No On 1 Maine

LGBT tab dump

by: Adam Bink

Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 19:00

Chris beat me to the Friday tab dump, but that's OK, because mine's an LGBT one anyway. Here's what I'm reading around the tubes:

  • Courage Campaign and GetEqual has a petition from Cleve Jones, a longtime friend of Speaker Pelosi, asking her to move ENDA after recess. You can read and sign here. They're going to deliver it to her offices during recess.

    Meanwhile, Barney Frank says "it's our turn" and Tammy Baldwin says she's counted and the votes are there in the House. OpenLeft will also be partnering in an action on ENDA in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

  • Up in Maine, the Catholic Diocese- one of the most vicious opponents of marriage equality last fall- announced it was withdrawing funding from Preble Street, a non-profit serving disadvantaged women, teens, and other people with food, shelter and support, because Preble Street joined a coalition in favor of a No vote on question 1. In response, the Diocese demanded its $15K back and rescinded a 2nd $15K award, while Catholic Charities Maine demanded its $2,400 back. There has been an outpouring of outrage and support for charity for charity's sake. I know a lot of Maine Catholics who have given this week, including the awesome mom of Joe Sudbay over at AMERICABlog. Check out Bill Nemitz's column here, and Catholics for Marriage Equality, a new group run by Anne Underwood (a very smart organizer I interviewed in Maine) has a donate page here.

  • HRC President Joe Solmonese has a very measured response to Dan Choi's criticism here. My earlier piece is here if you'd like some background.

  • Asked about the new DADT regulations and the White House commitment on the issue, Barney Frank says, "They're ducking. Basically, yeah, they're not being supportive, and they're letting Gates be the spokesman, which is a great mistake."

  • HRC is launching a new nationwide tour of veterans discharged under DADT and their allies. Those featured are here. I have an unconfirmed list of dates and tour stops, and I'll get a full list up as soon as it's finalized. Target states are WV, NE, VA, IN, FL.

  • Would sure be nice to see our Commander in Chief, or Admiral Mullen, step up and smack this guy down.

  • These new numbers on HIV rate of infection in DC are really, really scary- and according to the piece, may even be off-target because they may have not sampled enough in establishments frequented by African-American men. A friend of mine has generated a lot of good activism on this through FUK!T, a DC non-profit which sets up tables I see at nightclubs and bars so guys can take a free package with condoms, lube and safe-sex information cards when they go home for the night. It's a very smart, prevention-oriented campaign whose budget was just cut. A $10/month (tax-deductible!) donation pays for 2400 kits, and I just signed up to contribute exactly that. You can donate here. If that's not enough to entice you, check out these hot videos and pics featuring world-famous porn stars (sorry, I couldn't resist).

  • Freedom to Marry, a smart pro-marriage equality organization, is expanding their staff in NYC. Several jobs here.

    Have a good weekend!

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Thanks, and onward for marriage equality

by: Adam Bink

Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 10:45

ActBlue's list of top fundraising committees in 2009 came out earlier this week, and what really caught my eye was that the No On 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign raised the most out of any campaign when ranked by total contributions. That's first among all campaigns, legislative or electoral, candidate or issue-based, with nearly $1.4 million raised from over 17,000 people. That includes over $8,000 here at OpenLeft's Better Democrats 2010 page.

I'll never be able to say it enough, but thanks to all of you who dug deep and chipped in, both to the campaign directly and to send me to Maine to work on the ground. As I've written here repeatedly, we came very close, and lost by what I've called a field goal in what was otherwise a top-notch campaign. Since then, we've had other losses, but we've also successfully fought off attempts this week to repeal marriage equality in New Hampshire and Iowa. At the Creating Change conference in Dallas at which I spoke over the weekend, I had some great conversations about infrastructure-building in the marriage movement (example: Freedom to Marry launched a new website yesterday with some great tools); went to an interesting presentation on the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center's Vote for Equality campaign, which has engaged in door-to-door persuasion and message-testing with Yes on Prop 8 voters over the past year in LA; and had some good meetings with folks around repeal plans in other states with constitutional amendments on the books.

So thanks for all your support for to protect marriage equality in Maine, and we're moving forward across the country with your help.

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The importance of remembering why we lose- not just that we lose

by: Adam Bink

Thu Dec 10, 2009 at 11:45

I passed by this vehicle this morning and seeing these three bumper stickers made me piece together something that's been stewing in my head about the effect of failed campaigns on dialogue in our movements.

