-Grace-like microanalysis of every little thing that is made public.

If anything, subjecting the L.A. Summit proceedings to public debate and media exposure may confuse the issues even more...cripple our movement even more. As Sun Tzu says, "All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved."

If we expose our strategy, the religious right will just sit back and smile, and take notes. Indeed, nothing can prevent them from sending their own media moles to attend the Summit.

Where do we find a few good Sun Tzu-like strategists? The kind that we need right now? How do we put them in the driver's seat of our movement?

In our desperate search for a winning strategy right now, one problem we face is that the LGBT world has tolerated ineffective leadership in many of our activist organizations for over a decade. For example, HRC's fatal contribution to the Prop 8 debacle shouldn't surprise anybody who has been dismayed at HRC's gutless and bumbling performance for many years. I stopped supporting HRC in 1996 while I was involved in the L.A. school district as a commissioner and saw HRC's gutless and bumbling performance when our district's gay-friendly programs were made the object of a Congressional investigation, and HRC did nothing effective to help us.

To put it another way, a lot of us need to stop contributing to -- and supporting in other ways -- activist groups who are more dedicated to protecting their image and their jobs than they are to protecting our rights.

We LGBT people are up against a political enemy who are very clear about the fact that they are at war with us. The religious right are so crystal-clear that they talk obsessively about "armies for God" and "soldiers for Christ." And it's important to note that the righters talk like this no matter which church they belong to! If we're going to beat these "armies," we need to be even clearer about the war than they are. Especially since they are more numerous than we are, and have more money and leverage, plus they are better than we are at putting aside their differences in order to work together. According to Sun Tzu's principles, this fact puts us at a dangerous disadvantage. All the more reason why we need to do some thunderbolt thinking about strategy that will blast us to victory.

You can bet your bottom dollar that the religious right have adapted Sun Tzu's thinking for their own uses...though they would rather be boiled in oil than admit publicly that they borrowed any ideas from a pagan.

Sun Tzu's principles were so proven in his own time, by his own performance, that he was able to say, "The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer. The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat." hope for the L.A. Equality Summit is this: that the core leaders will come up with a thunderbolt plan, and keep it "dark and impenetrable." They may not get another chance to pull this off.


The complete text of Sun Tzu's The Art of War can be found online here

Historians debate on who Sun Tzu really was. Ancient Chinese history sources describe him as a great general who commanded the armies of the King of Wu, during the early period when what we call "China" was divided into a number of states that were constantly fighting with each other. This period came to an end with unification of China into an empire in 221 B.C. Some historians today view The Art of War as having been created by a school of military thought, not by one person.

The fact remains -- the principles and strategies do work, and have had an enormous influence on both Eastern and Western military thinking.

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I think that part of the desire for openess comes from the blame game after the election; it was NCLR's fault was the mantra repeated over and over, when in reality we need look only in a mirror.

Of course, if Prop 8 had been defeated, the HRC would have taken the credit...

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | January 18, 2009 9:49 AM


There you go again showing your anti-HRC bias.

First of all, no one that I have seen blamed the passage of Prop 8 solely on NCLR. I have seen fingers pointed at the No on Prop 8 campaign which included NLCR, Black voters, the Mormon Church etc.

To say that HRC would have claimed credit if Prop 8 had been defeated, continues an unjustified meme that HRC does nothing, but takes credit for everything that others have done. Whether your like it or not, or want to admit it or not, HRC raise and contributed nearly 3.5 million dollars for No on Prop 8 and had numerous members of its staff on the ground in California.

We have a lot of work to do, not just in California, but around the country and at the federal level. To do that work, we will need LGBT organizations at all levels to be strong and focused and that includes HRC, NLCR, Equality Texas and more.

Instead of trying to tear down our organizations, let's work to make them better and more effective.

Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, and the HRC has a bit of a reputation for claiming credit when things go right and blaming others when they do not. Ask Lesbian and trans-activists about their various experiences in that regard.

