"What's so important about local races? I don't care about marriage! I don't care about things happening in another state. I don't understand why I should support local causes when we can apply a band-aid to D.C. and everything will instantly be all better--bye bye boo-boos!
"After all, the laws that are made in Washington apply to all of the states. Better to win it there and get ENDA and marriage everywhere at once, than to get a patchwork piecemeal system of unequal competing laws."
If this rings true with you, you're absolutely 100% correct! Passing bills that guarantee our rights through DC would automatically give us equality all over the nation--case closed. The only problem is, I can't name a single law that was passed out of both houses of congress and signed by the president that expressly benefits LGBT people. That's because there are none. We've spent 40 years and millions--if not billions--of dollars working DC, and the only laws we've seen passed that mention us are two that make us even more second-class citizens: the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Our biggest DC victory was stopping the discriminatory Constitutional Marriage Protection Amendment. Seriously. Our biggest DC victory was not actually a real win, but avoiding a huge defeat. DC is a money pit and a hole. We can't stop working it hard, but its time we propose a new strategy.
Let's make the 'local' national. (More after the jump)
Taking our eyes off of DC for a bit and putting more energy and effort into our local fights is not some sort of a defeatist surrender. Over the past ten years--aside from the disastrous Constitutional Marriage amendment votes in over thirty states--we've had a steady stream of state-wide and local victories which include passing employment non-discrimination laws in over 20 states. We have won hate-crime protections on a state level in dozens of cases. We have equal civil marriage rights in six states (hopefully, it stays that way), we have domestic partnerships or civil unions in nine states, adoption and property rights battles have been won, and we see that state supreme courts are far more willing to take up our cases than the U.S. Supreme Court.
We clearly have positive momentum on our side when it comes to winning our rights on a local level. Why throw a wrench into that?
Why Just Not Just Focus Nationally?
There are many valid reasons why folks want to focus on DC rather than the state level. First, the rally cry "One fight, not fifty," makes a compelling point--having one front, rather than a front in every state--seems more logical. However, we need to keep vigilant locally anyway, regardless of what's passed in DC, because the Far Right isn't just going to roll over and surrender if we pass our omnibus LGBT rights bill. Not to mention, we can't even get Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed and public opinion is very much on our side there. How long do you think its going to take to pass the omnibus LGBT rights bill? Good luck.
Some argue that a patchwork of confusing laws that change from state to state is harmful. I say, while its not optimum, it's not hell either. Again, arguing the 'time' argument, we'll probably have hate crimes protection and same-sex adoption in Louisiana before we get it passed in DC. DC politicians tread so lightly, there's rarely anything they do without massive public support. Not just from their own state, but from the entire country. We will only win people over if they know us, and by putting more of our time and effort into cultivating local victories, we can also get to know our communities better and have the opportunity to be visible and make more connections. Public opinion will start to sway more and more in our favor when folks know we're the neighbors.
We Can Do Some Things Locally That We Can't Do In DC
I think we can also have a chance to build stronger allies and groom better leaders if we're working locally. The national politician isn't born--she's groomed back in state politics. The more present we become in the state houses, the closer we'll get to the US Representatives and Senators of tomorrow. We should be building teams around every state lawmaker in the country and getting to know them well, engaging them in discourse as often as we can and turning out more allies.
Our momentum in the local races will eventually begin powering our momentum in DC. Once the ball gets rolling, it will roll fast--but it will take an enormous amount of pressure from local wins all over the country--and especially in unexpected places like Alabama, Utah or Texas--to get it moving. We have to start winning today.
The Right Move For Victory
So the March on Washington is a good idea, but we also must keep paying attention to our local races--there are some incredibly vital ones this fall. Don't kid yourself, Maine and Washington aren't just about "gay marriage," these are referenda on the existence of gays in these communities. These are attempts to send messages to our community: "Shut up and sit down, we're sick of you."
Allowing these to pass would be a huge victory for the homophobic Far Right--and more than that, it would be a PR disaster for us, and the end of our momentum as we know it. We'll have a tough time passing a Uniting American Families Act if the message coming out of the local contests is, "NO GAYS ALLOWED!" We need to be in Washington, but we also must focus on obtaining more strategic local victories and we must begin today.
Besides Maine's "No On 1" campaign and Washington's "Approve Referendum 71" campaign, I've picked seven other campaigns that I think we should all try to contribute to this fall in order to have true victories from all over the country. These include ballot measure campaigns and elections. The candidates include transgender individuals, people of color, northerners, southerners, folks from the coast, and folks from flyover country.
Please visit the list over on Ameriqueer, and click through the three postings that followed that give detailed information about each of the contests. I hope you support these local campaigns, and give suggestions to other important local LGBT races that are going down this fall around this great nation of ours. Even if all you can give is $10, your donation will help secure a victory that will reverberate all over the country, right to the steps of Capitol Hill, so if you really want to support change now this fall, please support these campaigns.