Guest Blogger

How We Blew It: California's Prop 8 Defeat

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 21, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: California, post mortem, Prop 8, Prop. 8, Terry Leftgoff

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Terry Leftgoff formerly served as the highest ranking openly gay officer of the California Democratic Party and oversaw numerous campaign efforts including local unified Democratic campaigns for Bill Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer, among others. He is currently an Environmental, Government & Public Relations consultant living in West Hollywood. Terry is single and hopes to be able to marry someday.

A Bungled Campaign, A Call for Change, The 'Ick' Factor, and Historical Inevitability

Terry - Face June 03.jpgLast night I attended a meeting in Beverly Hills to hear some of the leaders of the losing No on Prop 8 campaign discuss why they thought we lost. I found myself strongly disagreeing with their assessment. I also found myself in excellent company among the many villagers gathering outside the village gates.

So what happened? On a day of a monumental tidal shift when voters bust down the front door of the White House for an African American and Californians voted to prevent the closing of another door to abortion rights, in a stunning reversal Californians voted to slam the door on the civil rights of gay couples and strip us of our right to marry.

The single biggest reason for the Proposition 8 loss was an ineffective and inept campaign strategy by the leadership of the No on 8 campaign, Despite raising record shattering amounts of money and volunteers who worked their hearts out, the overarching state campaign strategy was a huge flop.

How to Lose a Political Campaign

The statewide No on 8 campaign violated numerous standard rules of political campaigns and overlooked or ignored basic campaign strategy and in so doing lost a double digit lead to predictable scare tactics. Independent polls from both the California Field Poll and the Public Policy Institute of California showed Prop 8 losing by an increasing margin following the tidal wave of joyous wedding coverage growing to a double digit lead in September before intensive television advertising began.(1) Internal polls conducted by Equality California (ECQA) are said to have provided a different picture of voter opinion but ECQA has thus far declined to disclose them.

All three major elements of a successful campaign - media, field operation and Get Out The Vote program -- were flawed or worse, completely non-existent.

Ineffective Media

The No on 8 campaign began by allowing the Yes on 8 proponents to define the debate and it was never able to recover. This violated the first rule of political campaigns which is to never let your opponent define you first.

After a near fatal slow start, every emotional attack ad from Yes on 8 received a tepid intellectual response from No on 8. This violated another rule of political campaigns which is to quickly respond in equal kind to an attack so it is not allowed to penetrate the public mind.

Instead of running a diverse multi-message campaign of persuasion, the media message was emotionless, monotone and uncompelling. In short, the media messages failed to move or even educate voters about the issue and instead appealed to a single abstract principle - equality - that was not sufficiently persuasive or connected to the content of the proposition. Worse, there appeared to be no effective Black or Latino strategy.

An effective target strategy would have been to send Democratic voters mailers with a picture of Barack Obama and other prominent diverse leaders who oppose Prop 8 and, alternately, to send Republican voters mailers with pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other prominent religious and conservative leaders who oppose Prop 8. This is textbook targeting.

TV AD #1: A perky but awkward teenager is sitting in a school yard. He or she is Black or Latino. He could be the actor who plays the gay son on Ugly Betty. He speaks directly into the camera while shuffling his feet: "You know, it's hard growing up feeling different. Rejection hurts. Self esteem and acceptance are vital to the success of kids like me. Did you know that as many as 1 in 3 gay and lesbian teens attempt suicide? Prop 8 would prevent people like me from marrying. When I grow up, I hope to get married someday. Please don't take that hope away from me. Just growing up is hard enough." (Gentle woman's voice: "Vote no on 8, Please don't discriminate')

The touching images about post-Supreme Court weddings that so effectively humanized the issue were squandered. The magnificent media saturation about our personal stories that was broadcast throughout every corner of the state caused huge gains in public opinion and, by extension, voter preferences. Did our advertising strategy utilize these moving stories? Inexplicably, they did not.

The sanitized media messages smacked of a campaign by focus group. Such an outdated orthodox approach should have been over-ridden by common sense and political savvy. How it is our community's considerable collective campaign knowledge could have lead the No on 8 campaign so astray?

Ads never even mentioned the subject matter of the proposition -- gay marriage or marriage equality -- ceding it to the Yes on 8 proponents to define for the electorate. The No on 8 ads never featured simple first hand heartfelt stories of gay and lesbian families talking about what it means to them and their children to have the legal benefits of marriage and conversely, what it would mean to have that right ripped away. They never featured our children and what the legal protection of marriage means to them. And significantly they did not reflect the diversity of our electorate.

TV AD #2: A gay couple is sitting with their young children. They speak directly into the camera: "The legal protections of marriage are important to us because, like other parents, we're concerned about what might happen to them should something happen to one of us. Prop 8 would take away the right to marry of people like us. Please don't take that away from us or from them." (Gentle voice: 'Vote no on 8. Please don't discriminate')

When it became clear things were going awry, campaign managers were changed mid-stream. There was a noticeable shift in messaging during which media messages became more powerful but they continued to dance around the issue. By this point, it was too little too late.

