Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Some thoughts on Prop 8

1) What I saw in the campaign against Prop 8 was a set of California families with an emotionally-accessible legal problem get absolutely destroyed in the (paid and earned) media by backward-compatible nutters who think that their magic underwear lets them baptize dead folks.

In July we had a lead and 12% undecided. Roughly all of the 600,000 voters who weren't sure what they thought when Prop 8 went on the ballot voted against us, which is valuable feedback on how well we spent 28 million dollars of support for marriage equality.

Had 'our side' been united about the importance of this fight, we might have been able to create a more effective campaign. But we failed to move even some gay voters to get off their barstools and vote, with the theoretical, abstract equality-based arguments the No on 8 campaign insisted on.

I'm guessing here, but perhaps suburban moms in Fresno would be more responsive to ads featuring our adorable children and well-kept yards than to a boring, factual wonk-fest.

What we know for sure is that this focus-grouped fairness crap has now failed everywhere it's been tried. As it turns out, no one is emotionally moved to purchase soap due to its superior bubbling qualities. Who could have predicted that a recitation of past inequalities against people of color would be outgunned by kindergarten kids throwing flowers at their teacher's lesbian wedding? You cannot overcome an emotional appeal with facts, or we'd be discussing how the second term of John Kerry would compare to the Dukakis years today.

If we want to win, we're going to have to use marketing and psychological techniques to manipulate the feelings of low-information voters. If we want the moral high ground of sticking to the legal issues, maybe we can ask for a Schoolhouse Rock segment on Adam and Steve.

2) Next one to blame Oakland's church ladies for this loss gets a tall cold glass of Shaddup. This campaign was basically doomed from June 21st, when we already knew that Obama was the candidate. We knew Prop 8 was on the ballot, and we knew that turnout among the 6% of CA voters who are black and reliably Democratic was going to be extremely high.

We have several large problems as a community, and one is that we're ignorant of the history of our country's most successful civil rights movement.

I'll even go further: As a white person I have had the cringe-inducing experience of listening to white gay men compare themselves to Freedom Riders more than once. They never respond well to a mild mention of how ignorant and disrespectful that is, which is indicative of how far we have yet to travel as a community.

While there are parallels in the moral dimension between the two movements, I think we're in desperate need of further education. Until then, no one is allowed to speak for gay people who doesn't understand that in the practical dimension it's simply rude to compare our situation with that of sharecroppers who couldn't vote.

Before we can move votes among black women, we need a vocabulary to describe our problems that doesn't rely on inaccurate metaphor. If we hope to ever again face a referendum with better results, that's job 1.

3) The GLBT movement has played itself out. This was all predictable and therefore preventable. For 28 goddam million US dollars, this performance was pitiful. At that budget level, you don't use Wisconsin data that's two years old to determine message and tactics. You run an A, a B and a C test mailing on postcards and let the responses TELL YOU what the message is; then you let that successful message drive your tactics. So from my perch as a successful marketer of every damn intangible in the world, who has been thrown out of the GBLT community's treehouse so many times I've got grass stains on my scalp, I've had it.

My position is: What I want is legal equality for my family. If that's what you want we can work together. If what you want is 'something' for the community to feel better about how we're treated, or the right to a health care power of attorney, you can't lead me because we're not going to the same place. That was what I wanted in 1993, 'something'. Today I want citizenship and I don't plan to settle for less.

If you want to time travel backward to a point where hospital visitation rights and adoption (may not be valid in all states) are the goals, lead on--but don't expect to be followed.

I refuse to be led by people who will settle for any old thing as long as their own places at the feet of the Democratic Party are secure. This is just embarrassing. 'Equality organizations', you're fired.

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