To boil my theory down for simplicity's sake, I see two types of failed political campaigns: ones that are lost because the voters disagreed with one campaign's position; and ones that are lost based on campaign malpractice. There are certainly some of both and other types, but I want to focus on these.

The Dukakis campaign in 1988 was arguably the worst-run campaign in modern presidential history. I say arguably because it was perhaps topped by the Gore 2000 campaign. I don't remember the conversations in progressive politics after Dukakis, but the ones after Gore were the usual soul-searching, how-could-we-lose-this types. Gore was too weak. Too pro-corporate (the Nader argument). Too class warfare (his people vs. the powerful message didn't work argument). Didn't emphasize the Clinton administration record enough (Bill Clinton's argument). Too Southern. Not Southern enough. On and on. Those arguments- not that Gore gave away the race- defined the narrative. I have no doubt the same reams of op-eds and commentary on cable shows and books on what went wrong were printed after Dukakis' loss.

After Kerry lost in 2004, I remember the wave of why-the-Democrats-don't-get-religion-or-rural-voters bestsellers. What's the Matter with Kansas?, published in 2004, became a hit. God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, by Jim Wallis.  The Values Campaign? The Christian Right And the 2004 Elections. A Matter of Faith: Religion and the 2004 Presidential Election. While many believe Kerry lost in part because no incumbent President loses in wartime- among other reasons- many believe he also lost in part because of a mismanaged campaign. But the usual books on how the Democrats don't get religion and the Republicans do were printed anyway, and defined the narrative. I bet if the Obama campaign blew it and gave away the race entirely, the NYT bestseller list would be filled with why-America-isn't-ready-for-a-black-President-yet books anyway, and they would dominate the narrative, too.

After Gore and Kerry and no doubt Dukakis, narratives emerge that do not tell the entire story. Perhaps it is not that voters were sending a message that Democrats suck or whatever in 1988, 2000 and 2004. Instead it is that Dukakis and Gore, and perhaps Kerry, could have won but blew it. That story gets overshadowed, and in some cases- witness congressional Democrats' culture of caution following the 2000 election results- these conversations are ultimately damaging to our movement.

I'm discussing all of this because of the ongoing conversation regarding whether the LGBT movement has to shift strategy altogether in the wake of recent setbacks on marriage equality. As you may have noticed by my post-mortems on what went wrong in Maine and New York State, I am all for soul-searching, analysis, and the like. What I am not for is the narrative that voters will never be with us on marriage or Democrats are too xyz or whatever, when in reality, we lost some of these campaigns on mismanagement. I am not alone in believing that a better-run No On 8 campaign in California- one that did not have an atrocious GOTV program, a committee structure bordering on campaign malpractice, and that did not blow leads of 14 and 17 points in late September- could have won in California. If they did, we would never be having this conversation about how the marriage equality movement has failed. The more I think and talk to folks about New York State, the more I think it's possible we never had the votes in hand in the first place, even while Duane was saying we did. Poor tactics (in part) blew it, but here we are talking about shifting strategy completely. If we lose in New Jersey this month not because legislators or voters aren't there yet, but because our side screwed up and blew it, it doesn't matter. It will start yet another round of "we have to abandon marriage equality until the old people die off!" conversations. Even if we lose because of circumstances beyond our control, but unrelated to the substance of the marriage issue or tactics, leads to a "bad luck" result, it doesn't matter.

The story of why we lose gets forgotten too easily. And like with Prop 8, like with the 0/31 statistic of losses on marriage that ignores the circumstances around all but two of them, only the result- not how we got to the result- is remembered.

My point is that it is critical to interpret the results correctly and not to jump to incorrect conclusions about what kind of message voters are sending in presidential or ballot or legislative elections. I wrote recently we have to go district by district, not party by party, in targeting our opponents in New York State. In these discussions, we must determine whether our strategy needs to be re-examined on a fight by fight basis, not a result by result basis, in finding our way forward.

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Novel field operations ideas?

by: Adam Bink

Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 16:15

I am sure you guys are sick to death of post-mortem pieces on Maine from me, but I promise just this one more, since I think there are some implications for all campaigns re field operations.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who volunteered in Maine for the No On 1 campaign, has a piece in The Democratic Strategist about the field campaign in Maine. You can read the entire thing here, but there are a few nits I want to pick and two interesting ideas in it, particularly if you're a field geek.

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Harvey Milk and the holidays

by: Adam Bink

Wed Nov 25, 2009 at 14:30

Awhile back, I did a piece looking at the map of results in Maine, and noted the results in small towns where we lost badly. Mike Lux asked me what the campaign did to organize in some of these towns. I wrote at the time:

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 more I think about this, the more I realize it's true- but it's greater than just gay people coming out. That was Harvey Milk's perhaps most central organizing tactic to win the Briggs Initiative in 1978. But that was 1978.