The 'Ick Factor'

Let's address the 'Ick Factor'.(2) In this situation, it applies to the way our proponents sexualize and demonize the gay community then attempt to exploit the discomfort they created. One particularly effective theme of the demonizing attack ads by the Yes on 8 proponents was the shameless use of lies about children. But instead of humanizing ourselves and our children, No on 8 responded by hiding us in the closet, in effect a self inflicted wound, and failing to show how such attacks are hurtful to the well-being of our children.

History has shown us that when the humanity of the gay community is showcased, public opinion is highly responsive. This has been true with AIDS, prior attacks on gay teachers, and with the coverage of gay weddings. Instead, the campaign message rendered gay couples and parents invisible with antiseptic ads that in effect dehumanized us which allowed these demonizing attack ads by Yes on 8 proponents to flourish in the public mind. These emotional tactics by Yes on 8 proponents were cliche, shopworn and completely predictable. The gay community was 'disappeared', hidden in the closet like a shameful crazy uncle, within ineffective third party media messaging. The singular media message, approach and roll out was, at best, painfully slow and monotone, and, at worst, it reflected internalized homophobia.

There were no ads that pealed back the curtain on who the stealth sponsors of Prop 8 were and the religiously based campaign they were waging. The Mormon Church and its members bitch slapped the gay community, accounting for nearly $20 M or close to half of all Yes on 8 proponent contributions. They sponsored and ran an effective ground operation that trained members to never let on they were Mormon. The Mormon Church has, in a well guarded secret, been the primary sponsor of virtually every anti-gay initiative that has appeared on a state ballot in the United States. How salient would an ad have been that asked voters whether the Mormon Church of Utah, infamous for its polygamists and forcing underage young girls into exploitive marriages, should lecture Californians about marriage? We'll never know since no such ad was produced.

TV AD #3: A well known black civil rights figure or minister speaks directly into the camera: "The Mormon Church of Utah is behind Prop 8 on the ballot. They want to ban gay marriage. Did you know that for over a century, the Mormon Church banned blacks from becoming members.(3) Now they want to tell Californians what our marriages should look like? (Gentle voice: 'Vote no on 8. Please don't discriminate')

I wonder how such an ad might have resonated with African American voters, 70% of which ended up siding with the Mormon Church on Prop 8.(4) Internal polls conducted by Equality California (ECQA) are said to show 57% support from Black voter preferences but ECQA has thus far declined to release them.

By contrast, Jewish voters in Los Angeles overwhelmingly opposed Prop 8 by a margin of 78-8%. (5) Jewish opposition to Prop 8 is reported to be the highest of any ethnic or religious voter group. It is remarkable how these two voter groups, who are frequent allies and traditionally vote along similar lines when it comes to social justice issues, completely diverged. We need to understand why and learn from it.

Perhaps one of the most instructive and disturbing contradictions of the election is to hear Black religious leaders justify their position by using the same language and rationale against gay marriage that was historically used against them. Several interviews with leading black leaders supporting Prop 8 repeated the mantra that to them it was not a civil rights issue but rather a moral or religious issue.

This is the identical language used by the racists of their day to defend segregation, to ban interracial marriage and to justify discrimination in housing. This latter issue is particularly salient because, like marriage equality, it was placed before voters and, in a similar expression of the 'people's will', was overwhelmingly approved prior to being stricken by the California Supreme Court.(6) Clearly we failed to sufficiently make our case with Black voters. And we need to understand why.

TV AD #4: A black minister speaks directly into the camera; "There used to be a legal ban on blacks and Jews moving into white neighborhoods. They used to tell us it wasn't a civil rights issue, it was a moral issue. Yeah, right. Now they've put Prop 8 on the ballot that would ban gay marriage. They are saying it isn't a civil rights issue, it's just a moral issue. Uh huh. Photo montage of Barack Obama and other Black leaders who are against Prop 8. (Gentle female voice: 'Vote no on 8. Please don't discriminate')

No Grassroots Organization, A Weak Field Operation, Failed GOTV Program

Rather than organizing local organizing committees across the state for a strong locally grown grass roots operation, the campaign appeared insular and apparently did not include or listen to those with experience in the winning grassroots activism that has beaten back repeated anti-gay measures during the last 3 decades. Further, they failed to run a basic ground operation and relied upon a website that was so bad it frequently acted as a repellent.

The Yes on 8 proponents used a traditional field operation by personally talking to potential voters at the precinct level. In this, there is no substitute for face-to-face campaigning. The personal approach has proven to be the most effective and it is backed by years of political science and empirical experience. Standard campaign practice holds that it takes 3 personal contacts to firm up a leaning voter. In contrast, No on 8 apparently never conducted an actual ground operation, relying instead on a patchwork of phone banks with limited reach and saturation, and surrendered outlying areas likely racking up larger losses.

