No on 8: How NOT to Run an Initiative Campaign

Given the passage of California Proposition 8 which attempts to add an amendment in the state constitution to ban marriage among same-sex couples, there’s been a lot of finger pointing at who’s to blame.  Given the statistics that have been published saying that 7 out of 10 blacks voted for it, and that other people of color, including Latinos and Asians were split evenly, one of the most obvious scapegoats have been people of color.  What’s been most disconcerting for me personally is seeing how many Asians who were organizing against Prop 8 have bought into this excuse, using phrases like, “Why would they vote for discrimination if they’ve been discriminated against themselves?” to using racial slurs, which don’t deserve repeating.  Never mind that whites in the more conservative parts of California, such as the Central Valley, the Inland Empire and the Redwood Empire, overwhelmingly voted for Prop 8, which constitute the vast majority of the population in these areas.

The organizers of No on 8 needed to take a page from those who supported the proposition, reaching out to people of color.  No on 8 focused almost exclusively in the white populations in the big California cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, while blatantly ignoring that Latinos are the majority in Los Angeles CountyThe Yes on 8 campaign had rented space in Asian language newspapers for weeks before the No on 8 even attempted to outreach to the Asian community. The No on 8 campaign did very little organizing in the more conservative parts of California, even failing to come to support a Catholic priest in Fresno who was under fire for both coming out and voicing his opposition to Prop 8.  The only concerted effort to the black community came from the cast of Noah’s Arc who did events against Prop 8 in combination with the release of their film.  It was up to small, poorly funded organizations to do the outreach to communities of color, such as Asian Equality, which should be commended for being able to do rallies and outreach in the Asian American community with extremely limited resources.

It wasn’t until yesterday that finally a press release came from the executive directors of the four main nonprofits who spearheaded the No on 8 campaign urging people to stop blaming people of color and others:

We achieve nothing if we isolate the people who did not stand with us in this fight. We only further divide our state if we attempt to blame people of faith, African American voters, rural communities and others for this loss. We know people of all faiths, races and backgrounds stand with us in our fight to end discrimination, and will continue to do so. Now more than ever it is critical that we work together and respect our differences that make us a diverse and unique society. Only with that understanding will we achieve justice and equality for all.

Funny how these groups didn’t even mention a single recognized group that actually catered to these constituencies — nor did they talk about how they are actively trying to do more outreach so that it doesn’t happen again.

The vast majority of the blame for passing Prop 8 rests on the executive directors of these organizations who failed to do outreach to groups, especially people of color including Asian Americans, that prove integral to the vote in California. Their laziness, complacency and lack of understanding the basic demographics of the state led to their defeat; their inability to understand the national implications of this passing and their inability to do any substantial fund raising outside of California, even as the Mormons infamously raised millions of dollars nationwide for Yes on 8, is extremely telling.

It’s time for the white LGBT community and those who are in support of same-sex marriage in the big cities to recognize that there were obviously missed opportunities to establish and create coalitions of like minded people across race and ethnicity, religion, class, and region; and that these coalitions need to be established and nurtured, NOW.  As these groups support same-sex marriage and rights for LGBTs, these groups also need to show sincere support for struggles in communities of color such as immigration, worker’s rights, etc. By failing to recognize that this continues to be a nationwide struggle that crosses all these communities, any attempts to restrict the rights of LGBTs in California will be successful unless these groups get their shit together and start doing outreach to ALL of us.

(Flickr photo credit: bobster1985)

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About Efren

Efren is a 30-something queer Filipino American guy living in San Francisco. In the past, he was a wanna-be academic even teaching in Asian American studies at San Francisco State, a wanna-be queer rights and HIV activist, and he used to "blog" when that meant spewing one's college student angst using a text editor on a terminal screen to write in a BBS or usenet back in the early 90s. For all his railing against the model minority myth, he's realized he's done something only a few people can claim--getting into UCSF twice, once for a PhD program in medical sociology which he left; and then for pharmacy school, where he'll be a member of the class of '13. He apologizes profusely for setting the bar unintentionally high for his cousins. blog twitter
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