It was a breathtaking moment. Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs introduced Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the cavernous dance hall at Jewel's Catch One Disco filled with about 150 marriage activists fell still and listened.
(Hildebrand and Jacobs)
No LGBT post-Prop 8 meeting or rally has been as respectful as the Next Steps Working Meeting. It was organized by the Coalition for Repeal of Prop 8 (formerly the Coalition of the Willing) to get down to planning for the initiative campaign. It helped tremendously that the goal of the meeting was to discuss ballot language and assess what individuals and organizations could do to contribute, rather than engage in yet another heated debate about whether the initiative should be placed on the ballot in 2010 or 2012.
(Marc Solomon and Matt Szabo)
Advocates for trying to repeal Prop 8 in 2010 feel the urgency of the looming Sept. 25 deadline to submit ballot language to the attorney general's office. They need to collect about 1 million signatures to ensure getting the 694,354 valid signatures needed to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. The group consensus reached out of morning workshops was that there should be no religious or education exception in the initiative. Then-Assemblymember Mark Leno's marriage bill twice passed the state legislature with a religious exemption. The current initiative submitted to the attorney general by Yes on Equality's Chaz Lowe has both a religious and education exception.
The 2010 ballot advocates clearly hoped Hildebrand would spell out exactly how they could win - a position supported by the Courage Campaign, with a caveat: if they cannot raise the $200,000 required to do immediate research and polling on ballot language by Thursday, "We will have to accept that our movement is not ready to repeal Prop. 8 in 2010," Jacobs wrote in an email to his members.
And there were other wrinkles. Carlos Marquez, chair of Pride at Work of San Diego and director of Community Programs and Public Affairs at the LGBT community center, noted that Pride at Work was signing onto the "Prepare to Prevail in 2012" letter issued by several people of color organizations that said more time was needed to reach out to people of color who voted yes on Prop 8 or might be part of that 15-20% "movable middle," the small number of still persuadable voters. Marquez told the group that while labor leaders supported the No on Prop 8 campaign, many of the rank and file voted yes and time was needed to reach out to them.
And Jeffrey King, executive director of In The Meantime Men, an health and HIV/AIDS group for black gay men, said African Americans will feel disrespected if white gays come into their neighborhoods and talk about gay marriage as a civil right. Hildebrand said it is a civil right - but said the campaign needed the help of black leaders to show them how to proceed.
(Hildebrand and King)
Hildebrand was both inspirational and offered what he described as "tough love." Noting upfront that he is "an outsider" from South Dakota, not California, he said his 22 years of experience is largely with federal candidates. And he, like Jacobs, stressed the importance of winning the ballot initiative fight in Maine. (Jacobs called for an "October vacation in Maine" - though it is unclear if that is in addition to or instead of the Oct. 11 March on Washington.)
Hildebrand noted that "California is a tough state" and stressed that "if you walk into 2010 half-cocked, you will lose." From his outside perspective, he said, "you have to go in with guns blazing, showing great confidence.....I think you've got to go [in 2010] but go with great confidence or don't go."
Hildebrand noted that the polls were not favorable for the Obama presidential campaign - but they believed in their hearts that they would do it. However, he said, "we had to run a good campaign and they had to run a bad campaign" in order to win. He noted that support for marriage equality is consistently between 46%-49%. "What are you waiting for? You have a narrow window" and he said the odds are "not bad."
The LGBT community is waiting on its leaders to "win this for them," he said. "They will get involved if you show leadership."
However, it is imperative that the ballot language be tested - and here's where inspiration turned to "tough love."
"This is about winning and if you don't run a smart campaign, you're going to lose." That smart campaign entails: coming together in unity, creating a smart governing structure, finding the right campaign people who know how to win, and being bold.
"You need to surround yourself with the best and the brightest and then take marching orders," he said. "Egos have got to be checked at the door."
Donors are willing to help, he said. "Their only trepidation is that you run a good campaign. You need to prove to them that you have the confidence, can raise the money and turn out the bodies and the support will be there."
Most immediately, it is imperative to raise money to test the ballot language. He explained how the initiative campaign to overturn South Dakota's total ban on abortion consistently talked about rape and incest - not the right to have an abortion. Similarly, he said, you can talk about gay marriage and same sex marriage all you like - but "you need to swallow hard and get the right language to win."
"I'm all about repealing Prop 8," he said, but that's not the right message. 'I want civil marriage rights' should the consistent message.
That did not please the number of people who angrily said they would not support any campaign that did not prominently feature gay couples.
I will have more with Hildebrand later in the day.
See some of the other people who were at the meeting here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19589191@N05/?saved=1