Further, looking beyond ineffective media and a weak ground operation, there was an incompetent Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy which likely resulted in lower turnout of supporters in key voter rich counties. I personally received a note from the No on 8 campaign thanking me for my offer to volunteer for Election Day GOTV activities but declining because they had no need. No need for volunteers on Election Day?! They did offer, however, that I could come in to help clean their offices the day after the election. How nice. I imagine cleaning their office the day after the election might produce scads of new votes. Not.

As it turns out, I was not alone. Numerous volunteers, whose stories have lit up Internet blogs, were turned away by No on 8 on Election Day because there was no real GOTV strategy.

So what was their GOTV program? The weekend before the election, volunteers were 'trained' to stand outside polling places on Election Day. And if you missed the 'training' there was no use for you.

What's wrong with that approach? This is often counterproductive because: a. it doesn't increase turnout (people are already entering the polls); b. by this time voters generally have already made up their minds; c. even though the law specifies a buffer around polling places where there can be no electioneering, it can be intimidating to voters and can turn people against; and, d. you want all available hands on deck on election day without any artificial barriers.

A textbook GOTV program is one that focuses on actually getting your supporters to vote: transport people to polling places, check the polling place throughout the day to see who of your supporters hasn't voted yet, then make efforts to get them to the polls.

What about all those voters who voted by mail? Typically, it is crucial to have a strategy to contact these early voters at the time mail ballots are being received, weeks before the election and outside the reach of last minute media messages. This is where early targeted mailers make a crucial impact. But that was not part of the strategy either.

How could there be no mail voter strategy? Good question. It was well known and anticipated that the use of mail ballots would be unprecedented; in fact, more voters cast their votes by mail in this election than at any time in state history.

The Linchpin - Los Angeles County

So where did it really go wrong? Los Angeles County. It is the single most important County in California accounting for 25% of all votes cast in the state, and it is where the campaign appears to have collapsed.

It seems Prop 8 was primarily lost in LA County, which due to a 2-to-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans typically delivers enough votes to dilute and cushion conservative votes elsewhere (primarily in Orange and San Diego Counties, among others).

LA is essential to the electoral success of a traditionally liberal cause. A simple party line vote in LA, given the projected turnout, would have polled between 5-600,000 more votes against Prop 8 than it did. Had it done so, Prop 8 would have lost. In the case of Prop 8, not only did LA not deliver, it leaned in the wrong direction and contributed to a state deficit of over 500,000 votes.

Could a more effective GOTV strategy have increased turnout among supporters increasing the winning margin in supportive areas and decreasing the margin of loss in hostile areas? That is the intended purpose. Too often elections are won by who stays home. One signal is that Prop 4 was successfully defeated by the identical vote margin that passed Prop 8. So there was a clear discordance among some voter groups. And it appears the Prop 8 campaign had both a tail wind and a head wind.

As for turnout, despite repeated media reports about record turnout in the low 80's % the reality was slightly lower in California. As of this writing, LA County, with about 4.1 M registered voters, reports about 3 Million votes cast for a turnout of close to 75% which is strong and consistent with turnout of 71% statewide which will likely be revised upward due to reporting delays. So there appears to have been some room to increase turnout. Numbers are preliminary as votes are still being tallied and it is likely they will continue to be revised upward into early December.

Turnout in Orange County, with just over 1.6 M registered voters, is reported to be lower at about 70% or 1.12 Million ballots cast as of this writing. It is a bastion of conservative votes where John McCain polled over 36,000 votes or a margin of 3% more than Barack Obama. Prop 8 won by 172,000 votes or by 58-42. Prop 4 won by 93,000 votes or by 54-46.

By comparison, turnout in San Francisco, with 477,651 registered voters, is reported to be 375,000 or 78.5% with less than 1% or close to 4500 ballots still to be counted. Both Prop 8 and 4 lost by identical margins (75-25). Still 25% of voters in SF voted yes on Prop 8. Just think about that for a moment.

A Call to Account and for Accountability - A Losing Strategy That Didn't Have to Be

I blame an incompetent campaign that blew through $40 Million and had little to show for it but a losing strategy.

The Yes on 8 proponents relied on an early gusher of funding, much of it from the Mormon Church. So No on 8 was initially hampered and swamped in early fundraising. No on 8 raised $15 Million before October 1 and $25 Million after October 1; this trend was reversed for Yes on 8 proponents which earned them some strategic advantage.

No on 8 deserves huge accolades for fundraising. Although slow to start, it was spectacular for shear volume of contributions and the number of individual contributors. But it turns out that in the end, for No on 8 -- the gay and lesbian community and our allies -- it wasn't a matter of money, it turned out to be a matter of simple political smarts. There were plenty of brilliant attorneys and managers in the room but apparently no political or grassroots operatives to guide an electoral strategy.

It is painful for our community to face such a public rejection. The dimensions of that pain from rejection are where many of us live our lives. But it did not have to be. So this moment represents a special time for painful introspection about a lost opportunity and a new opportunity for profound learning.

