Karen Ocamb

Repeal Prop 8 Leadership Summit: The Expert Point of View

Filed By Karen Ocamb | July 28, 2009 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: API Equality, Barack Obama, California Democratic Party, Courage Campaign, David Bohnett, David Comfort, Equality California, Equality Network, Eric Bauman, gay marriage, HONOR PAC, John Cleary, John Lewis, Jordan/Rustin Coalition, LA Gay & Lesbian Center, LGBT Leadership Summit, Love Honor Cherish, Marc Solomon, marriage equality, Marriage Equality USA, Paul Mandabach, Prop 8, repeal Prop 8, Richie Ross, Rick Jacobs, Robin McGehee, Sarah Callahan, Sheri Sadler, Steve Kaplan

The California LGBT community is in the throes of a transformation, catalyzed by the movement for marriage equality. In addition to the important Ted Olson-David Boies challenge to Prop 8, new grassroots and institutional LGBT organizations are struggling with each other over when and how to return to the ballot box to repeal Prop 8 in a state that is issuing IOUs. Since I was apparently the only full time reporter covering the statewide LGBT Leadership Summit, I want to report back as fully as possible. My report is being published in three parts:

  1. The demographics that challenge recent blog reports
  2. Advice from political consultants and how that was received
  3. An interview with a California Democratic Party big-wig who went largely unnoticed at the summit but who may play a significant role in the future

Richie Ross, who got his organizational training from Cesar Chavez and the United Farm workers, emphasized the importance of "marrying politics with the acknowledgment of culture." 3760344154_e35941f075.jpgHe noted the independence of empowered youth who "reject packaging" and "make choices not politically but culturally" - getting angry or upset over not being able to choose whom you can marry, for instance.

Ross also noted that "the future of this state is brown" and that the new majority of Latinos believe that "church is where you get married," even if you've legally tied the knot at city hall. The significance of this distinction and the "power of culture" are important, he said.

The Courage Campaign's Sarah Callahan said, "you don't win elections on the natch, period." However, "we can't let the clock determine when we go back. But that clock is ticking, ticking, ticking." She outlined what it would take to win:

  1. Convince two out of three of persuadable voters;
  2. Motivate the base, adding that younger voters are the "critical universe" and the "most endanger of not participating in the next election;"
  3. Convince those whose minds have been changed to stay changed;
  4. Voter registration

Callahan also said the governance structure of the campaign requires a small number of "seasoned" people - not associated with any one organization - who are trusted and accountable and who can get the campaign off the ground. "We're going to war, we need a general," she said. With that oversight, the campaign can then be not one but many campaigns "close to the ground," focused and targeted on the persuadable voters and using every available piece on technology to gather and share information.

Paul Mandabach, who has worked on 150 ballot measures in 22 states and over 50 "Yes" campaigns (the Repeal Prop 8 would be a "Yes" campaign) started off by debunking the conventional political wisdom that it is impossible starting out with favorable poll numbers at roughly 48%. 3759549551_528dcc53e8.jpg2012 would "probably be better" because fewer older people might vote - but it would be more expensive in a presidential campaign year. The question is: "do you let this fundamental, horrible injustice prevail for 3 years?" No matter what the decision, he said, it is imperative that the campaign research the design and language of the measure to try to anticipate any unforeseen consequences and develop a strategic plan on how to win and a baseline of fundraising before you file.

Establishing the Basics

Steve Kaplan, who worked on messaging for the Obama campaign (he also helped develop California's "Me Not Meth" ad campaign) said, "it's hard to tell anybody to wait" and no one knows what will happen in 2012. But, he said, there will likely be an anti-immigrant measure on the ballot in 2010 that will compete with a repeal effort for time, attention and funding.

Obama, Kaplan noted, had a plan, a strategy to target voters and that campaign "never wavered" for two years. "Without a consistent message, you will not win," he said. Additionally, Obama was "no-drama Obama" - he didn't allow infighting and "everyone was on board" to make sure that "everyone rowed in the same direction." Obama's campaign also did bi-partisan outreach and had a confident winning spirit.

Sheri Sadler, who worked with Jerry Brown's campaign and labor campaigns, talked extensively about how "2010 looks different than 2008," when 80% of the No on 8 campaign money went to media buys. The TV rates now are "hugely down," she said, 39% less than 2006. She said only $20 million would be needed for media "if you start now," book early and take advantage of special rates" before the 2012 presidential election makes air time competition tighter.

Ross pointed out that 1.1 million signatures would need to be gathered in order to get enough "good" signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. He advised using the 18,000 same sex couples as part of the message campaign.