In 2009, coming out is just as important, but our side has to do more. We need to talk about marriage. And it can't just be up to the gays. I need to ask many of you- straight allies- to help as well. I wrote about this in a magazine piece last week:

Our movement needs more people involved in these fights, needs more people to heed Harvey Milk's call to come out of the closet and more straight allies to tell stories of their gay family members, friends and colleagues.

We have to have one-on-one conversations about marriage equality, and the holidays are the perfect time to do that. There is no better way to reach your friend or family member, and there is nothing better- not direct mail, or TV, or any campaign tactic- to win people over.

To that end, Courage Campaign, which did a lot of work in Maine, has set up a Courageous Conversations tool. Make a pledge to have a conversation with a family member who is opposed to marriage equality. If you're straight, you can even pledge to do it in the name of an LGBT person you know. Your first name and that of the person you're talking to will appear on an interactive map next to the thousands of other people who are doing the same thing. If you don't have any idea how to start, they have a great How-To guide to get started and help you through it. And you can report back on how it went, which will help Courage Campaign learn lessons about what kinds of conversations are best.

You can also Tweet about it:
Give the gift of equality for the holidays with a Courageous Conversation http://bit.ly/79FrlC #LGBT

I made a pledge. It's the least I can do- in between football and eating- to move the ball forward. I hope you'll join me. Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for helping our movement.

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Moral hazard in the LGBT movement, vol. 2

by: Adam Bink

Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 13:30

A few months back, I wrote about moral hazard in the LGBT community around the National Equality March. The concept was whether march organizers, who up to that point (eight weeks out) had done a poor job of planning and the March looked like it would be a failure, who made the bed should be forced to sleep in it alone, or whether lots of LGBT community leaders and organizations would ride to the rescue to get them media attention, attendees, etc. It turned out to be the latter, as it became evident that many would rather not get embarrassed on a national stage. The moral hazard problem this created was that any big-name activist who unilaterally plans a major action that will get massive media attention can look at the March experience and witness that others will ride to the rescue to make sure the LGBT movement doesn't look stupid. Insulation from risk.

I'm starting to see this again in California as a movement to repeal Prop 8 is moving forward. The debate had been raging over the past year regarding whether to move forward in 2010 or 2012. Arguments in favor of 2010 include that civil rights should never wait, that there is a very palpable anger in the community to harness, that we could have won if the No On 8 campaign didn't suck so much. 2012 advocates argue that a presidential year is better for us in terms of turnout, that the polling hasn't shown any movement, that more persuasion needs to be done, that there isn't enough time or enthusiasm to raise the tens of millions necessary to win in California. And perhaps the biggest one is that if we lose in 2010, we're done for quite some time.

This past week, as Phillip with UniteTheFight reports, Love Honor Cherish, a Los-Angeles based advocacy group, announced a drive to obtain the one million signatures to qualify its already-submitted language for the 2010 ballot. There are a number of problems with their effort, though, and this is set up to be a very dangerous proposition.

Details on why are on the flip.

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Interview w/NGLTF Exec Dir. Rea Carey and Dir. of Organizing & Training Dan Hawes (part one)

by: Adam Bink

Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 10:00

Cross-posted at The Bilerico Project

I've been writing a lot on what happened in Maine (most recently this piece yesterday in a Los Angeles LGBT magazine), and where our movement should go from here. NGLTF had run much of the field program in Maine, as well as within the No On 8 campaign in California, so I sat down yesterday to do an interview with Rea Carey, the Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to address some criticisms and her thoughts on the marriage equality movement. We were joined by Dan Hawes, Director of Organizing and Training, who heads up NGLTF's national field operations and ran the field program in Cumberland County, the most populous in the state.

This is part one related to the No On 1 campaign in Maine and the marriage equality movement in general. I'll be posting the second part, related to LGBT rights at the federal level and the performance of the Obama administration.

Among the highlights:

  • Dan commenting that the campaign "could have had a more direct message", "more lengthy conversations at the door with voters", and done more persuasion rather than "just trying to GOTV our supporters"
  • Rea commenting on marriage equality at the ballot box "we simply don't have enough people to win at the ballot box yet"
  • Rea and Dan declining to say whether re-run campaigns in California and Maine could have won, or definitively whether marriage equality is winnable in the short-term
  • Dan defending against criticisms made with respect to the field program in Maine, and praising various aspects of the campaign
  • Rea and Dan arguing that provided there is a plan and the time is right, despite the movement's recent losses and overall record at the ballot box, donors will "step up" to contribute the tens of millions necessary to win a Prop 8 repeal effort in California

Full transcript below the fold.

