Why Prop 8 passed in CA

The current issue of Rolling Stone magazine has an interesting report on why Prop 8 succeeded in CA.  The report centers its blame not on African American support for Prop 8 or millions of dollars pumped into the pro 8 effort by the Mormons, but instead looks at the lousy job of political organizing by anti-8 (pro gay rights) folks in CA.

The No on Prop 8 campaign, meanwhile, was oblivious to the formidable field operation that the other side was mounting. Worse, its executive committee refused to include leaders of top gay and lesbian grass-roots organizations, which deprived them of an army of willing foot soldiers. “We didn’t have people going door to door,” admits Yvette Martinez, the campaign’s political director. The field operation consisted of volunteers phone-banking from 135 call centers across the state, an effort that didn’t begin ramping up until mid-October.

I spent a lot of time working on the marriage equality campaign in Massachusetts.  I saw it up close and personal.  I watched it and took part in it.   l lost track of how many doors I knocked on, how many people I personally talked to face to face and asked them to talk to their legislators.  It must have numbered in the thousands, not the hundreds. I saw how the people at Mass Equality and the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry planned and executed a near flawless game plan to preserved the Mass Supreme Judicial Court Ruling.  Reading the Rolling Stone report, if the truth on the ground was anywhere near the reality reported, it’s no wonder gay rights supporters lost.

The Yes on 8 campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort was equally prodigious. The weekend before the vote, Schubert’s religious volunteers once again went door to door, speaking to supporters and directing them to the right precinct locations. “On Election Day,” he says, “we had 100,000 people — five per precinct — checking voter rolls and contacting supporters who hadn’t showed up to vote.”

By contrast, the No on Prop 8 campaign mobilized just 11,000 volunteers on Election Day, which they deployed to polling locations to hold “Vote No on 8” signs. The campaign even turned away volunteers who were unable to attend a sign-holding training seminar. Terry Leftgoff, a veteran campaign consultant who was once the highest-ranking gay officer in the California Democratic Party, was one of those who was informed that his services weren’t needed. “I was told I could come by on November 5th and help clean up a campaign office,” Leftgoff says.

The mistakes seemed so elementary, it’s almost hard to believe the report. Yet knowing how possible it is to win on the ground politically on this issue, I’m really left wondering.  If the reports in the article are true, I’d have to agree with a Democratic consultant quoted in the article: “This was political malpractice.”

The biggest act of political malpractice was not taking the opposition seriously. I learned this lesson knocking on doors in Massachusetts.  Supporters of civil rights, which polling shows to be a good majority of Americans, don’t always understand how important it is to make their voice heard on issues such as this until it is too late.  Narrow minded, intolerant, bigoted voices are loud and harsh and quick to raise money on behalf of ignorance and hatred and therefore splash both the media and their elected officials with the idea that popular cultural opinion takes their side while the reality is actually the opposite.  By the time pro gay rights folk woke up in CA it was way too late, they were millions of dollars and double digit percentage points behind.  Never take for granted that because a viewpoint that you hold is intelligent, sensible, educated, fair and just that it’s obvious to others.  You have to make your voice heard.  Democracy requires constant participation, not just a trip to the polls every two or four years.

I fear that the only way forward after this loss in CA is through the courts so that there won’t be an endless cycle (and the slippery slope) of voting on people’s civil rights, because once we vote to take away one group’s rights, who’s next?  The rapid response to reversing the trend on the prop 8 shows the way our country is headed on this issue, but we do need to come to a consensus that there are certain things that are not up for a vote, certain human rights that no majority can take from a minority.  That’s a lesson I hope we learn from this as we prepare for human rights day tomorrow.

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