I hereby call upon activists, community leaders and local, state and national organizations in California and throughout the country to hold Community Town Hall forums to account for such a momentous series of campaign blunders. We need a transparent comprehensive campaign post-mortem, to air concerns, share collective wisdom and to jointly plan our future. Democracy is messy; it's inside that mess where we regain traction and rebuild a stronger movement.

We need to have an open two-way conversation that rectifies the insularity of this campaign, where our diverse community is welcome at the table and no voice is shut out. This must involve everyone: young and old, street activists, uber-lesbigays, celebri-gays, leatherfolk, allies, donors and leadership.

In Los Angeles County, I call for a forthright and blunt introspection about what went wrong, without defensiveness or recrimination. There needs to be full accountability before we can trust our leaders with another $40 Million for a future initiative endeavor for which we are already being called upon to support. For a future campaign to succeed, we must be there together for the liftoff if they want us there for the landing.

The starter for these forums should be the words, "We screwed up and here's what we need to learn from it. What do you think?" Then those responsible for this campaign need to bust open the process, welcome in all the villagers, and quietly listen as the sorrow of our anguish meets the redemption of our ambitions.

Any good news?

What can we take from this debacle? Despite such a bungled campaign and a loss of a 20 point lead, support still grew by 10% over 2000 Proposition 22 results narrowing the margin of loss to a slender 4%. Imagine what we could have done with a well crafted campaign strategy.

We can learn from what went right in a County like Santa Barbara where No on 8 succeeded 53-47 despite the state campaign strategy, not because of it. This is a county where, due to culture and geographic isolation, political campaigns are not won by media but by the shoe leather of smart locally originated and implemented field operations. Unlike the state No on 8 campaign strategy, local leaders targeted the very areas lost to Prop 22, joined local precinct walk operations and GOTV programs, organized the faith community, secured and publicized important endorsements and, most importantly, they successfully humanized the issue. It is an excellent case study since this one County mirrors the most extreme political divisions of the state as a whole. If you can win in a region that is evenly split between coastal progressive voters and inland conservative voters, you can win almost anywhere in California.

The silver lining is that shifting voter demographics reveal an inevitable generational and historical trend toward acceptance of gay civil rights. As previously mentioned our community deserves huge accolades for fundraising. Impressively, half of all donations to No on Prop 8 were in amounts less than $100 which is promising as it indicates width of active support.

This devastating loss jolted and awakened new generations of outraged gays, lesbians and our allies out of their slumber around the world. It is awesome to witness the sea of humanity at our protests. When our civil rights are ripped away, we bleed.

It's not over; we're just getting started

We suffered an electoral gay bashing and we will not rest until we get our rights back. To mangle a saying, now we need to get angry and get organized. Let's harness this new energy, rebuild a fresh new movement out of our defeat, learn new ways of community organizing and revitalize and launch new organizations. And let's learn from our mistakes, not by making bigger and better mistakes, but by avoiding them next time. We need to rebuild better strategic working coalitions with our social justice allies who are key to our advancement. It is time for the elders to begin passing along the successful strategies of our struggles to the next generations and then join in a new torch relay together.

That many of our western allies are ahead of the United States on gay marriage offers hope that America, lead by an Obama Administration, rather than bringing up the rear, will once again reassert its leadership on human rights issues in the world. And it is positive the Mormon Church has finally been publicly outted for its obsessive anti-gay electoral activities.

So the battle and the struggle continues and it now moves back to the Supreme Court where only last May they recognized our fundamental rights and made an unprecedented declaration that sexual orientation is a legally protected class from discrimination.

Judging by their sweeping ruling last May, I believe they are expecting us...

1. 'Polling on Prop. 8 - California's Same Sex Marriage Ban', by Mark DiCamillo, Director of the California Field Poll,, November 7,1008 . Early September Field Poll showed the opposition leading by 14 or 17%. depending on wording. Mid-September polling by Public Policy Institute of California showed a lead of 14%. Prop 8 proponent ads began airing mid-to-late September.
2. The term, 'Ick Factor', was coined by Eric Rofes to describe a visceral recoil between gay men and lesbians.
3. 'The Church and the Negro', John Lewis Lund. Deseret Books.
4. CNN Exit Polling Data
5. The Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
6. Mulkey v. Reitman (1966) 64 Cal.2d 529, affd. sub nom.Reitman v. Mulkey (1967) 387 U.S. 369

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The latest numbers in SF reveal that 25% of the voters supported Prop 8...interesting.

I wonder how many of those 25% might be registered Democrats and how the Prop 8 stats match the presidential vote percentage in SF.

I'll look into it this weekend.

If we are looking to find who didn't show up for us, I think we ought to look at the fabulous Democrats that are supposed to be our makes much more sense to "build a bridge" within our own party if they need to be convinced.

If we can't convince our own allies to stand up for us, why should we think we can change the minds of more antagonistic populations?

"There were plenty of brilliant attorneys and managers in the room but apparently no political or grassroots operatives to guide an electoral strategy."