Q: What did you both think of the No On 1 campaign, the result, and where we go from here?

Dan: I think generally it was a well-run campaign with a disappointing result, where we were unable to build a solid majority who supported marriage equality. Our various polling within the campaign and outside the campaign showed we never started with 50% or more of Mainers who were on our side, but I felt like we could probably look piece-by-piece at the campaign, and there's always things we could do differently. But I felt like folks gave their best effort generally to work to win across the board.

Q: What could be done differently?

Dan: It's clear that we haven't yet built a majority of support for marriage, which is part of the problem- we go into these campaigns trying to build a majority rather than defend a majority at the ballot box which is very different. We need to figure out what message will be effective at moving voters to stand with us on marriage quality, which is a venture across the board on all these campaigns, which stands true in Maine as well.

Rea: I would just add to that, one of the things that's so striking having been in California and Maine and having many years under our belts with these things is this challenge in creating a majority vs. defending it. I was so struck, I went canvassing [Election Day] morning, and spoke with a number of voters including some Yes voters, and a gentleman who told me he had voted Yes, he was very nice, very kind about it, but he had voted Yes, and explained why and it was interesting because he said you know I have gay friends, he was a father of three, I have gay friends who were married in Massachusetts and I just feel I want them to have the protections, but I'm not there yet on voting for marriage.

I think there are unfortunately what we've seen in a number of states with trying different messaging and different tactics- and I agree with Dan that every campaign has some different and something that can be learned from and improved upon- we simply don't have enough people to win at the ballot box yet. I absolutely think we're going to get there. I think if you look at the trajectory over the last twenty years, even in a state like California where we used to be behind by twenty points, now we're behind by about four, the trajectory is moving in the right direction, we're just not there yet.

Q: You both have said that we don't have the number of votes, we're short, which is certainly an important point with regard to the electorate. My question originally, though, was what could be done differently? Or was it a flawless campaign, was it near-flawless?

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The question of LGBT incrementalism (part 2- politics)

by: Adam Bink

Tue Nov 17, 2009 at 10:00

In part one, I wrote about the policy problems with the argument that, in the wake of the loss in Maine and the victory in Washington State, the focus for the LGBT movement should shift to domestic partnerships. In this piece, I want to hit on some political issues.

I don't believe the argument that the movement for marriage equality has failed or is failing. Reasons:

  • The oft-quoted number, one I've used myself, is that we are 0/31 on statewide marriage votes. I've used that number in the sense that it's a streak we need to break. One colleague used that number as evidence that the strategy for marriage equality isn't working. When you're batting .000, you have to change the strategy, the argument goes.

    I would actually argue that only two of these losses were the result of the execution of a strategy. From 2004-2006, something of the dark ages for marriage equality, 24 states adopted constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. But during that time, we were playing defense, and not in venues in which we chose to fight under a strategy. They were reactionary moves set off by a court decision in Massachusetts and a unilateral move by Gavin Newsom, and with an assist from George W. Bush, not the failure of some comprehensive state-by-state strategy.

    The two I will say were evidence of failure are California and Maine. In CA, we passed it through the legislature twice, it was vetoed twice. A court challenge coordinated by Lambda Legal resulted in a favorable decision. Each of these were executions of strategy that resulted in Prop 8. We lost with 47.53% of the vote. In Maine, the we passed a bill through the legislature, which Gov. Baldacci signed. It went to the ballot, where we lost with 47.18% of the vote. Okay. But both losses were by a field goal, not three touchdowns. We lost by 31,909 votes in Maine. I still believe a better No On 8 campaign could have won in California. In reality, the execution of this strategy has failed on two fronts, not 31. Not evidence to argue a wholesale change in strategy.

  • I'm not sure yet that domestic partnerships should be our Grand Strategy based on Washington State's success. In 2006, Colorado voters rejected a statewide referendum to authorize domestic partnerships, 47%-53%. In 2009, Washington State voters approved a more comprehensive law, 53%-47%. While it is true domestic partnerships/civil unions have been extended in many other states without a successful move to repeal it on the ballot, there isn't a lot of evidence yet that this is successful at the ballot box itself.

