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Analysis on “Back to the Ballot” meeting

May 23rd, 2011 · 8 Comments · Prop 8 Repeal Organizing

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.

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  • MPetrelis

    hi jordan,

    it would be great if you disclosed your full name for folks like me who are not familiar with this site or who writes for it. more info is always appreciated. also, thanks for linking to the post by patrick connors and my post on the SF meeting last week.

    i followed most of your thinking here, until this part:

    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.

    i’ve not heard legit reasons why we need to keep putting so many resources in the gay marriage fight at the ballot box, especially when the Perry case and others are working their way through the courts. also, seeing the slipshod organizing of EQCA’s SF town hall meeting, the failure of the organizers to address deep concerns about they learned (anything?) from their 2008 mistakes and what they would do differently.

    and i am opposed to doing an multimillion dollar campaign, with or without EQCA, just to show our opponents how serious we are. it’s never good to allow anti-gays to set the CA gay agenda.

    i’d prefer for all silly talk about 2012 and EQCA playing a big role next year to stop. much better to put gay marriage efforts where they belong – in the courts.

    if so many gay folks in CA wanna start raising millions of bucks for 2012 repeal, i would instead ask them to direct their funds to issues like housing subsidies for gay seniors, apartments for gay homeless youth, federal jobs protections for trans folks, and a lot of other important issues that go unaddressed because of an obsession with sugary wedding cakes.

    • Michael, sorry if that section was unclear — I wasn’t saying go through with a repeal process, so much as at least /start/ it in case, say, the polls swing wildly in our favor in six months. But I don’t see any need to spend $30m on a repeal of one law, especially when there doesn’t seem to be much support for it.  

    • MPetrelis

      thank you, jordan, for the clarification. maybe i had not had enough cawfee when i read your excellent piece. btw, any chance you also covered last night’s EQCA town hall in long beach?  we sure could use a report from you about what happened at the third forum.

    • MPetrelis

      here’s another report on the town hall in SF, that echoes what has been stated by patrick, myself and others at the meeting on thursday. i don’t imagine this report pleases the EQCA leaders:


  • MPetrelis

    oops, forgot to say thanks for the live tweeting yesterday. it is very much appreciated. -michael

  • Lesteraponte

    Jordan, I am curious what kind of “national equality legislation” you think would enact marriage equality across the nation.  Who can get married has always been a state issue, which is why different states have different rules.  What you are really suggesting is a constitutional amendment  akin to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).  That would require two thirds of the states to ratify it, which did not happen with the ERA.  I am also curious when you think there will be a progressive majority in Congress  that would pass such legislation in the first place.  There may be a day when all of this is possible, but there is a lot of groundwork we need to do first.  By building up the number of states where LGBT people have equality under the law we build up toward that ultimate goal. 

    • Lester, I never said that national equality legislation would cover marriage. Marriage is not our only battle 🙂 

      But to that end, I agree regarding the Amendment, and yes, we should be fighting for an ERA-type amendment to the Constitution. 

      From your tone, though, I think you missed the point of what I’m saying. OF COURSE there is a lot of groundwork required to do what we’re talking about. That’s the entire point. $30m would enable that kind of groundwork in spades. 

      I disagree, though, that “building up the number of states where people have equality” is the right path, though, and I think I make that case in the article above. If the LGBT movement had the kind of money it will require to fight proposition battles in even a dozen states, we could pay for enough groundwork and media buys to pass the ERA two or three times over. Not to mention the fact that the proposition battles you’re talking about would need to be fought in successive elections, even if we did two or three at a time, there’s no way the community could ever raise enough money to even pass a half-dozen initiatives in the time it would take us to move public opinion literally 10%+ in our favor. 

      So let me clarify, again: the bottom line for me is that the kind of money we’re talking about for this proposition campaign, and subsequent ones, could be used on the national stage to create a TRUE MOVEMENT of people, get our message to the public through mass media, and lobby legislators to pass full equality legislation and perhaps even start talking about an ERA amendment. But either way, I think by the time we pass full equality legislation and have moved public opinion so far in our favor, the courts will take care of marriage. 

      I recognize the stance of those who want to return to the ballot. I was there just a little while ago. And I don’t criticize the reasoning or the desire. What I prefer is a grander vision that seeks to do so much more than what repealing Prop 8 in CA could do.

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