This is always a problem. Plenty of articulate talking heads, like the "Bank of Scotland" advertisment discussing a guy choking at the table and taking no action. You hit the nail on the head. The NoOnProp8 campaign took a "tepid intellectual response" I won't be giving any more money.

That's a good analogy, Charles. Right on the money.

Great post, Terry. I've seen it all over various list serves and mailing lists already. :)

FANTASTIC thorough and well thought out post! Inspiring and motivating.

oh and...


Grrrrrrrruff! (pant, pant)

Excellent work. I will be quoting you and directing others here to read your thorough analysis.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 21, 2008 1:14 PM

Terry, this is the most comprehensive and articulate analysis of what went wrong I've read anywhere! Thanks for putting it together!!! I plan to forward the link widely.

The analysis was dead on. I was disappointed by one thing only and that was the lack of naming of names.

Seasoned political activists like the writer know better then to finger point, but there are key individuals who (mis)led this debacle and they personally must be held accountable.

This should not happen for reasons of vindictiveness, but because there is a real possibility that they will co-opt the new wave of activism we all saw driving the protests in the aftermath of the election.

I don't want to see these people influencing the next stage of this fight. They are by nature cautious, conservative and habituated to loss, when the times call for boldness and creative thinking and basic common sense like the author wrote so well about.

Now we have a generation of energised young people that are, for better or worse, used to seeing progress (the nomination and election of an African-American to the presidency) and they have a sense of entitlement.

Unfortunately, they have just been rudely awakened to a reality where they are not entitled to nuthi'n. They are for the most part leaderless and into this vacuum will jump those failed leaders of the past and then it will be deja vu all over again... unless there is naming of names and an insistence that these people leave the room.

I will not give one more dime or hand out one leaflet; I will not make one phone call or write one letter on behalf of the people and organizations who lost this battle we should have won handily.

Al Benson

He is pretty isn't he Eric?

Part of the failure also, has to do with the lack of positive ads placed in much more conservative areas of the state.

I grew up in Bakersfield, my entire family still lives there. My mother complained to me that all she was seeing on television was Yes on 8 ads. The entire cycle she only saw one No on 8 ad.

I get that Bakersfield is very conservative, definitely the most conservative large city in California.

To have little to no presence in more conservative areas, either via television or ground game is also part of the reason Prop 8 lost.

Barack Obama won because he didn't specifically pander to his base, he sought people that he could find common ground with, even if they didn't believe everything he was talking about.

No on 8 ads only pandered to the base.

My mother made all of her republican friends swear to her that they were voting No on 8, and sadly, I think thats where most of the No votes in Bakersfield came from.

(sigh) Terry Leftgoff mentions how "We lost a campaign".

It will be difficult to mask my bitterness, outrage, and (nearly) homicidal anger as I write this; please save your judgements - if you experienced the problems I have had as a DIRECT RESULT of Government-Approved Psychological Warfare, then you would probably feel the same as I do. (avoid writing your own narrative to another person's life experiences...your reality is not the ONLY's just your reality).

[see the American Psychological Association's latest release -]

We ARE pathetic. We approach equality as if it were a beauty contest; a mere popularity contest. We beg to be accepted and tolerated by society, yet it is the GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSIBILITY to protect ALL individuals equally, whether all Americans "approve" or not.

Our patience is baffling; compare our patience to a heterosexual man's patience if HE were in the exact same position. Most of us are willing to spend the majority of our lives without equality - 5, 10, 20, 30 years is OK to most. Not me. Honestly, the Q community's response to PROP 8 and discrimination in general is tantamount to a child asking a parent for a cookie.

"May I have a cookie, please?"

"No, not right now. You may have one in 2028,
or maybe if you're really good by 2015"

Since WHEN does ANY American allow taxation without equality as a U.S. citizen?

We lost a beauty pageant. So now we get all dolled-up for the next "campaign". Pathetic.

Ok, so what are YOU doing about it other than ranting on blogs about what others are not doing?

Thank you, Terry, for your brilliant analysis.

While I understand you may have felt uneasy naming names, as other commenters have suggested you might have done, I have no fetters.

There's no excuse for this abject failure. The board of Directors of EQCA should immediately resign. HRC should go back to doing what it is that they do well, whatever that may be. Neither can be trusted with the future of the LGBT community or with the aftermath of Prop 8.

Models like Prop 6 (the Briggs initiative)in 1978 and No on 64 (the LaRouche initiative) in 1984 are excellent examples of how our community can come together and defeat an initiative.

My hope is that the upcoming town halls identify leaders who who are or can work with professionals so they can start an ad hoc state-wide group to create and implement an intelligent, coherent, effective strategy for undoing the damage done by Prop 8, EQCA, and HRC.

And again, excellent analysis. Thank you.

This was an amazing analysis of the blunders behind the No on 8 campaign. I think a key area that you touched on was a lack of transparency about the organization, about the strategy employed or how the money raised was used. Worse, this seems to be a key problem with many mainstream LGBT organizations, especially the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

I also agree with one of the other comments that we need to name names so that the leaders from the No on 8 campaign are not allowed to take any lead in future campaigns. They have demonstrated a level of incompetence that can not be ignored.