  • The fretting over the 0/31 statistic has also ignored how we can move on marriage without that streak growing. We fought off a ballot vote several years ago in Massachusetts. Neither Vermont nor Connecticut will have a ballot vote. Nor will New Jersey, if we are successful in the lame-duck session. The same is almost assured in New York and DC. In Iowa and New Hampshire it remains to be seen, but a lot of the 0/31 talk ignores that where we are close, we can continue the work without losing a repeal at the ballot.

  • The movement for marriage equality has actually led to incrementalist measures in several states as a compromise. And if you start by asking for half a loaf, you are more likely to end up with a quarter loaf, so making domestic partnerships our stated policy goal across the country perhaps isn't wise.

  • I am concerned that if you push for some type of federal recognition of domestic partnerships, it could be embraced a compromise measure by those squeamish about repealing DOMA, and we are forced to wait even longer before moving on that. In the meantime, what about same-sex married couples in Massachusetts and other states who need full federal benefits? You effectively write in a separate-but-equal status at the federal level.

While it's true that civil rights advances have, in many cases, historically been done in incremental approaches, there isn't evidence yet that we are far, far away from enacting full marriage equality in more states. There may be repeal fights in New Hampshire and Iowa in 2010, which will further test this argument. But as I see it, incremental steps should be taken where necessary, not as a comprehensive strategy for the future. As I wrote in part one, there are too many policy problems that do not actually result in full equality. The movement for marriage equality remains successful in many places, and should continue.

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The question of LGBT incrementalism (part 1- policy)

by: Adam Bink

Mon Nov 16, 2009 at 15:00

I've so far heard two arguments I've heard that have come out of the loss in Maine. The first is that we'll never win statewide ballot votes on marriage equality until demographics change, e.g. older, more socially conservative people become a smaller part of the electorate. The second is that the game is fixed because voting on civil rights of the LGBT community amounts to tyranny of the majority, and the majority will always vote to oppress the minority. I've dissented with both arguments.

A third argument is that, given the success in Washington State this year, the LGBT community should focus on a system of domestic partnerships for same-sex and opposite-sex couples that have full federal equality under the law. Currently, if you are in a domestic partnership arrangement- lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual- the Defense of Marriage Act restricts the extension of more than 1,100 federal benefits, as it does for same-sex married couples. So you can't use unpaid sick leave to care for your partner. You can't file federal taxes jointly. You can't receive Social Security survivors' benefits. Opposite-sex couples don't take such arrangements because when they find out they don't get the federal benefits, so they opt for marriage.

But, the argument goes:

  • Members of Congress are more likely to "compromise" at approval of extending full federal benefits to those in domestic partnership arrangements, since such arrangements affect heterosexual couples too, thus diminishing the argument that these are "special rights for homosexuals". Examples include two single, heterosexual sisters living together who wish for each other to have medical decision rights, or opposite-sex couples who do not believe in the concept of marriage, or want some basic rights like hospital visitation until they decide to marry.

  • By focusing on comprehensive domestic partnerships, there is a potential to mobilize non-LGBT couples (the sisters, or opposite-sex couples who don't want to be married) who want full federal benefits. Straight allies exist as advocates for same-sex marriage, but are not as invested.

  • Advancing this strategy is more likely to win benefits in the short-term than fighting battles that will only be won when anti-equality older people become a smaller share of the electorate. Rights are more important than the "m"-word.

On the other hand, there are a multitude of problems:

  • Implementation. In New Jersey, where civil unions enacted in 2007 exist, hospitals, employers, etc. have refused to recognize any certificate that doesn't say marriage. You can argue that's a personnel problem rather than a policy problem- for example, federal laws ban discrimination in housing on many bases, but it still occurs in practice. But the problem still remains that many couples cannot use their newfound rights, so these incrementalist measures do not always work in practice.

  • Domestic partnership-type arrangements don't work across state lines. A married couple can vacation in another state and still have medical decision rights if something happens. A couple in a domestic partnership from another state do not.

  • The potential difficulty of creating a class that is lesser than marriage at the federal level and administering it. Which state programs would qualify? What about same-sex married couples?

I am always open to incrementalism, and favored that approach around ENDA and gender identity in 2007. But in this case, domestic partnerships/civil unions in practice do not work as fully as they should or are expected to. It is also dangerous to push for this as the policy goal in lobbying, and creating the impression among legislators looking for an "everything but marriage" compromise that this is the same thing in all but name. In looking at the policy execution, it's clear that it's not.

