The Get Engaged Tour , organized by Marriage Equality USA, was a recent set of meetings held throughout the state of California, including one here in Fresno, which I participated in with other local LGBT groups and activists. The meetings solicited communities to come out, listen to results of polling data concerning public opinion on same sex marriage, and to offer up opinions and ideas of how the battle for marriage equality should move forward. The tour ended a couple of weeks ago, with the results shared at a summit held last weekend in San Bernardino. You can watch some of the video of the summit HERE. (Apparently technical problems resulted in some video being lost, and be prepared for a difficult time watching some of the meeting, as the camera was swung and jerked around far too much and audio is less than great. How about setting the camera up in one place in the back of the room so we don't get a headache and we can at least follow the conversation?)
From virtually all honest accounts, the meeting was not good. Contentious and divided, there still seems to be no clear strategy in sight. Unite The Fight called the meeting an utter failure on their blog, going into great detail about our now fractured movement. The blog hit more than a few nails on the head when it pointed out that anyone with a different point of view in this movement is ridiculed and has their head bitten off, and that a few massive egos are derailing any chance of unity simply because they want to be the ones with the brass ring in their hand at the end of the ride. (I'll add that I couldn't find anything on the Unite the Fight site about who runs it, and blog entries are simply credited to "Unite The Fight". And with such a strong opinion in the blog about unity and not ridiculing other groups, it seems strange that in their list of action sites, virtually everyone is mentioned with the exception of EQCA.) UPDATE: Phillip Minton with Unite The Fight contacted us and explained that the absence of EQCA was an oversight due to the fact that when the list was created EQCA did not have a field and canvassing program on the ground. Phillip stated that EQCA would be added to the list.
To view the final results of the Get Engaged Tour meetings, compiled by Marriage Equality USA, click HERE
The main question that needs answering is do we go back to the voters in 2010 or in 2012. This was the ultimate focus of the Get Engaged Tour, and the focus of all groups looking for the way forward. Still, the summit meeting last weekend failed to come up with an answer. While a vote was taken on the issue, it was taken after the meeting was over, when many in attendance had already left. According to one source, the vote count was 93 for 2010, 49 for 2012 and 20 undecided. Forget that the vote doesn't include many of the over 200 people in attendance, but it certainly doesn't include anything but a tiny number of LGBT Californians. Part of the problem with the LGBT movement in California is that a small number of people have decided they have the answers. The truth is, history has proven they do not.
One thing that continually angers me every time I hear someone say it (and I hear it ALL THE TIME) is that we only lost the battle by a few percentage points. Why doesn't anyone ever say that we lost by just over 600,000 VOTES??! Does anyone consider that a small number? It tends to change your perspective on how many minds we have to change before another vote. It's disingenuous, even manipulative, for activists to continually ignore the number of votes we lost by and only talk in single digit percentages.
More and more groups are supporting a 2012 ballot measure over one in 2010, with some previous financial supporters of marriage equality re-thinking a push in 2010. This is not being taken well by those in favor of 2010. From my point of view, it seems those who are aggressively pushing for a ballot measure in 2010 are not listening to opposing opinions, apparently insulted by the idea that waiting might be a better idea. There are blogs and comments online labeling those in favor of 2012 as "traitors" and weak. From my perspective, those in favor of 2012 have not only listened to others, but have considered the options. Is that what some of us have come to, a closed mindedness which now locks out all but a few players? What is honorable about blindly pushing forward rather than weighing the pros and cons?
Clearly, all LGBT citizens want same sex marriage legalized in not only California, but the entire nation, which brings a certain lack of respect and integrity to the "no discussion necessary" camp in favor of 2010. There are valid arguments for each option, but it seems the 2010 camp is annoyed by anyone questioning if next year is the best move.
Imagine, for a moment, that we get a ballot measure on for 2010, and we lose, which all the polling data indicates. At that point, not only have we lost with the courts, after losing with the voters, but we will have lost a pro-same sex marriage battle after losing an anti-same sex marriage battle. What will that do to our credibility among the population of the state, not to mention the will of our supporters and allies? Let's at least be honest with each other here, what we've done in the past has failed, and our movement is more fractured than it has been in some time.
Focus seems to be a major roadblock. Meet In The Middle was a massive, event in Fresno after the ruling of the California Supreme Court to uphold Prop 8. The mission of that rally, repeated endlessly, was a focus on grassroots, and the Central Valley and other areas in the state where a conservative base needed to be moved. It was all about a grassroots movement. How is it that those involved, who routinely emphasized local action, are now dedicated to a National March On Washington when time is critically short to design and put together a 2010 ballot measure, let alone procure the signatures needed? Not to mention that the National March is on a holiday weekend when politicians won't be around and at a time when the current economy plays a major impact on who can attend, who can support, and what gets accomplished in the interim? Why are so many who tout grassroots as the answer choosing to get behind yet another march, a NATIONAL one no less, where we talk to ourselves? How are we supposed to come up with a cohesive plan to get equal rights when after months of being force fed nothing but grassroots, we are immediately told we need to fly to Washington to affect the opinions of politicians who won't even be there? Are we thinking at all?
The truth is that NO ONE KNOWS WHAT WILL WORK. No one, including myself. But without consideration, contemplation and examination, we're finished as a movement. I'm tossing out questions, something many of us no longer know how to do, at least among ourselves. When was the last time you heard anyone involved in the fight for marriage equality say that an idea was bad? When was the last time you heard someone say about a planned rally, march or protest, "I don't think that's the way to go?". Every time someone announces their next political action, it seems everyone just signs up and unanimously supports it. The problem is, for all our actions and protests, we've continually failed.
I automatically discount anyone who says they know how to win this battle. Not to mention that the only people I ever hear say they have the answers, are using the same failed strategies of the past. How is it that a movement supposedly filled with innovative and free thinking people can't seem to come up with one idea that's new? (aside from the current federal lawsuits working to be heard on a national level. Check out the piece written by David Boies , who, with Ted Olson, is bringing a federal lawsuit on the basis that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. While most were highly critical of this at first, the case is gaining support.) We can't even get beyond chants that have been around for decades..."Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, These Tired Chants Have Got To Go!"
I haven't seen the kind of childish behavior and cheap infighting among gay groups that's happening now since the immaturity of high school. Groups now routinely ridicule and even exile others simply for approaching the battle from an angle they aren't comfortable with. We've seen this vividly in Fresno in recent weeks, when not towing whatever line is drawn will result in condemnation. There are more than a few activists, including local ones, who need to just grow up and realize they don't have any more answers than anyone else. Fame is not the goal here, equality for all Americans is.I don't know the right answer any more than anyone else. I just wish those who keep proclaiming that they do would take a moment to reflect. This is not a game that's played simply to keep yourself busy and viable. This is a movement to end civil discrimination in America. This means something to people's lives, their very existence. Nothing, so far, at least in California, has worked. So let's all stop trying to personally win and think about what's wise to get involved in, rather than what supports our own interests. Let's work for the LGBT American who is too isolated to be involved, too scared to make their face known. Let's stop trying to win the trophy for ourselves.