Activists Gather in S.F. Formulate Plan to Restore Marriage Equality

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some of you may remember Joseph Amster from his days at the Blade here in Orange County.

Moving Ahead With 2010 Ballot
Published: September 3, 2009
By Joseph Amster

prop-8-protestUnder the banner Working Together for Equality, approximately 75 marriage equality activists from across California gathered in San Francisco on Aug. 29 to begin efforts to place an initiative on the November 2010 ballot to overturn Prop 8. Despite calls from organizations like Equality California to postpone the challenge until the 2012 election, the activists, representing a broad coalition of organizations across California, adopted an organizational plan and elected an interim administrative group. Plans are moving forward to form a political action committee, which will engage in fundraising efforts and gathering the 1.2 million signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.

Challenged with selecting a structure to run a statewide signature gathering effort, six plans were presented to the activists. The so-called Davis Plan emerged as the clear choice of conference delegates. The Davis Plan calls for an advisory panel of 50 representatives, including 30 regional representatives. The plan divides the state into 10 regions, with each region receiving one representative for every 500,000 Prop 8 voters, with a maximum of six per region. Another 12 representatives would come from affinity councils comprised of various faith, cultural/ethnic, political, labor, business and educational networks. Another eight representatives would be sent by organizations like the Courage Campaign, ACLU, PFLAG and Equality California, as examples. The plan also calls for communication hubs to be located in 36 cities within a 1-2 hour drive from each other and would serve as the organizing center for signature gathering efforts in that region, as well as communication with the affinity council.

The conference also elected an interim administrative group, charged with forming the political action committee and making minor changes to the Davis Plan. The group had its first meeting on Aug. 31 and will report back its findings to a planned September conference. The 11 members elected to the group include Aaron Bloom and John Henning from Love, Honor, Cherish, a Los Angeles-based marriage equality group; Lester Aponte from the Latino Equality Alliance; Jordan Krueger of Equality Network;  John Cleary from Stonewall Democratic Club; Misha Houser, the political affairs director of ECCO; Chaz Lowe of Yes on Equality; Lisa Kove of DOD Fed Globe and Zakiya Khabir from SAME (San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality). The group also includes Jane Wishon, a Los Angeles activist, and Kelechi Anyanwu, a San Jose activist.

“The debate of when to return to the ballot to restore marriage equality to our families and loved ones has been dynamic,” says a press statement released at the end of the conference. “Some groups are focusing on that personal conversation model, and are actively participating in voter persuasion canvases and phone banks. But voter persuasion is fruitless if there is not a vote. Those that gathered today are specifically focused on ensuring that we return to the ballot as quickly as possible. Today we set in motion a solid signature gathering effort that will put marriage equality back on the ballot in November of 2010. This active stance against inequity is just as important as the work our coalition partners are doing. We are all working together toward the shared dream of a California that is free from discrimination.”

The positive energy and commitment to move forward at the conference was evident, and many praised the respectful tone of this conference, as opposed to previous conferences. While some at the conference were adopting a wait and see attitude regarding placing an initiative on 2010, most agreed that if efforts are successful, they will back the proposition. Although Equality California (which was not represented at the conference) and other groups are pushing for a 2012 initiative, the conference statement disagrees. “Some have tried to tell us that fifteen months is not enough time to gather the required signatures, raise the finances to run a campaign, and change enough voters to win,” says the statement. “We have heard this before, and we will not accept an answer of, ‘We can’t.’ We will not stand idly by while our state sanctions discrimination against us. We will, instead, act with courage and conviction as we share our stories and our love with Californians from Eureka to Fresno, from Bakersfield to Chula Vista. We believe that fifteen months is enough time to restore marriage equality; we believe we shouldn’t have to wait for the equal rights we are guaranteed as citizens of this nation.”

Ace Smith, a political consultant whose work includes the Hillary Clinton for President campaign, set the tone for the day in his keynote address. He used the opportunity to express his view about the difference between the movement for marriage equality and other political movements. “Unlike a classic political campaign, you’re talking about a political issue in which the vast majority of folks who are going to come to the polls have already made their mind up on it,” he said. “That rarely ever happens. Usually when you go to a political campaign, you might have 20 percent of the folks on one side and 20 percent of the other side have made up their minds and you have a huge 30-40 percent that you can persuade. This is an issue where people go to the polls and the vast majority knows exactly how they’re going to vote. You’re talking about gay marriage; you’re talking about fundamental rights. In an election like this, you’re going to make people uncomfortable. It’s fundamentally the sort of thing where you can’t go out and run a campaign that does all of the standard stuff. You have to adjust for that.”
Although Smith feels that this is a different campaign because of the issue, he also drew parallels to more traditional campaigns and emphasized the need for quick reaction. ”There are a couple of important ways that it is a political campaign in the sense that you need to have the infrastructure to qualify this for the ballot,” Smith continued. “That means collecting a ton of signatures in a relatively short amount of time, so that requires organization, some money and some ideas of how you’re going to tackle that which are traditional.”

Smith brought back memories of the Prop 8 campaign, and how to respond differently: “At the end of the day, you are going to have going to have a big TV fight, and you know what the other side is going to do. They’re going to put millions of dollars up on the TV and attempt to bring up all of these issues to scare people. The worst thing you can ever let happen in a political campaign is to have attacks go unanswered. If you let attacks go unanswered, they end up like weeds in your garden. You’re never getting them out. You have to respond quickly, rapidly, and have an organization that can make those decisions on the turn of a dime. What you’re doing and why this is fundamentally different, is that you’re trying to push down a barrier. No barrier has ever fallen without being pushed on hard and constantly.”

The passage of Prop 8 brought into the marriage equality effort a new energy and the involvement of many activists who have not been previously worked for marriage equality. They were well-represented at the conference. “I think this is an opportunity for new leaders to step into the marriage equality movement and add a fresh perspective and direction, said Marriage Equality USA Media Director Molly McKay. “This new group is going to ensure that we keep all our options open. They are forming a new model of regional representation that is really innovative and exciting – and I’m just enjoying the ride and looking forward to seeing what happens next. This is an unprecedented time of innovation for our community that will result in new inventions and techniques that we all will benefit from”

Although MEUSA has taken no official stance on the question of 2010 vs. 2012, McKay was pleased with the conference’s results. “I think the most important value that MEUSA, and each organization, can choose to bring to this development and all aspects of our movement is to continue to build and foster an environment of trust, of integrity, of being able to disagree without being disagreeable and bringing people of all different timing preferences, strategy preferences and backgrounds to the leadership table to contribute their gifts and stay focused on doing the valuable work they want to do and realize we are all moving the ball forward,” McKay continued. “We should avoid wasting time telling others what they are doing wrong or tearing each other down and rather help ensure that we stay focused on the true opponents and allow for a diversity of talents, points of view and strategies to co-exist and where possible co-create together in our movement. I am confident that whatever lay around the next corner, our community will continue to make lemonade of lemons and at the end of the tunnel – how ever long it may be – rise victorious.” 


  1 comment for “Activists Gather in S.F. Formulate Plan to Restore Marriage Equality

  1. Brian
    September 4, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    This law is so heinous it needs to be taken out asap. This bigotry written in the state constitution will be a future embarrassment. Waiting till Obama, a anti-equality candidate to be on the ballot is a big mistake.

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