In more conservative states where it's possible to achieve these rights, we should absolutely push to do so if it's clear we are far away from marriage equality. In places where we are close- like New York, or where incrementalist measures have already been implemented, like New Jersey and DC- the push should continue. I discuss the politics of this in part two.

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Short documentary/reflection on the No On 1 campaign

by: Adam Bink

Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 19:00

It's not comprehensive overview of the campaign, but this is a brief snapshot of what it looked like on the ground in Maine over the final few days of the campaign. New Left Media, run by two nice guys, Chase Whitside and Erick Stoll, put this together.

It hurts a little bit to watch everything go down, but it's also a little inspiring to see couples together and supporters working hard on the ground.

Watch the whole thing, but the final 30 seconds or so of Part Two are especially critically important, in my view.

Part One

Part Two

Jesse Connolly, the campaign manager you saw here thanking us for our support, also has a reflection piece up on HuffPo that I think hits a number of important points.

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Advancing the President's agenda

by: Adam Bink

Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 14:00

Natasha's post last night on the DNC/OFA throwing pro-choice advocates and women everywhere under the bus got me thinking about the role of those organizations in general, and the Administration's choices of late.

There is a general belief, both in the Village and even among some people I know in progressive politics, that the DNC's role is to expand Democratic majorities and that's it. For all my criticism of OFA's role in Maine, I've had a few people say to me they shouldn't get involved in ballot fights. It's a D vs. R apparatus and that's that.

But here's OFA director Mitch Stewart this week:

Our number one mission is to support the president's agenda.

And DNC spokesperson Hari Sevugan:

OFA's primary focus is to advance the president's agenda. If you advance the president's agenda that's going to translate politically and help Democrats throughout the country. And frankly keeping people engaged on the issues in an off year is going to translate in a mid-term year. They are going to continue to be engaged.

So that expands the definition. What does that mean in terms of OFA's actions of late? Well, they didn't lift a finger to help in Maine- even to the point of diverting resources to New Jersey. They knew about the Stupak amendment for quite awhile and didn't lift a finger. But Obama (if tepidly) came out against Question 1 in Maine and against the Stupak amendment, even pledging to work to remove it in conference. This is the President's agenda. And Sevugan said winning these fights helps Democrats around the country. And that keeping people engaged on the issues- and certainly, choice is an "issue"- helps.

So my question is, why isn't OFA doing its job? I realize OFA is an arm of the DNC. But should it exist to re-elect Democrats, or to actually carry out what Stewart and Sevugan say it should?

There are a number of arguments I've heard against OFA getting involved. One is that OFA should only work on issues that "everyone" agrees on. Another is that pressuring members violates the DNC's core mission of electing Democrats, because having a bunch of people call their members' office and ask the intern to tell the member to vote a certain way will somehow cause them to lose their re-election. Another is that if you "make aware" Obama supporters (also known as citizen engagement) in, say, John Tanner's district that he might suck on women's reproductive health, you'll rile them up and Tanner might lose Democratic votes for re-election, which violates the core mission of the DNC. None of these arguments are very persuasive. OFA could have even done a bland, list-wide "call your member and ask him/her to x". That way you don't name someone specifically, and you can reason that you're targeting all members of Congress because it's such a critical issue, not just Democrats.

The strongest argument I've heard is that OFA pressuring Democrats will cause congressional Democrats to pick up the phone and scream at Obama and screw him, and us, on other legislation. Relationships matter. Okay. But Obama is involved in party primaries, supporting Sens. Bennet, Gillibrand (should she have one), and Specter. His administration is pushing Gov. Paterson to bow out of a re-election bid. George W. Bush got involved in supporting Specter in 2004 and Chafee in 2006 in their respective primaries. Rahm himself got involved in congressional primaries in 2006, and has a reputation for working members hard for votes, engaging allies to pressure them, and so forth. So what's the difference between these actions and asking activists to make phone calls to advance your agenda? Both can damage relationships, both have rewards. If Obama's picks lose, those people can screw him. In this case, the reward is protecting women's reproductive freedom and advancing health care reform. So how come Obama takes a risk by siding with Senate and gubernatorial candidates, but remains silent on core issues of the Party?

In politics, relationships do matter, and I consider that in my own work. But the argument in terms of that here just doesn't hold water. Moreover, we only have a short window in which to enact real progressive change, and I think, within reason and wherever possible, the President should use all available tools to obtain that change and be our "fierce advocate". Please, Mr. President, include OFA among those tools.