I am not a relentless HRC basher, Michael. I've even stuck my neck out in defense when attacks upon them are over the top. I count Dr Beyer amongst my friends and she serves on an HRC board. Another friend from the Lesbian organisation that I am most active in is also a member of one of HRC's boards.

The fact of the matter is that the HRC is a bit impervious to change because of the 50,000 dollar cost to sit on their leadership. As a result, the concerns of the blue collar Lesbians and the trans community are under-represented and perhaps, easily dismissed.

The Lesbians and the trans-community have huge areas of common interest, Michael, primarily ENDA. The HRC readily embraced the noxious and elitist interpretations of LCR's Dale Carpenter as to effective coverage, ignoring the hundreds of experienced attorneys of Lambda Legal who disagreed. They falsified a study to buttress their position. Forgive me if I do not trust them when I am one of the preople representing the many Lesbians who violate gender stereotypes( the Butch Lesbians and the "Bois") who would not have been covered.

Rebecca Juro, in a brilliant piece, pointed out that the HRC suffers from a selection bias towards socially isolated and insular elitists at its upper levels because of the "buy a seat for 50,000" policy. Forgive me if I am wary of them most of the time, but to complain that I have knee jerk reactions to them is undeserved, particularly when I was one of the people trying to broker a "peace conference" between trans-leaders and the HRC and who tried to calm things down when the HRC wanted the meeting during the trans-leadership's planned get together at Southern Confort, meaning that the leadership wuld have to be absent at the largest trans get-together.

" On December 7, 1941, the Japanese didn't send President Roosevelt a telegram saying, "Hi, there, we're going to bomb Pearl Harbor this morning."

Funny story this, actually, the Japanese ambassador was on his way to give the official declaration of war to Roosevelt when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Though it was Japanese strategy to launch surprise attacks with no warning,( witness the russo-japanese war of 1904.), the japanese had wanted to time the attack with the delivery of a declaration of war. However, due to delays in the delivery, the attack happened first. They had figured that they could declare war, then bomb Pearl Harbor before the US was able to get to a war footing overseas. It worked in the Phillipines, just not at Pearl Harbor.

Interesting point. There are some historians who have this theory: that President Roosevelt received some intelligence reports that the Japanese were planning an attack on Pearl Harbor. But he did nothing about it, thinking that Americans would support U.S. involvement in World War II only if we were actually attacked.
Whatever the truth really was, the Japanese did achieve the complete thunderbolt surprise that Sun Tzu talks about.

Actually, the Allies knew for a long time that the Japanese were getting ready to make a big move in the Pacific -- ever since they started designing and building the first aircraft carriers in the 1920s. But just when and where that big move would aim was kept a "dark and impenetrable plan" by the Japanese.

Well, then, Equality California can't help us. Maybe we could hire Dick Cheney to run the campaign to win equality for LGBT from an undisclosed location.

Great article. Can even ten people reach a consensus of policy ? The President's cabinet is small for a reason.
To have over 150 gay activist jam packed in an auditorium each with different opinions is bedlam.
The pen is mighter than the sword. What needs to be done is to reach influential newspapers and publications with OpEds to sway public opinion. The OpEd the other day by Mary Frances Berry was fabulous and will get attention from lawmakers. It was in the New York Times. Even McCain couldn't get an OpEd published there. Obviously LGBT writers can. Berry was the chairwoman of the Commission on Civil Rights from 1993 to 2004, and the author of “And Justice for All: The United States Commission on Civil Rights and the Continuing Struggle for Freedom in America.”
For effective activism, we have to turn to the OpEd. It is a lot of work and study to craft a good one that they will publish, but it is really our only power. Groups just don't do much but ask for funds. Here is a link to the greatest OpEd ever.

I just don't see why the Equality Summit doesn't do the same thing Creating Change conference does.

Media are allowed to attend any event. Some events are off the record. Credible journalists (and most bloggers) are willing to listen to off-the-record sources speak without writing about it then or writing about it at a later time when the need for secrecy isn't there.