Callahan said to "just assume" the opposition will be well funded, with their built-in network of evangelicals. "Funders look for confidence and a winning plan. No one invests in chaos," she said. But "the money will come if you can show you can win."

Ross pointed out that Obama had a $900 million campaign and "a cadre of expert organizers he built like a big union." Doing a campaign "off the cuff" is "disrespecting the craft of organizing." He added that one-third of voters are people of color. "You're not going to win without moving them. And why would you want to? The word 'wait' is not on the table. But what is the time required to respectfully move people of color? You want to win this permanently."

Kaplan said it's also important to "embrace an inclusive message" which may mean compromise and "soothing some concerns." But "at the end of the day, it's about winning."

There was a brief question and answer period with the consultants and then some in the audience got boisterous, saying "we need to take back control of the room! We need to talk among ourselves." Almost as soon as the consultants completed their presentations, dismissive chatter started about how they were just there "auditioning" to be part of the campaign.

There's "More Work To Be Done"

Someone then called for a discussion about debunking Black and Latino homophobia. Someone else asked why African Americans and Latinos needed to be targeted anyway - couldn't they win without them? 3760366804_9302e7bdc8.jpgNo one responded to that - letting the question die in the din of the ensuing confusion about time and the agenda.

Next up were Marriage Equality USA's Fern Lopez, Equality California Field Director Amy Mello, and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center Vote for Equality Director Regina Clemente on how their field canvassing projects are progressing - the bottom line of which was "there's more work to be done."

Then came Pam Brown to discuss Marriage Equality USA's Get Engaged Tour (the full report is here). After holding 40 town halls across the state to discuss the latest poll information and whether the community wants to go back to the ballot in 2010 or 2012 - the result was "no consensus," Brown said. There was consensus, however, in wanting "our leadership to come together" to develop a plan, a "road map to victory."

Some of the other conclusions were that people wanted:

  1. "a campaign we can be proud of" - that illustrates "our values" and that "we're fighting for the freedom to be who we are;"
  2. "an initiative we could vote for." People understood including a religious exemption, noting that the two marriage bills that passed the California Legislature also included a religious exemption. But there was "no support" for any language that impacted the school curriculum;
  3. they want to know the "nuts and bolts" of how to run a campaign and expressed gratitude for the Courage Campaign's trainings in Camp Courage;
  4. they want an online menu of volunteer opportunities. Going door to door in rural communities, for instance, doesn't work;
  5. they want to "be who we are" creatively - giving WhiteKnots.org as an example

Additionally, Brown said, the consensus of opinion was that people who advocate going to the ballot in 2010 need to listen to the concerns of the people who advocate 2012.

There was some brief discussion about whether a campaign structure was already in place, given the number of existing local and regional organizations - and couldn't they just do what Harvey Milk and the No on the Briggs Initiative did without a central campaign? Someone who worked on the Briggs Initiative said if Harvey did that now, he and the campaign would fail - and then he would start all over again the next day. No one mentioned the historical point that support for the Briggs Initiative dramatically declined after Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan wrote an op-ed saying he opposed the measure.

Youth and Schools

Next on the agenda were Judy Appel, executive director of Our Family Coalition, and Carolyn Laub, executive director of GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), who created something of a fuss when they called for the streaming video cameras to be shut off and reporters to leave the room. I said I was not leaving - but agreed to a compromise that what they said was off the record as long as I could interview them afterward. They said in their interview what they essentially said to the audience - which was that they were concerned about the cost of "proactively" putting anything remotely talking about youth on the ballot. (Read Appel's statement to the court supporting ACLU, Lambda Legal and NCLR's request to intervene in the Olson-Boies lawsuit brought to overturn Prop 8.)

Having language about the school curriculum allows the opposition to frame the debate, they said, and sets up a "cognitive dissonance" saying we want to win the right to marry but not the right to talk about that marriage with kids, as if same sex marriage is "shameful." "I don't think that's the way to win," Appel said.

There is also concern that any language on the ballot about youth and schools might have unforeseen legal consequences that could impact the safe schools movement and rollback existing progressive and protective laws. "We need to make sure we're not doing any harm," said Laub. "Safety is an issue."

That provoked an angry, though hurried response from Meet in the Middle organizer Robin McGehee.

"I agree that language should be eliminated that would in any way halter (sic) any discussions underway in public education that would shadow anything about our community or create an element for my children or any other children to be closeted or bullied or harassed. But the reality is that those children who don't want to be talked about in their school need to go to private school.

And with that, we should be saying to them that we need to send the same message that Carolyn said when she stood up here: 3759580849_90de25fd38.jpgwe need to send a message to our youth that they are fully accepted and an equal part of our state and our country and we are unwilling to wait to defend them."

