It's looking more and more like a vote on ENDA is going to be a reality. When exactly is not yet known, but on Monday, Congress will be back in session, and I hear that final scheduling will begin.
A "markup" must precede a whip count, and a whip count must precede a House vote, and each of these items requires notice, so I don't think we'll see a House vote before May 1.
That's good, because we need some time to organize.
It's not enough to write emails, and though telephone calls are good, what's better is the community organizing to show support. Frankly, I think ENDA is going to pass the House by a large majority, but the Senate backers, Merkley and Harkin, are weak on the issues, and are going to need a lot of help.
While the news sounds optimistic, and it is, there is some serious counter-pressure. We can't sit on the sidelines behind our computers while this is happening. If there's not some serious cheering from the LGBT side of the stands, egging on our leaders, they will fold at crunch time. It happens all the time.
I think we ought to be organizing rallies in the key states and districts where the votes are closest to the line. That means the Senate, and that means The Nine. I refer to the 9 possible Senate yes votes that have not yet committed, Murkowski, Pryor, Lincoln, Bill Nelson, Lugar, Hagan, Conrad. Voinovich and Byrd.
That means getting neighbors together and working on getting emails of supporters together, telephone conference calls of people willing to organize, conversations with supportive family, friends and neighbors, scheduling rallies and informational meetings. And not in Washington DC, but in Juneau, Little Rock, Miami, Indianapolis, Raleigh, Bismarck, Cleveland and Charleston.
A bunch of emails and letters doesn't cut it. A blog post about a few people who sent in letters in Butte doesn't cut it. Four people waving signs at the side of the road outside the statehouse doesn't cut it. Either we will have mass community support, or we will wait for another shot at ENDA down the road.
When This Is Happening
According to the Advocate, a source with knowledge of the process said the floor vote was likely to be scheduled first, at which point the committee vote would then be coordinated to precede it by about a week.
The source said that representatives Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, and Polis would undertake an informal vote count (known as a "whip count" in Hill patois) upon returning from recess on April 12 and, assuming the numbers look good, majority whip Jim Clyburn would launch an official whip count while the Democratic leadership worked on scheduling a floor vote.
So that will take time, and that will give us time.
We're going to need a strong, diverse strategy.
Who Needs To Do What And When
We're going to need the advocacy organizations, like HRC, The Task Force, NCLR, and NCTE, which have staffs and budgets to weigh in on Capitol Hill with their suave lobbyists and glossy flyers.
Equally important are the state organizations, that have connections to local people who can be mobilized to bring local pressure to bear in the district.
We also need people who can bring respectful civil disobedience to bear when that type of pressure is needed.
Lastly, the most important element is spontaneous community organizing in local areas. While some organizations have some facility with this, like HRC, which has been continuously working in the background on the weak links through community organizing, like Rep. Bill Owens from upstate New York, and the Diaz-Balart brothers in Florida, we need locals successfully organizing the local community to talk to those legislators and demand equality through meetings and rallies.
Organizations are good, but it is no substitute for individuals standing together in solidarity. At the same time, organizations can be helpful in bringing that about. We need a partnership between our federal and state organizations -- and we have one. It's called United ENDA. I hope that the people running United ENDA will use their connections to bring about community organizing from the ground up (not the top down). Parachuting someone in from DC to hold a rah rah session and post a note online about it does not cut it. They are going to have to work with local activists, many of whom are not necessarily tony white-shoe suavity machines, but who want justice for their communities. They're contradictory, weighed down by day-jobs, not always quick to return phone calls or to go along with the corporate line, but they are essential in this fight.
Did you notice how Organizing For America handled health care reform? They collected millions of emails and used them not only to ask people to call their legislators, but also organized local meetings and info sessions and rallies. They had websites you could go to that would give you five names of local supporters in the swing districts, and you could call them and ask them to call their legislators or attend a meeting. I did that several times. With all the money our community has, why don't we have those things at work?
Why We're Having Problems In The Senate And What To Do About it
One thing I'm thankful for is that freshman Senator Jeff Merkley, whose silence on ENDA suggests that he is overwhelmed by his new job and not up to leading in this fight, is not being left to twist in the wind by the Dems. As the Advocate reports, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa is also playing a central role in shepherding the measure since he chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. In 1990, Harkin sponsored and helped pass the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities. Obviously he knows how to make legislation happen, but I'm concerned about his understanding of the issues.
Frankly, I think Senator Harkin frankly needs a kick in the pants too, after his Senate hearing omitted any transgender witnesses, the one thing that HRC is now bemoaning that the Senate doesn't have enough education on.
As reported in The Advocate story, Alison Herwitt, HRC's legislative director acknowledged that the Senate poses more hurdles because of that issue. "We still need to continue to do education in the Senate around the gender identity language," she said, adding that House members were much more proficient on the issue."
Where were these people when the trans-less Senate hearing was being organized?
And then The Advocate story quotes a source familiar with Harkin that made me cringe:
"It's doable this year, but far from assured," said the source, adding that Harkin has personally vowed to help lobby his colleagues one-on-one for the bill. "He's committed to working on it. It's going to require a lot of work with the moderates to convince them that this isn't an election loser."
With friends like that, who needs enemies?
HRC and NCTE and the other orgs are going to need to offer daily assistance to the state organizations that actually have people on the ground in those cities, and GetEqual, Equality Across America and JoinTheImpact are going to need to start calling meetings in those cities where we need feet on the ground.
Hey DC orgs, what are you willing to do to help local activists in those cities?
Hey grassroots orgs like Get Equal, Equality Across America and Join The Impact, what are you willing to do to help local activists in those cities.
Hey local people in those cities, what are you willing to do to get job equality?
Get offline, get organized.