proposition 8 and the failure to communicate

i will confess i suffered a rather painful shock, last tuesday, when i clicked over from the transcendent presidential election victories to check the returns on the the fight against prop 8 to find it up by a good 10 points in the early returns. i could not imagine why it was doing so well, in an election where liberal candidates and causes were prevailing by a decisive margin. we came out to vote for hope, what the hell happened to hope?

i thought we would beat it. i really did. it’s simple logic! the arguments for it made little sense, and were universally untrue. there was no threat to marriage, to children, to churches. nothing bad was going to suddenly start happening, the only possible result was that nothing would change, that people who had civil rights in california would continue having those rights. simple! logic! the thought that the electorate would come out in favor of writing discrimination into the constitution seemed surreal, especially in the context this historic election.

and then i clicked over to the exit polls and suffered a second shock, looking at the demographics – the highest percentages (in the early exit polls) of yes votes cast against the civil rights of their fellow citizens were people of color, the african-american and latino voters. this made the least sense of anything (to me, at least). why would people who knew firsthand the pain of discrimination and the struggle to be granted the same rights as everyone else suddenly decide that, while civil rights are nice and all, that they’re just not for everybody? now, we know that even if these percentages were reversed, that it would not have changed the outcome, it just … it did not make sense to me.

so i asked this question on Plurk, and what resulted was a very long and very educational thread, the gist of which i shall attempt to convey here, in hopes it somehow helps:

what we had, was a failure to communicate. “…the commercials that were EVERYWHERE kept talking about how this was going to be taught in schools, how it was going to take 501C status from churches etc. And they kept saying it over and over. Those people KNEW what they were doing. Nothing is more sacred to black people (I’m one) than children and church.They didn’t say . . . look if you talk about HIV at school you have to SIGN a WAIVER, if you talk about puberty at school you have to SIGN a WAIVER of permission. So, there is NO WAY they will teach this “gay marriage” without YOU the parent knowing about it . . . cause we don’t do that here. This is for CIVIL marriages . . . if a church does not want to do the marriage they are PROTECTED and NOTHING will happen to them. And you have to say it over and over and over and over again. Like Obama had to do with the message of cutting taxes for 95% of Americans. He said it over and over again until we could hear it in our sleep.”

and you know, Telemill, who i’m quoting here, is absolutely right, although it took me awhile to catch on. i argued that yes we had said those things! and i went back and i looked at the commercials. and you know what? we actually kind of did say them, only … well, not really. the other side told their lies with precisely engineered emotional propaganda, like a wide-eyed, innocent child, “mommy, today i learned a prince can marry a prince.” we, on the other hand, got some politicians to dryly explain the facts, who listens? and then we had samuel l. jackson on repeat for the last few days before the election, talking about the wrongness of denying rights in terms of internment camps, interracial marriage, armenian home ownershsip. why did this message not ring true to those who had shared that pain, those struggles? what would cause them to come out heavily in favor of changing the constitution to revoke the rights of a minority, based solely on their status as a member of that minority?

it’s so simple: family. church. the important things, the things that sustain you when the society you live in treats you like a lesser human. and the other side, they knew this. as Telemill explains it, “You WERE up against them . . . conservatives I mean . . . but they knew they couldn’t do it themselves so they said, what would get the minority vote against them? Hmmm. . . I know . . . children. Let’s say that it will affect their children (you have the black vote and Latino vote with that one). OK, and then let’s say it will affect their church! (Catholic Latinos and Devote Christian Blacks will go nuts). They knew EXACTLY what message to through out there. And gay citizens were ignorant of that technique. Black people know it well . . . we’re just used to the conservatives pushing it OUR way, it’s different when on the other side of the coin.”

Mark Morford put it this way: “And I must say — and you might not want to hear this — a big chunk of blame for 8’s passage has to go to the No on 8 campaign’s initial arrogance, followed by their utterly limp reaction when the Yes campaign started attacking and gaining real steam. As one of my politically savvy Chronicle colleagues put it, ‘No on 8 was a bad campaign. Bad bad bad. Inept, amateurish, incompetent and, above all, guilty of committing the first and worst sin of politics: taking the voters for granted.'”