Most important of all, we must hold these organizations accountable to our community since they mistakenly operate under the impression that it's not the case. This despite they're arrogance to define the agendas of our community as well as our image which has resulted in the marginalization of many who don't fall under their heteronormative definition of who we 'ought' to be.

Nice analysis.

The problem is, its just a bigger band-aid on what isturning out to be a hemorrage.

The much deeper problem is, the gay rights movement is fundamentally immoral.

Gays bring their trans-misogyny, sexism, classism, and racism etc to the table when they bleat for special rights.

Prop 8 was a slap in the face to gay racism and classism. It will not be the last.

So, the way to win is to treat the disease, gay immorality, and not just bandage it with "tactics."

Because a movement for civil rights should not be allowed to stagnate and remain a selfish pursuit of special rights for relatively privileged queers.

The lessons of ENDA and Prop 8 are clear. Unless the gay rights movement becomes a true civil rights movement, history will continue to repeat itself. No matter what "tactics" and "analysis" is used to prop up a morally bankrupt movement.

It's time to grow up, people.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | November 21, 2008 8:10 PM

This is a boffo analysis and I hope that people in California participate in local meetings to illuminate the failures and, more importantly, learn from them and begin the process of creating something that will work. I know that Marriage Equality will be conducting a number of such sessions throughout the state and will combine the results in a report they plan to make widely available.

The following is a list of organizations that were included as organizers of NoOnProp8. Some helped, some didn't. What did Log Cabin Republicans do ?

ACLU of Northern California
ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties
ACLU of Southern California
American Institute of Bisexuality
Anti-Defamation League
Asian & Pacific Islander Equality
Asian & Pacific Islander Equality-Los Angeles
Asian & Pacific Islander Equality-San Francisco
Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California
Barbara Jordan / Bayard Rustin Coalition
Billy DeFrank Lesbian & Gay Community Center (San Jose)
Black AIDS Institute
CAA Chinese for Affirmative Action
California Faith for Equality
California NAACP
California NOW
The Center Advocacy Project (San Diego)
Children of Lesbian and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE)
Congregation Kol Ami
Courage Campaign
Equality California
Family Equality Council
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund
Gay And Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast (GALA)
GSA Network
Human Rights Campaign
Jordan Rustin Coalition
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
Lambda Legal
Latino Coalition for Justice-Los Angeles
Libertarian Party of California
Liberty Hill Foundation
Log Cabin Republicans-California
Love, Honor, Cherish
Marriage Equality USA
Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Jewish Women California
National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Our Family Coalition
Pacific Center
Pacific Pride Center (Santa Barbara)
PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California
Pride At Work
The Progressive Project
Republicans Against 8
San Diego LGBT Community Center
San Francisco LGBT Community Center
Santa Cruz County No on 8
Stonewall Democrats’ California
Trans Equality LA
Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry Action Network
The Wall Las Memorias
Zuna Institute

Great Analysis Terry! Thanks for sharing.

I would love to see something like this regarding Florida's loss. Anyone?

Excellent comment Terry, I complained early on in the campaign that the strategy was wrong. I asked for detailed graphics so that I could manufacture magnetic signs to place on cars, guess what? They didn't have any of good enough quality to produce my signs, but it gets better, I paid for the graphics and had the signs produced and shared the graphics with the noon8 campaign so they could offer is as a download or even produce magnetic signs to sell. THEY DID NEITHER. I had over 50 signs made for cars and gave them to my friends and neighbors and we drove all over the bay area and got honks and thumbs up. Signs in yards are ok, but moving signs are seen more.

From a technical point of view of most of these criticisms of No on 8 are clearly correct, but they miss the point politically because they come from the perspective of the Democratic (sic) Party, a point of just as clearly counterpoised to a winning approach in our fight for equality.

I knew were screwed about 3 0r 4 am when I saw the returns from LA county - we were upside down by half a million votes. The magnitude of our loss made me rethink my previous misgivings about No on 8. Until then I’d pushed them to dedicate enough funds and efforts to launch a real targeting African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders and a major door to door leafleting campaign

The worst errors of the No on 8 leadership were political and their tactical and technical errors flow from that. First, they were self appointed and had no democratic internal life and no consensus. Top down organizations are notorious for being clueless about the reality on the ground. Secondly, their allegiance to the Democrats distorted and finally trumped their allegiance to GLBT equality. Third, they were Eurocentric and in a state like California where ‘minorities’ are the majority, that proved fatal. But we knew that from the beginning. Fourth, and critically, they did nothing to defuse the bigot bombs that Obama and his campaign constantly lobbed at us.

His campaign opened with the revival meetings across the South featuring christer hustlers like MaryMary and ex-gay Donnie McClurkin and it continued in that vein until the day He tossed the bomb that ended our chances of winning. AP reported it thus:

“Both men said marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Obama added that he supports civil unions for gay partners, which would give them rights such as hospital visits with one another. He said he opposed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, calling the matter a state issue.”