Then McGehee referred to a time when she worked for GSA Network that sounded as if she interpreted Appel and Laub's comments as saying not to discuss youth at all in winning back marriage equality - as opposed to what I understood them to be talking about which was not proactively adding language to the ballot initiative that would help the opposition to frame the debate. The ballot current with the Attorney General's office written and submitted by Yes on Equality's Chaz Lowe includes a provision that exempts school curriculums. Here's what McGehee said:

"Warnings from our school and our administrators working for GSA Network - when we would go into trainings, they would tell us from administrator down to students and teachers that when we did trainings, increasing bullying would happen. Not once did GSA Network ever say to me as an employee, 'We do not do the trainings because bullying will increase.' The reality is when you talk about these issues, we do put our youth at risk. But to delay that message is also putting them at risk."

The First Real Test of Leadership

The real problem, from my perspective, is that right now - and for the past seven months - the acrimony among institutional leaders and grassroots activists is only deepening. It's as if all the 8hate has been turned inward - we are the enemy, anyone who is not immediately, completely, absolutely with us now and forever more.

The rivers could part and a charismatic general who meets everyone's leadership criteria could emerge carrying unlimited funds and access to the latest technology and voter data bases - and still we'd fight and hurl nasty invective at our LGBT enemy in public - and do it with a self-satisfied sneer.

I was disappointed that no one during the entire seven hours talked about how the issue of marriage is "different" from any other social issue - different enough to enable a constitutional scholar such as Barack Obama to deny his previous belief in full equality and now embrace separate-but-equal civil unions because "God is in the mix." But one principle that both sides called for and all the consultants cited as necessary to win - was unity.

It seems to me that the first step to winning back marriage equality is finding a mediator who can help this community find common ground and learn to keep our eye on the prize so we can move forward together. There are now so many LGBT folk who want to be leaders - let this be their first real test of leadership: find a way to bring us together.

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"It seems to me that the first step to winning back marriage equality is finding a mediator who can help this community find common ground and learn to keep our eye on the prize so we can move forward together. There are now so many LGBT folk who want to be leaders - let this be their first real test of leadership: find a way to bring us together."

On this, I couldn't agree with you more. In order for us to move forward, we have to unite. In order for us to unite, we have to have a united leadership.

We do have many, many people who want to be leaders, but there needs to come a time to put the community first, put the ego aside, and follow. If all we have are leaders and no followers, then we're a dysfunctional choir of disparate voices with no conductor. Or, in other words, what we witnessed at the summit.

This really seemd to be a "Too many Chiefs" problem

Thank you for your due diligence. I'm sure I speak for many when I say I'm glad that writers like you have passion enough to bring this less-than-glamorous reporting to us.

42 (or more) organizations involved with prop 8 repeal, most of which do not return phone calls or e-mails, most of which have few public meetings, most of which ignore other organizations.

The opposition should fund our organizations because our organizations not only lost proposition 8 but the same leadership that led us to this loss is still in place.

Obvious outreach is being ignored in favor of what? I have no idea how these 42 organizations spend their time and our money.

No one has come forward to set up a booth at the upcoming California State Fair in Sacramento. This is a great opportunity to reach a million fair visitors with a soft approach, maybe,"we are family?" Cost? About $ 5,000.00. If I was employed and if I had a spare $ 5,000.00, I would do this and have my family and friends assist me.

I worked with Harvey and Sally on Proposition 6 and it is impossible to compare prop 8 to prop 6. Demographics, population, polling, and the initiative process have all undergone significant changes. And Proposition 8 took about 70 million dollars from both sides.

What outrage is needed to mobilize folks? The failure of prop 8 at the ballot and at the Supreme Court should alarm people because civil rights were taken away.

Try telling minorities that segregation is going to be reintroduced and watch millions of people take to the streets, take away gay marriage and you get a few months of protest then nothing. Am I unclear on something?

The summary is that there was a so-called leadership summit with no leaders, no plan, no call to action, and enough people to fill 1 room.
What a waste of time, and money.

Don't be fooled readers, while Karen O. seems intent on pushing the "infighting" myth, the coalition of dedicated activists like: Love Honor and Cherish, One Struggle - One Fight, San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality, OutWest and others have been spending many hours of our own time and some of our own money to build a coalition that will repeal prop 8 in 2010. We are actively brainstorming and reaching out to labor, faith, and people of color communities to strengthen our forces.
On Saturday, we had a spirited discussion (sometimes an argument) at the summit, but groups with differing ideas came together and hashed it out. The emerging campaign will unify the thousands of people willing to work for marriage equality, the people who were just waiting for a task to work on to do their part to win back their rights or to extent them back to their LGBTIQ brothers and sisters.

