I have a good friend in southern California who is gay, helps out with some local causes, but not a politico activist by any stretch. He e-mailed me recently because he has some extra money to spend this fall, and needed some advice on whether he should go to Maine to help defend the recently-passed marriage equality legislation, or fly to DC to participate in the National Equality March, an LGBT rights march on The Mall this fall. On the one hand, he is still upset over Prop 8 and said he wanted to make sure the same result doesn't go down in Maine. On the other, he heard the March was extremely poorly organized (it is) and needed all the help they could get, and there were concerns about turnout given that it's being organized in five months' time and a glaring lack of national media coverage around it.
His question brought up a point I want to make about a problem I have noticed among progressive leaders.
There are other multiple fronts opening on LGBT rights this fall. As I wrote last night, Referendum 71 is now going to be on the ballot in less than two months' time in Washington State, stripping LGBT couples of pending rights regarding sick leave to care for a partner, adoption rights, and more. In New Jersey, Gov. Corzine is one of a few gubernatorial candidates I can remember who talks on the stump about marriage equality and his pledge to sign a bill, which finally has enough support in both houses of the legislature to pass. He talks about it even when he was down by double digits earlier this year. He is down 10 points in the Quinnipiac poll this morning. That is a major fight.
Here in DC, a local homophobe major domo is filing this morning to collect signatures to put a ban on marriage equality on the DC ballot for next year. On top of that, despite 12/13 of the DC Council members supporting marriage equality, along with Mayor Fenty, we still face a fight to make sure Congress doesn't overturn the law we pass. In California, activists may go back to the ballot in 2010 on marriage. For these two fights, we have to start pumping resources in now.
I keep being told that there are enough resources for both. I participate in weekly calls on Maine online strategy, and one participant in the call starting discussing plans for a significant event to help raise money online, and possibly doing offline events, too. I expressed concerns that trying to make an online-only event into house parties and other offline events would conflict with health care rallies between now and Labor Day, and that among probably 80% of my straight allies, their attention was so focused on health care. It would be hard to raise serious money without their commitment, and their time is limited. The participant proceeded to lecture me that there are enough resources for both, and people "should be" paying equal attention to both health care and marriage equality in Maine.
A few weeks ago, Robert Reich called for a march on health care on September 13 (a date he got by glancing briefly at his calendar) before being told it was absurd to think it would be successful in just a few weeks' time. But not before he was deluged with supportive e-mails, someone set up a website, a Facebook group, and a member of Congress announced support for it.
When the National Equality March was announced for October 11th, nearly every single LGBT organizational leader, activist and commentator I knew- national, state, or otherwise- said it would divert resources from serious battles coming up this fall. We were told that our movement can walk and chew gum at the same time. Well, as my colleague Steven Goldstein, who runs NJ's Garden State Equality, likes to say, "Well, you have to have money to buy enough gum for every state where there's a current or imminent battle, and our movement does not - and it forces you to make choices."
I encountered this on a real basis. I was forced to leave early from a health care messaging discussion last Wednesday night to make the Maine call. My friend only has money for a roundtrip flight to Maine and rental car or a flight to DC and hotel room. We are being spread thin, which is the right's strategy, and not every state is getting the resources it needs.
I am not saying this to reiterate how bad an idea I think the National Equality March is (a whole separate topic). I am saying this because progressive activists- straight or LGBT- have to stop and think before opening their mouth and assuming that in a recession, when people are losing their jobs, progressive foundations are closing or cutting their grants, non-profits are suffering, and people generally have less money and time to give, that there is some bottomless pool of resources. There isn't. We are being stretched intentionally, and face across-the-board losses because of it.