When Obama’s assertion that “god’s in the mix” exploded in the headlines it gave the bigots the green light to trample our rights and the rest is history. No on 8 never challenged Obama’s bigotry and their silence about Obama’s open bigotry lost the election.

The solution is clear. And it will unfold in the context of Obama’s right wing governments utter failure to contain the economic collapse they helped cause and which intends to continue the mass murder of muslims from Palestine to Pakistan. That will deepen the mass radicalization begun in response to Bush. Our response will succeed only the extent what we succeed in building a movement that embraces a cutting edge approach, independent of the Democrats, with a democratic internal life and a mass action approach.

Nothing else will do.

Bill I just want to comment on your comment about what Obama said concerning "God's In The Mix." Actually, Obama's statement could've been used as the last nail in the coffin for the Yes On Prop 8 campaign had it been used advantageously by No on 8.

Obama contradicted himself by saying that he didn't support same-sex marriage and then saying that he didn't support Prop 8. The latter statement is just as widely available as the former. And he did it on purpose. This is where the No On Prop 8 campaign missed the boat.

He contradicted himself on purpose because there was no other way to say it. For gay marriage or not--he knew Yes On Prop 8 was most certainly being funded from the very same Republican pockets that were supporting McCain's campaign.

And the No On Prop 8 campaign should've taken that and ran with it. Just like Yes on 8 synchronized gay marriage with religious taboo, family values and homophobia---No on Prop 8 should have fused Yes on prop 8 with making a Republican choice. They had all the donor information about who was supporting the Yes campaign to back up such a blitz.

But the mistake they made was campaigning about what gays wanted. Campaigns are about what the people want--other people. That's why they call them campaigns--to convince other people that you really want what they want. MANY people wanted Obama in the White House. No for Prop 8 didn't align itself with what many people wanted. It aligned itself with what it wanted.

And even in that the margin in the end was still pretty close. So no, I disagree with you. Obama's contradictory statements could've actually made him an involuntary poster child for No on Prop 8 if that opportunity had of been seized and manipulated properly insofar that Prop 8 could've been turned into a campaign craftily based Democratic choice vs. Republican choice. I think in that sense the proposition would have been defeated without question.

I'm seriously disturbed by aTV AD #1: "A perky but awkward teenager is sitting in a school yard. He or she is Black or Latino. ...Self esteem and acceptance are vital to the success of kids like me. Did you know that as many as 1 in 3 gay and lesbian teens attempt suicide? Prop 8 would prevent people like me from marrying. When I grow up, I hope to get married someday. Please don't take that hope away from me. Just growing up is hard enough." (Gentle woman's voice: "Vote no on 8, Please don't discriminate')"

Yes, I realise this is only a proposal, but consider the messages here.

Does anyone see the heartlessness in this? Gay teen suicide is a serious issue. To implicitly make a claim that the inability to marry is a contributing factor to teen suicide is deeply unethical. Not every gay kid who's experiencing self-esteem issues thinks of marriage. Frankly, they're not looking that far ahead; making it through every day is a big enough issue. I realise all advertising needs to be manipulative, but this is going too far. Fight for gay marriage all you want, but stop appropriating issues like teen suicide to make your case. And I won't even get into the issues of race and ethnicity here.

The Rick Warren debate lost it for us, Obama's dumb remark "god is in the mix" and "marriage is between one man and one woman". The hospital visitation blurb is an insult, like we are all dying of AIDS. As the economy sinks, stock market continues to crash, millions lose their jobs, the government prints more money causing inflation, people will turn even stronger towards superstition and their imaginary god for help, Prayer meetings and Gospel singing will be in the White House. How can one have hope when their "god is in the mix"?
As Obama moves more towards the center, things look even worse for us.

I emailed the No on 8 Campaign very early on and was critical of their so called "focus groups". I agree they ran a very amateurish campaign from the very beginning with no strong leadership and very little experience.

Waiyde Palmer | November 24, 2008 6:01 PM

Just wanted to thank you for your article. Its right on. We, the people, are to blame. I live in LA County. I worked the phone banks. I knew we were in trouble when I was told I couldn't interact w/anyone who didn't speak English. I knew we were in trouble when I saw NO ads for No on 8 on any prominent minority television programming. I knew we were in trouble when signs/stickers for the campaign were in English only. I knew we were in trouble when the campaign only had ONE person courting the African American vote. I am no slick political operative but exactly who was on the campaign? We had more money and more folks on our side than ever before and still we blew it. And why hasn't any of the chicken shits in charge had the cajones to step up to the plate and hold themselves accountable. They sure are lucky the Mormons pissed everyone off otherwise that angry mob might be looking for their inept asses.

Thank you so much for your assessment. A member of the Los Angeles African American community believe it or not we too have been addressing the defeat of Prop 8. What happened? Why did so many blacks vote against it? What caused this to happen?

