Yesterday, I attended Equality California’s “Back to the Ballot” Town Hall meeting in West Hollywood and live tweeted the event. This is the second in a series of Town Halls to take place across California to ask the California LGBT community their opinion on returning to the ballot to repeal Proposition 8.
I’m not going to go into the details of the event, because you can find most of them out by reading our live tweeting session linked-to above. Also, Patrick Connors has a good run-down on the San Francisco event on his site, UppityFag. The scheduled content was mostly the same at both events, so his account is similar to our own. Be sure to follow him @UppityFag, as well. Michael Petrelis also has an account of the San Francisco event, in which he recounts some worrying similarities between the LA and SF event, including panelists reluctant to respond clearly to questions, no written agenda or clear understanding of why we were there, and an event that started late. (LA’s event started over 20 minutes past the scheduled time. EQCA staff member Andrea Shorter blamed a non-functioning drop-down screen onto which they were planning on projecting polling results.)
What I want to discuss, however, is the merit of returning to the ballot one way or another.
First, full disclosure: the author of this post, Jordan, was heavily involved in the effort to return to the ballot in 2010. I helped organize two of the leadership summits that resulted in the formation of Restore Equality 2010, and was elected to the Interim Administrative Group (IAG) of the campaign.
That said, let’s start by at least mentioning what the mood in the room was at this event. From the quick straw poll at the end of the Los Angeles event, 21 people wanted to return to the ballot to repeal in 2012, 16 did not want to return to the ballot for repeal, and 8 were undecided. So, at least in Los Angeles, it’s a toss-up as to what folks want to do.
A whole cadre of the Restore Equality 2010 folks were there in force, including: Jane Wishon, the powerhouse straight ally who was also on the Restore Equality 2010 IAG and is now the LA chapter leader for Marriage Equality USA; John Henning, the (former?) Love Honor Cherish leader who eventually took over leadership of the Restore Equality 2010 Campaign; Tom Watson, another founder and leader of Love Honor Cherish who was pivotal in pushing for a return to the ballot in 2010; Lester Aponte, ditto; and a half-dozen LHC/Restore Equality 2010 supporters who were heavily involved in collecting signatures and trying to ignite the effort to return to the ballot in 2010.
Notable anti-2010′ers (“Prepare to Prevail” signers/supporters) were few and far between, from what I could see. The two most notable attendees were Roland Palencia (newly chosen leader of Equality California and anti-2010′er), and Ron Buckmire (VERY anti-2010′er and leader at the Jordan/Rustin Coalition).
Nonetheless, the proceedings were very cordial and I did not note a great deal of contention — the past is the past, I guess, and anti-2010′ers were keeping their opinion close to the chest if they still believe returning the to the ballot is a bad idea. In contrast, the Restore Equality 2010 folks were definitely using pointed questions to push discussion in the direction of returning to the ballot. Equality California staff and panelists kept their opinions silent on returning to the ballot, and kept repeating that these Town Halls were to get the community’s opinion, and that they had not yet made their mind up, as an organization, as to what to do.
A very compelling case was made at this event to at least begin the process of returning to the ballot. As Lester Aponte mentioned at least once during the event, there is a long laundry-list of items we must check-off to even get the ball rolling. This includes discussing which ballot language to submit, raising money for signature gathering, filing dates for the proposition, and so-forth. So, regardless of what may eventually be decided (the argument goes) we should at least start heading in the direction of a ballot proposition because preparations will take a while.
And, to the credit of this argument, I remember how difficult this process was in 2009 when we were preparing for a 2010 vote. The ballot language is very contentious, and coming to a consensus will be difficult, especially with more players involved this time. There’s the question of who will be the signers of the proposition, which requires attempting to make the most diverse slate possible. And, of course, much more. I totally recognize, then, that it would be smart to work on these items and assume that we’ll probably go back.
But now, as self-serving as this may be, I’m going to circle back to the opinion I stated at the event, which wasn’t taken very seriously by the panelists, and apparently was not taken kindly by the former Restore Equality 2010 members. (A few that had chatted me up before-hand were definitely chilly toward me after the event.) The discussion of returning to the ballot is well and good, but let’s remember that the last ballot proposition cost us over $40m to fight. This proposition would cost, let’s be conservative considering a recession, $30m. If we have the power to raise this kind of money, why are we going to spend it on a ballot proposition for ONE state?
The panelists reminded us repeatedly that voters have NEVER voted in our favor on a ballot measure. So even if we do win this incredibly difficult proposition battle, are we really ready for this same fight in 30+ more states with similar laws and Constitutional amendments? And how much will that cost our community at large?
Hence, my point: if we believe we can raise that kind of money for a ballot proposition in California, why aren’t we considering raising that kind of money for a national campaign to demand FULL EQUALITY LEGISLATION? We could effectively end legislative discrimination and enact fully equal status for LGBT people by the end of a second Obama term with a unified strategy and a national campaign to build a movement.
Equality Network has been beating this drum for a while now, and even wrote a detailed proposal for such a campaign, based on historical examples of the best practices of previous civil rights movements. While numerous “movement elders” reviewed and praised it, the response from all (and one representative of a national funder) was “It’s too big.” God forbid we consider a real strategy and full solution to our inequality, as opposed to a piecemeal legislative approach and a never-ending serious of state-by-state ballot proposition battles, right? God forbid we stop playing into the hands of our opponents, who want us to be tied up in emotionally-draining and financially ruinous election-season campaigning with money that could go to anyone in the Democratic party. God forbid we have a truly inspirational plan for our civil rights, and that we seek to solve inequity for all of our family, instead of leaving those in poor and uneducated states to suffer under homophobic state-level lawmakers.
So my bottom line is this: yes, start the process of returning to the ballot so that we can be proactive and not let another opportunity slip by. Show our opponents that we are ready to do whatever it takes — court cases, ballot propositions, beating down the door of every anti-gay legislator in the state — to protect ourselves and our families. After all, something could change in the next few months that might make victory in a ballot repeal of Proposition 8 inevitable. It is important to use our time building a network of supporters and preparing for whatever might be thrown at us, and there’s no shame in using our opponent’s tactics against them when we can win.
But we must stop committing to these ridiculous state battles that tie up monetary and personnel resources for minute gains that are nowhere near assured a victory. We must create and solidfy a full equality strategy that has a time-horizon beyond the next election (and the next election, and the next election…) and prepares for a full-scale movement of LGBT people and their allies to finally sweep discriminatory legislation out of our lives completely. Anything less is just short-sighted and a waste of precious time and effort.