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Catholic Church Holds Poor People, Kids Hostage Over DC Marriage Equality

by: Adam Bink

Thu Nov 12, 2009 at 18:01

So the Catholic Church announced it is blackmailing the DC Council over marriage equality, at the expense of the poor and kids without homes.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Oh, well, heaven forbid (pun intended) they should have to obey city laws. A couple of points:

  • The city has anti-discrimination laws on the books. Their claim- that they might be forced to place kids with same-sex parents, for example- is already true under existing law. Catholic Charities, the social services arm of the Church, has lived under those laws for years and received millions from city coffers, and is trying to erode them using scare tactics.

  • This has nothing to do with the marriage equality legislation. It is a red herring. The legislation provides for exemptions for religious organizations to, for example, not allow same-sex couples to use their religious building for a wedding. The amendment that did not pass on Tuesday relates to individuals' rights, and as Chairman Mendelson said in the WaPo piece, the problem with individual exemption is that anybody can use their religious beliefs to discriminate- back in the 50s and 60s, people said the separation of the races was ordained by God.

  • Catholic Charities receives DC taxpayer money to fund its services. If they aren't interested in abiding under already-existing DC public laws using our public money, then don't take it. City leaders themselves have pointed out that Catholic Charities is not an indispensible component of city services. I'm no expert on the non-profit world, but I can't imagine there aren't other groups who can use the money to take their place. And I'm not really down with my money going to religious organizations anyway.

  • In Boston, Catholic Charities shut down its adoption services over the same issue. But before they did so, they had been placing kids in same-sex households to comply with the law until the Boston Globe exposed it and the hierarchy told them to stop. It is plainly nauseating to me that the need to discriminate so overrides the Church's commitment to feed the hungry and clothe the naked that they would take this stand.

    Or, as DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality said today:

    "The Catholic Church hierarchy is at a crossroads: they must decide whether they are in the charity business for charity's sake, or if imposing their will on the DC City Council and the citizens of the district is their primary interest."

This whole thing reminds me of the Bishop's engagement in the Maine marriage fight, even while his churches were closing, which went so overboard an opposition organization sprung up to generate a lot of pushback. We have to do the same in DC and reach out to people of faith to say that this has nothing to do with the marriage equality legislation, and that Catholic Charities should concentrate on its core values, not pushing its political beliefs.

I'm in the middle of an letter to the WaPo over this. If you are a DC-area resident, please consider joining with me. If you're a Catholic willing to organize in your congregation, drop me a line at adambink at gmail dot com.

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Joe Solmonese on the Democratic Party's commitment to LGBT issues (or lack thereof)

by: Adam Bink

Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 13:45

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign, was in Maine for the election and he and I sat down for some chatting. I'll have more clips up this week of what we talked about, but let's start with Joe talking about the Democratic Party's commitment, or lack thereof, to LGBT issues in response to the OFA/DNC fiasco.

As I've written before, OFA and Obama's refusal to get involved in a major way was not just disappointing but a slap in the face on top of what the Administration (and by extension, the campaign through actions like inviting "ex-gay" homophobe Donnie McClurkin to speak at their rallies) has already done. The Maine fiasco was, for me and others, the straw that broke the camel's back, and in response, John and Joe at AMERICABlog have launched a donor boycott of the DNC until the Administration accomplishes legislative priorities.

Now, I've called for more patience on LGBT legislation, and I don't entirely agree that DOMA can be repealed "today" as they do, but I think these kinds of actions are on the right track, and the Administration is going to see a lot more of this coming down the pipe. HRC gave a tacit endorsement of the action as well.

But what really gets me is the smaller, stupid things they do to smack gays around. As Solmonese said, taking action in WA and ME "is by no means a risky strategy, and at the core of what they ought to be doing." It would not cost them anything to ask for a No vote in the Maine e-mail blast. Obama called for a No vote on Prop 8 but the tepid statement they issued regarding Maine didn't even mention the words "Maine" "No" "Question 1" or anything that would actually influence voters. Rick Warren at the inaugural, Donnie McClurkin, abolishing White House and DNC LGBT liaison positions, refusing to interview with LGBT press, or even apologize for any of these actions... the list goes on and on. In fact, John and Joe have a full list here.

Just like the "internet left fringe" comment, either don't advance Obama's position among voters or, if they do pick up votes, do so at the cost of endorsing McClurkin and Warren-style bigotry. The White House needs to both push harder for action on LGBT priorities as well as shut this kind of crap down.

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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.

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Analysis and Improvement, Part 2

by: Adam Bink

Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 17:15

This is a second piece of analysis on what happened in Maine, organizing by the campaign and progressive allies, and where the LGBT movement goes from here. For Part 1, click here.