i admit it: i am guilty of complacency and naivetĂ©, and of astonishing ignorance to the factors that ultimately motivated the voters. i am guilty of not knowing the enemy, and not seeing how well the enemy knew me and mine. and evidence suggests i was nowhere near alone in these failings. i know these are harsh words, and how dare i criticize the good people who fought a fair fight and got beaten by cheaters? yes. i have a lot of nerve, especially when you consider this is not my cause, in that i am a straight, white, middle-aged geek, fully endowed with all my inalienables: life, liberty, the pursuit, all that. but since this ridiculous travesty in which out of state religious interests have succeeded in imposing their bullshit on the constitution of my state, causing immeasurable harm to so many of my fellow californians, to my friends … well, forgive me if i’m so pissed off i’ve decided to barge on in and see if maybe i can help figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

it is possible i have no business opining these opinions. feel free to point this out, i’ll listen. meanwhile, i remain hopeful that these harsh lessons will serve us well as we continue this fight. as Telemill tells it, “…you must look at it this way. You lost for fight by a very SLIM margin when the enemy used LIES and dirty tactics. That means that people didn’t ACTUALLY turn their back on you. It means YOUR COMMUNITY didn’t fight HARD ENOUGH, didn’t push back enough You can never let up. You have to push back. Power never secedes . . . remember that. The small margin loss means the dawn is there . . . you are almost there.”

ok. so, what’s next?

4 thoughts on “proposition 8 and the failure to communicate

  1. I wasn’t down there and so didn’t see the campaigns run day in and day out. I THOUGHT our crowd down there would have it handled pretty well and I turned my mind to local matters and, of course, the election for a new president. Oops, my bad, as if I am arrogant enough to think that my input into the process could have changed anything (but well, in a year of change, who knows?).

    And I’d like to point out that the fight should NOT be taken to the other minorities who appeared to leave us in the dust. You can slice the exit poll data any way you want and the current power structure would like nothing more than to have us tearing at each others’ throats. So stop dropping N-bombs. Stop threatening your neighbors based on the color of their skin. The neighbor may be just as affected by this outcome as you. The neighbor could be gay. And black. Or Latino. Do not fall into the trap that the true perpetrators of this crime against their state constitution has laid for us.

    The fight needs to be taken to the Religio-Industrial Complex that has managed to circumvent the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Right now, the RIC has an unfair advantage of being able to hide behind their tax-free status while lobbying political entities to pass legislation that enforces its beliefs. Yes, I believe churches have every right to free speech. And I do NOT consider every church to be a member of the RIC. But the Catholic church? The Mormon church? Absofuckinlutely, they need to be taken to account.

    If ANY religious entity wishes to enforce their beliefs upon the populace at large thru the political process, they MUST be made to pay the same tax rate as any special-interest group seeking to influence public policy. Let’s level the playing field.

    But first, let’s stop the back-biting and snarling and build bridges, people. Our fight will continue and in order to win, we NEED the people that some of you are hurting with your thoughtless emotionalism. I challenge the people in my queer community to open dialog with a “yes on 8” supporter with an open heart and mind. No N-bombs, no telling Latinos to go home. We’ve come father in the past 20 years than I ever though possible because we have educated those around us. We must continue to do so.

  2. I wrote a long post on my site, but I think basically it is a matter of communication. We on the No side didn’t get our message out soon enough, hard enough, and without forcing the gay side of the issue back in the closet. We worried about offending rather than risking offense to tell the truth. SOmetimes honest communication is hard. But if we can stick it out the rewards are boundless.

  3. to be clear, this post was most definitely *not* intended to place any blame on people of color – i was very confused and in a way, hurt that people who had suffered discrimination would choose to vote for it. i had my questions answered, and this was my attempt to share those answers. no n-bombs were dropped and i never meant to imply we might have won if only we had been supported by the african-american or latino voters. we failed to get through to many, many voters of all colors and walks of life.

    i’m in some Obama group mailing lists, and the local one has turned almost exclusively to talk of Prop 8, with some folks organizing protests against companies that supported it, and others responding in irritated tones that we should have been doing this *before* we lost.

    and we were, but not enough. what we did not do in any organized or successful fashion, was to talk to people. i just saw some stats on the swing states, where exit polls showed vast differences between how many voters were contacted by a human being from either campaign. and we know how the swing states went.

    it is truly all about the communication.

  4. You did more research than I.

    I don’t live in Ca., so I can’t evaluate the effectiveness of the No on 8 campaign, but surely it could have done some good by pointing out from whom the financial backing of the Yes crowd came. “Do you want a church which runs an entire state telling you how you should think?

    This was a remarkable ad, but I wonder (I saw this idea somewhere) if it might not have been even more effective if its two principal women had been in their 60s rather than their 30s.

    Linkmeister´s last blog post..Reversals – a point in wrestling, but more here

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