So let me see if I got this straight (pun not intended)...

You think Karen O is "fooling" readers into believing an "infighting myth" but readily admit there were arguments - including your group. Every other person there - and those who watched on webcam - also say that there was a lot of acrimony and infighting.

But, no, you're right. Karen is trying to deceive everyone in this whole "infighting" thing. I'm sure everyone elected a new LGBT leader, adopted a comprehensive plan for success and at the end everyone was given marigolds and heart-shaped candies. We just missed that part on the webcam.

This is an excellent article. And who is the person who thinks you can win this without Blacks and Latinos? This is the core of the problem. LEADERS are inclusive, LEADERS unify, LEADERS learn from there followers, LEADERS are appreciative of the help that their followers give them. LEADERS inspire. LEADERS develop other leaders. If you claim leadership, but you are racist, classist, or sexist in any way and you are not trying to deal with it, you need to step down from leadership. This community really needs to look inward, BUT never stop doing the work...that Dolores Huerta, herself said wasn't done in order to obtain victory. Whether you leaders decide 2010 or 2012, NEVER stop doing the work and success will be yours.

Evan Horowitz | July 29, 2009 11:02 AM

Thanks for the thoughtful reporting and analysis.

Hi all.

Thanks for the comments.

I've been somewhat distracted this morning by the $83m in cuts to AIDS programs Gov. Schwarzenegger made late yesterday.

Here's Rex Wockner's blog on it: http://wockner.blogspot.com/

Please note that Rex says there was roughly more than $50 million in cuts - but on a conference call with the California State Office of AIDS after Arnold signed the budget, they said between $80-85 million, settling on $83 million.

The thing is - as deeply in economic trouble as the state is - one of the most difficult cuts was the apparent elimination of the therapeutic monitoring program that tests and evaluates viral load and whether or not HIV drugs are working.

Please understand that this issue - as well as whether there will be another anti-immigration ("spawn of Prop 187" as Torie Osborn calls it) - are playing loudly in the background of the 2010-2012 debate.

Hopefully there will be some sort of mediation so our community can settle down and get on with the heavy lifting before us.

Thanks again for chiming in.

Robin Tyler | July 29, 2009 2:21 PM

"But the reality is that those children who don't want to be talked about in their school need to go to private school." Robin McGehee.

Robin, the reality is that most parents cannot afford to send their children to a private school.
What a great answer to bullying and discrimination-just send the kids somewhere else, no matter what the cost, or if you can afford it.

And Robin, in your response, the answer is not unconrolled anger toward people who disagree with you. I was ill, so was not at the meeting that day, but did get several phone calls, (from both sides of the 2010 and 2012 issue)
and all of them mentioned your angry and inappropiate response toward Judy Appel, executive director of Our Family Coalition, and Carolyn Laub, executive director of GSA (Gay Straight Alliance.)

When talking about disrespect and bullying, we should all make sure not to emulate the behavior we are trying to eliminate.

Robin Tyler

Robin McGehee | July 29, 2009 8:46 PM


I am spending time with my children today and will be able to respond more in depth later this evening.

Know that I was rushed and only given less than one minute to say what I had to say. Much of what I had to say was misinterpreted.

I will post what I had written later this evening so that any misunderstandings can be cleared up.

Robin McGehee

Robin Tyler | July 29, 2009 2:22 PM

"But the reality is that those children who don't want to be talked about in their school need to go to private school." Robin McGehee.

Robin, the reality is that most parents cannot afford to send their children to a private school.
What a great answer to bullying and discrimination-just send the kids somewhere else, no matter what the cost, or if you can afford it.

And Robin, in your response, the answer is not unconrolled anger toward people who disagree with you. I was ill, so was not at the meeting that day, but did get several phone calls, (from both sides of the 2010 and 2012 issue)
and all of them mentioned your angry and inappropiate response toward Judy Appel, executive director of Our Family Coalition, and Carolyn Laub, executive director of GSA (Gay Straight Alliance.)

When talking about disrespect and bullying, we should all make sure not to emulate the behavior we are trying to eliminate.

Robin Tyler

Dear Robin~

I’m sorry you weren’t able to make the summit, your leadership and input – especially as someone who publicly supports defending and restoring our communities right of Marriage Equality in 2010 was sorely missed.

