Awhile back, I wrote a piece at my home blog, OpenLeft.com, looking at the map of results in Maine, and noted the results in small towns where we lost badly. A colleague of mine at OpenLeft, Mike Lux, who has done a lot of small-town organizing in his earlier days, asked me what the campaign did to organize in some of these towns. I wrote at the time:
In truth the campaign did a great deal to organize in smaller towns, but there is one tactic no political campaign can fully execute with money or resources or organizing. Part of the reason these small towns are so hardcore against marriage equality, Mike noted, is because in many of these communities, there are no gay people, or if there are, they are usually closeted. To some extent, no amount of TV advertising or direct mail or surrogate work will work as well as person-to-person communication with gay people in your community.
As we all talk with family and friends over the holidays, there is one thing we can do if we want to advance marriage equality- without any campaign going on. It's to do what Harvey Milk would have done... but with a twist.
Here's some background on what I mean:
In 1978, Harvey Milk played a major role in defeating the Briggs Initiative in California, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in public schools. What he used as perhaps his most central organizing tactic was getting people to come out of the closet, to demonstrate that this gay person is your beloved schoolteacher or principal or aide, and thus move voters in a very personal way to vote no...
We won that campaign with 58% of the vote, and a famous speech Milk gave during it is instructive today:
On this anniversary of Stonewall, I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country ... We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets ... We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives.
The same tactic Milk used for school employees everywhere must continue to be used in these communities.
The twist, and the difference between 1978 and 2009, is that this call to action doesn't just apply to coming out of the closet anymore. Many of us are out. That's the first step. Now we have to talk to family and friends about why it's important to support marriage equality. In between cooking, eating, board games, and explaining to Uncle Vic (yes, that was a trite Queer as Folk reference) how to pronounce Bilerico, we all have a small piece of homework to do: talk to a family member or friend about marriage equality. It beats any direct mail, TV ad, radio ad, or anything else our side could do.
To that end, Courage Campaign, which did a lot of work in Maine, has set up a Courageous Conversations tool. Make a pledge to have a conversation with a family member who is opposed to marriage equality. You can even do it in the name of an LGBT person you know. Your first name and that of the person you're talking to will appear on an interactive map next to the thousands of other people who are doing the same thing. If you don't have any idea how to start, they have a great How-To guide to get started and help you through it. And you can report back on how it went, which will help Courage Campaign learn lessons about what kinds of conversations are best.
You can also Tweet about it:
Give the gift of equality for the holidays with a Courageous Conversation http://bit.ly/79FrlC #LGBT
I made a pledge to heed Harvey Milk's call and take the next step. I hope you'll join me. Happy Thanksgiving.