There is a great deal of soul-searching and strategy questions that have come out in the wake of the loss in Maine on Tuesday. I have some thoughts on them all:

1. The LGBT movement is powerless and handcuffed on marriage referenda. A number of very smart people have argued to me the following: that in California, we had a terrible No On 8 campaign and lost by four points, and in Maine, we had a near-flawless campaign and lost by six. The problem, the argument goes, isn't the execution of campaigns but that we are powerless to win these votes until the elderly, who tend to be far more against marriage equality, die off, and the young open-minded supporters of marriage equality take over.

Not only do I think that's wrong, I think it's a very dangerous assumption. In the first place, I, and many close observers, do believe a better No On 8 campaign could have won the vote. We led by as many as 14 points and 17 points in two different reliable polls as late as September. I don't believe those leads are entirely because of some kind of LGBT-specific version of the Bradley Effect. In the second place, these campaigns aren't hopeless. Although the result was reversed in 2008, don't forget we won a statewide marrage vote in Arizona in 2006- not exactly a bastion of liberal college towns and LGBT people- in fact, considering the retirement population, far from it. A switch of 31,909 votes would have won in Maine. Fixing some of the problems I outlined in my earlier post, many of which are execution issues rather than long-term obstacles, would bring us closer by itself. I look at it the same way I do Obama's campaign- lots of people said an African-American could never win until the demographics change or race relations are improved over a long period of time. In the end, he got far more votes from places many never thought he would. We don't need to wait years to switch 31,909 votes. In the third place, the attitude that the LGBT movement is handcuffed by demographics demobilizes supporters who, now more than ever, need to be mobilized and active.

2. Complaints about tyranny of the majority. Others have rightfully complained that the rights of the minority should never be put to the vote of the majority. I fully agree with this. When I testified last week at the DC Council hearing on our own marriage legislation, I thought one of the best points made was by Councilmember Catania, who pointed out to Bishop Harry Jackson, the local majordomo homophobe, and a black man, that the last time civil rights of a minority was put to a vote in DC was Dec. 21, 1856- the right to vote of African-Americans. He's absolutely right that it shouldn't happen.

My problem with this complaint is that it distracts from the issue, and leads to the same lamenting in the LGBT community that these things are hopeless in the short term because so long as these ballot votes exist, the game is fixed. It discourages participation. Look, that is the world as it should be, and not the world as it is. As Adam Bonin at DailyKos commented to me, the nature of democratic self-governance is such that citizens will always be able to amend their constitutions and laws, for better or for worse. The rules of the game are set and we must play within them.

3. Approaches to showcasing gay couples. There is one very notable difference between the No On 8 campaign and No On 1 that advances our cause. A colleague and friend who was on the ground in Maine and ran a 1995 ballot campaign there, which pertained to restricting the state's ability to enact pro-LGBT measures, said something very interesting to me. In 1995, she said, their campaign- like No On 8's refusal to include gay people in their TV ads- made every effort to hide gay people in their campaign, and that was a big reason why they won. They won, she told me, but they didn't advance the overall opinions and attitudes. Contrast that and the similar approach of the No On 8 campaign with the No On 1 campaign, which had married couples, some with kids, out in front at every turn- in TV ads, on their direct mail, on the website, you name it.

There were two completely different approaches from California and Maine, and both got at least 47% of the vote. But for our movement to advance, it is far better to have No On 1's approach. They proved you don't have to hide gay people like it's 1995. A win in Maine would have been the best thing, but it is a strong second choice to move the ball forward in terms of attitudes.

4. Moving the ball forward in steps. I think there is another victory we are overlooking here. People don't always jump from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of not being in favor of any "special" rights at all to being supportive of marriage equality. Many people are moved from the anti-equality end to grudgingly (or willingly) being supportive of civil unions, for example. They are the folks you hear saying "just don't call it marriage". It's not a perfect situation, but it's a step forward. I've experienced the same thing on a personal level in terms of family and friends being completely opposed to my sexual orientation, who moved to being "okay, just don't tell your grandparents" to inviting my boyfriend to their home to asking if they can help plan a wedding. This is a process, and not only did we get 260,000 people to vote in favor of full marriage equality, but the conversations we started moved people more than if we didn't. Not only is this important to remember, but it is another point against the "we are handcuffed by old homophobes and the rules of the game, so we're not going to win for a long time" argument.

--
We didn't win in Maine, but our chances are not handcuffed. Let's remember what could have been done better, remember the take-away lessons from these recent campaigns, and rededicate ourselves immediately.

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