You are completely correct, I was angry. And, to be honest, I’m still angry. In some ways, as angry as I’ve seen you be as I’ve intensely listened to you fight the wrongs that happen within and on the outside of our movement. First, I was angry that I was given 13+ minutes while I, and Arturo, were told we had less than 1 minute. I did not want to rush my statements, but always feel a certain sense of protection for the event planners and their efforts. Since my quote was rushed and taken out of context, I will provide some of my speech, which was written down and in my hands that morning – please know, that any time you have a question about my intentions or meaning – do not hesitate to ask – you can call or email me anytime – I know you have my information.

“I am the mother of two young children. I live in the Central Valley and I helped plan with many other CV and statewide leaders, Meet in the Middle for Equality on the first Saturday after the Prop 8 verdicts were announced. I explained that MITM had decided not to make an official public stand on the 2010 vs 2012 debate until the leadership summit, because we did not feel it was fair to take a public stance in email or otherwise, until we respected the process that had been put forward. We voted on 2010 at our Monday, July 10, 2009, meeting and we even have members of the over 70 member planning committee submit letters of why they believe 2010 is the best choice.

I addressed the fact that someone arguing for 2012 had just been quoted as saying, “Do not go without us” and I asked them to consider ways that they could continue to do their VERY IMPORTANT work and one stance should not devalue the other. We can do both a public education and political campaign, both helping one another in our objectives.

I continued that our desire was to defend ourselves, our community, our children, our closeted families and religious communities and begged them to see how we can both do great work and compliment elements of a campaign and not fall into a justice that is denied and then, NOW, a justice that is longer delayed.

I stated that at the time of MITM, I was the longest standing employee of GSA Network, working there for over four years and I wholeheartedly AGREED with Carolyn and Judy that we should not include language in any ballot language that discredits, unravels or creates unsafe learning environments. I said that just as Judy and Carolyn had stated moments before, language about schools should be left out. I warned that if we put language in a ballot initiative that negated the work of GSA Network and the strides they have made, we were only hurting our community and most importantly, our youth. We need to demonstrate that we are NOT ashamed of who we are and what we have accomplished and the reality is that those children who do not want to be around discussions around our community (marriage equality, anti-bullying, LGBT history) they need to have their parents put them in private schools. Now, I have read how my statements came out, but I’m sure in your amazing history of public speaking – you have said something that did not come out in the most perfect way you planned. My intent did not represent my impact and I would NEVER assume that private school is an option for most families. But, families that want to censor the reality that LGBT people are an everyday, every place piece of valuable fabric in our communities – should be putting their children in private schools – NOT in the schools that we as citizens help finance.

I will stop there, as I have written nearly 2 pages and I will share the rest of my remarks once I spend the day with my kids. We are all doing what we can to fight for equality and make a difference.

Dear Robin:

Thank you for your explanation.

Yes, I have in the past, gotten angry and aggressed
on people who disagreed with me, but they were usually powerful people who used their influence as a bully pulpit. However, since
I have been in a program for the past 12 years,
I have learned to make amends, and not excuses,
when my behavior has hurt people, whether I felt
I was right or not. The recent behavior, of individuals and the movement as a whole, in the various meetings since Proposition 8 passed, has
been inexcusable. From the continuing vicious attack on the No on 8 leaders (and I co-organized the Los Angeles town hall meeting in which our
community expressed their feelings, as well as
writing some of the first articles which analyzed
their campaign and lack of grassroots participation) but, from the continuous attacks
on these leaders, to the attacks on anyone who does not agree with anyone else about when to go back to the ballot, I have seen some of the most
offensive and destructive behavior I have ever witnessed.
You started your response by quoting that I am one of the ones who wants to go back to
the ballot in 2010. This was probably taken from
an article I recently wrote, where I talked about my wanting to go back to the ballot in 2010, but also talked about the fact it is not what "I" want, because I want to WIN, and we have a much better chance to get the funding we need, if we go in 2012. I also talked about the cuts in funding for people living with AIDS, our community centers and organizations such as our legal ones, who are struggling to survive. And I asked that we take them into account and wrote about how much funding we might take from these groups and people if we go in 2010. So, your taking my statement about 2010 out of context, is misleading. I also am fed up with the attack on the people of color organizations who also asked us to wait until 2012. We talk about their participation, and when they do come out with a statement, one 'leader' accuses them of being manipulated by Equality California. Why? Because they are not going along with the mainly
white 'grassroots agenda.' Excuse me, but how racist is it to accuse these groups of not being able to think for themselves? Robin, I would be happy to discuss some of our differing positions with you. You are welcome to call me, as I prefer
to talk in person, rather then email, as email
becomes a public forum, and we are both public people. Robin Tyler