I got an e-blast yesterday evening about a protest the group did in Harrisburg, PA to heckle Senator Bob Casey about his support for a woman's right to choose. Needless to say, I don't agree with their end goal, but I admire their chutzpah in this action and it really illustrates something I've been talking about for a while now. Sen Casey, you see, is known as a pro-life politician who's most often the target of pro-choice protesters.
Stick with me for a moment and let's explore what the LGBT movement can learn from anti-abortion protesters.
As far as a quick disruption and protest goes, the group did it beautifully. Senator Casey had no idea it was coming, there were a ton of cameras around, and they were quickly surrounded by press wanting to know why they were protesting. The Philiadelphia Inquirer, for example, ran a big story about the abortion opponents' interruption of Casey's remarks.
Casey (D., Pa.), who has been a key figure in the Senate battle over abortion funding in the health-care bill, was in Harrisburg to open a photo exhibit on hunger in America.
He had just thanked his wife, Terese, for introducing him to an audience in the Capitol's crowded Rotunda when three women and a man stood up, one after another, to shout that he "voted to fund abortion."
During the five-minute disruption, Casey stood and listened as one of the protesters shouted, "You say you're pro-life."
"I am," the senator said.
Capitol police escorted the protesters out of the building. A spokesman for the police said the four were not arrested but were asked to refrain from interrupting Casey. They did not go back into the building afterward.
The protesters said they were affiliated with Insurrecta Nex, the Washington antiabortion group formerly known as Operation Rescue. Outside the Capitol, the four accused Casey of selling out his constituents and his Roman Catholic faith for supporting the health-care bill and appropriations bills that they contend fund abortions overseas.
That clip is only about a fourth of the entire article; it lays out all of the group's grievances against the anti-abortion Senator, the history behind their complaints, and a nice shout-out to the organization and it's mission. I counted about ten articles in various news outlets about the protest in a quick Google search. I'm blogging about it and other sites have picked up the story from the news too. As far as earned press goes, this is spectacular.
ENDA's Earned Press
When was the last time you saw earned press in the mainstream media about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act? Sure, the Perry v. Schwarzenegger Prop 8 trial has been in the news this week, but marriage equality tends to dominate the media attention, doesn't it? You see the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell pieces floating around with stories about the Ugandan "Kill the Gays" bill, but Rachel Maddow - the only openly lesbian newscaster - seems to have the most coverage on either story. LGBT blogs and papers even tend to nudge some of our own issues into a second-class status - see recent coverage on ENDA versus same-sex marriage on the big gay blogs for a quick comparison.
If we want the mainstream media to focus on the ENDA story - and make no mistake, we need them to do it - we've got to spoonfeed them a reason to put us on the evening news. The anti-abortion protesters targeted a "friendly" politician, made sure TV cameras would be handy, put together a basic plan for the action, prepped a handful of people, and got their cause on television, radio, print and online media outlets. The brief outburst - less than two and a half minutes of time - was well worth their time.
When was the last time you saw an LGBT rights protest like this? Here in Indiana, zaps and actions like Insurrecta Nex's aren't usual and they make good news bites. Back in 2005 when a few of us stood up to a local bigot's anti-gay rally in the statehouse, it made every channel with multiple stories.
"Make Me Do It"
Why aren't these going on daily now while targeting both Republicans and Democrats who haven't committed to protecting our civil rights? As ENDA flounders in committee why aren't we flexing our own muscles?
If we're complaining about the lack of attention that ENDA's getting by Congress members, why aren't we dragging them back to focusing on our needs? Legislators love to say they can walk and chew gum at the same time, but that never seems possible when the gum is queer flavored.
While the LGBT community loves to castigate Republicans (for good cause, for good cause!) and complain about the Democrats who don't support us, what do we do with Democrats like Indiana Senator Evan Bayh who still hasn't confirmed his support of ENDA? Bayh is considered LGBT friendly even though he's a blue dog democrat, but he's not helping the legislation move forward by refusing to confirm he would vote in favor of ENDA. At what point do we institute the FDR principle? (FDR told a supporter who was advocating for a specific action, "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.")