Just this weekend there was a very important Town Hall event in LA held by the Sentinel Newspaper (a black newspaper in LA) to discuss all of those questions. It was amazing. The were several prominent church ministers present as was many black gay and lesbian community activists. So as you can imagine there were some heated debates and impassioned speeches. I think for the first time many of those who voted for Prop 8 were able to attach real human beings to the Proposition and see with their own eyes how they hurt good law abiding people who had done nothing to deserve it save their desire to marry like everyone else.

A lot of things were brought to the table: homophobia in the black community and the grave error of voting through the prism of religion.

And yes, there was considerable fury from those who voted No on 8 about the fact that there was absolutely no campaigning or outreach concerning No On 8 to the black community. Not a thing; no flyers, nothing. At least not in Los Angeles.

Yes On 8 however practically blanketed black LA with mailed literature, robo calls and even foot canvassing. They used religion as their cornerstone. They knew where the weakness was in terms of black culture and they aimed at and stayed on top of it until voting day. Unfortunately there was nothing to counter an assault like that.

And please don't misread this as my making any excuses for the results at the polls. But I do feel that had there been at least a little energy put into educating others outside of the gay community about the opposition (which they weren't---many black seniors I recently discovered weren't even aware of the Mormon connection--and based on their stunned reactions and mouths hanging wide open when told they would've surely voted No On 8.) Fact is, a lot of church going and working class black people just didn't know that by co-signing on 8 they were going to bed with the enemy. If that aspect of things had of been highlighted (as it should've)the black community I can assure you many of those same people would've shown up to the polls with every bit of closed mindedness, religious silliness and homophobic garbage completely intact---and resoundingly voted no on Prop 8.

Thanks again for your informative post.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | December 1, 2008 7:41 PM

Sorry it took so long to reply, I was stuffing my face.

UFL, your idea that Obama contradicted himself by saying that he didn't support same-sex marriage and then saying that he didn't support Prop 8 bears no relation to the actual events. Obama wanted bigot votes and fought for them from day one. He also wanted our votes but didn’t bother to say anything that would get him in trouble with the bigots. We weren't mentioned by name in his platform. He published his GLBT plaform well after the election and it has nothing new or specific.

Obama’s opposition to Prop 8 wasn’t a principled defense of our equality agenda. It was the usual waffling Democrat bigots do when they pretend to support us on the tactical ground that constitutional amendments are ‘unnecessary’. And it was whispered, last minute and mooted by his bellowing “god’s in the mix” from the opening days of his campaign that stayed in peoples minds because it was so consistent and so open.

No other factor explains our loss.

And he did it on purpose. That’s true but not for the motives you fancifully project on him, but his own.

Obama also called for the repeal of DOMA and federal benefits for LGBT people, something no other candidate has done. His "bigotry" is not what lost Prop 8 for us. Would you have preferred the party of the federal constitutional ban ?

One factor nobody seems to be considering are the amount of conservative prop 8 supporters who happened to vote Democratic this year. They weren't the base--they were the people many of us got excited about: the people who decided for once in their lives to not vote Repub. As we celebrated all the conservatives throwing their weight behind Obama, did we somehow think they had changed their stances on all social issues? For many voters we aren't talking about Obama supporters who voted Prop 8 -- we're talking about Prop 8 supporters who voted Obama without endorsing his social views. Yes, there was even a "Mormons for Obama" group.

"Would you have preferred the party of the federal constitutional ban?" You must mean the Democrats. DOMA was Clinton’s baby but it backfired on his party. (And we went under the bus.) The Republicans wrote it but both parties voted for it overwhelmingly and Bill Clinton went on bigot radio stations in the south boasting about his love for the sanctity of marriage.

All that was before Monica (Lewinsky NOT Helms) wandered out of the Oval Office dripping bodily fluids.

In point of fact the conservatives did agree with Obama’s social agenda, which consists of bailing out the rich and "god's in the mix". The central reason for opposing Obama and all Democrats and Republicans is that their parties are run by the right wing. All those right wing voters found a kindred spirit in Obama. Democrats and Republicans enter politics to get rich themselves and be of service to the retarded ruling rich. Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich are both hustlers from the same party and the same state.

Believing the promises of a right centrist hustler like Obama at election time is a lot like attending a round of bareback parties. You’re gonna regret it. And sooner rather than later.

I volunteered three times at No on 8 headquarters, and had the dreariest sense there was something terribly lacking in the effort. I was so appalled by the lack of intelligent, smart ads such as the ones you featured here that I prepared for defeat. I'm so gratified to read such an intelligent rendering of the situation that confirmed my worse suspicious.
That said, I now think we should be fighting for gay "marriage" as renewable, contractual civil unions. I don't want to be equal--I want to be better. I think we could get a flood of heterosexuals to choose this route and create new relationship paradigms for the future. I don't want the approval of any religious institutions, in fact, consider their rejection a badge of honor. I'm sorry to find myself in such a minority, but I think our commitment to the "m" word is a mistake and will lead to an epidemic of gay divorce no better or worse than theirs-bad for everyone. We can do better.
Alexander Cockburn was the first I read about this option, I find him very convincing