Echoes of 1978 in Maine

by: Adam Bink

Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 16:30

Bangor Daily News has the map of the vote percentages on Question 1 in Maine:

Snapshot... a much closer view can be found here. Pink and dark pink are good, green and dark green are bad.

I don't want to get into the official numbers by town and precinct again from election night, but to paint a broader picture.

As you look at the map, our numbers got worse as the population got smaller, excluding the heavily Catholic Lewiston-Auburn area, one of the largest metropolitan areas in Maine, which voted 59% and 54% respectively against marriage equality. Mike Lux asked me what the campaign did to organize in small towns. Mike, as many of you know, did VISTA organizing in rural Nebraska and worked in smaller areas all over Iowa, so he really has a bead on these things. In truth the campaign did a great deal to organize in smaller towns, but there is one tactic no political campaign can fully execute with money or resources or organizing. Part of the reason these small towns are so hardcore against marriage equality, Mike noted, is because in many of these communities, there are no gay people, or if there are, they are usually closeted. To some extent, no amount of TV advertising or direct mail or surrogate work will work as well as person-to-person communication with gay people in your community. The other item that helps, too, is religious outreach, which is where I saw a lot of external organizing going on- not just in liberal areas like Portland, but all over the state.

But I'm most interested in the gay neighbor aspect. In 1978, Harvey Milk played a major role in defeating the Briggs Initiative in California, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in public schools. What he used as perhaps his most central organizing tactic was getting people to come out of the closet, to demonstrate that this gay person is your beloved schoolteacher or principal or aide, and thus move voters in a very personal way to vote no. This was also what made the Elephant Walk Bar at the corner of 18th and Castro so revolutionary- it was one of the first bars to have broad, open windows where passers-by could look in on the patrons, in 1974, where most or all of the bars had no windows and patrons went in secret. If you wanted to go, you had to essentially commit to being more out of the closet to the community.

We won that campaign with 58% of the vote, and a famous speech Milk gave during it is instructive today:

On this anniversary of Stonewall, I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country ... We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets ... We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives.

The same tactic Milk used for school employees everywhere must continue to be used in these communities. We have to encourage people in these towns to come out of the closet and say they want the right to marry. State Representative Mike Carey, who represents heavily Catholic downtown Lewiston and voted in favor of marriage equality in the legislature, pointed out to me that in these kinds of votes, the default vote is for fear, and it is a huge barrier to reach one's conscience if they have no personal knowledge of the issue. For all the "gay marriage will be taught in schools" ads our opponents ran in Maine and will run in other states that tap that fear element, we have to counter with people who can give voters that kind of personal touch on the issue.

Adam Bink :: Echoes of 1978 in Maine

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100% agree Adam! (0.00 / 0)
The schools issue is really a made up issue, but it is hurting the cause.  We need to start thinking about this like Rove and come out with commercials actually highlighting gay teachers and principals*.  These people are not scary and they are certainly not sexual deviants.  If we can take the schools issue and own it, then that makes the job of the bigots that much harder...

*Disclaimer: I was not in Maine, so I apologize if these ads did go up.


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