Posts Tagged ‘proposition 8’

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Obama, DADT, and Lobbying the Radical Moderate

2010.May.18

Point of clarification: it’s all a Democrat’s fault.

Bill Clinton himself has admitted that his naive rush to “allow” gays in the military by instituting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a bad decision, resulting in an awkward bit of protocol that no one (including Clinton himself) expected to last this long. For all the anti-gay posturing of Republicans before and since, it was not Reagan or Bush I but Clinton and his bicameral Democratic majority who took a military directive and turned it into federal law.

But we all know it’s up to a Democrat to fix the mess; alas, our big hope is an old school president elected in new school times. Oh sure, Obama’s “diverse” and technologically inclined, but he approaches politics like a man born in another time: he skips the rhetoric and chides his opponents to do the same; then he makes a proposal, expects his opponents to suggest a reasonable compromise… and after a bit of teeth-gritting back-and-forth, a moderate policy is achieved and the greater good is achieved. This is called consensus-building, and it is pretty much antithetical to anything you will find on cable TV opinion programming.

Alas, these are new school times (or at least times from another side of the political cycle), where most of Obama’s opponents (and many of his allies) would just as soon shove rhetoric down America’s throats, stonewall without compromise, and go on cable opinion shows to blame everything on the opposition (even when it was your idea to begin with) than hash out nuanced compromise over a round table discussion.

The juxtaposition makes Obama’s slow-even-for-old-school approach to ending DADT stand out all the more. When the political atmosphere is overly charged, overly vitriolic, and overly partisan, being moderate seems radical; I contend that this is why Obama was elected–it’s certainly why I voted for him. However, many of those voting for a radically moderate policy may not have been expecting that it would be accompanied by radically moderate action, and some of Obama’s strongest supporters are getting tired of waiting for that “radical” part to kick in. DADT would seem like the perfect opportunity to implement major cultural progress that would reduce costs, require little Congressional crossfire, and avoid overhauling any further cornerstones to our economy.

Yet, Obama waited, and with good reason from his perspective. Ending two wars, averting financial collapse, and planting the roots of systemic change in healthcare seemed more important because they affected everyone. While social justice ideals may tell us that “an injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere”, the fact of the matter is that most Americans (even the majority who support some advancement of LGBT rights) would have seen gay rights as a need of the few in the face of the needs of the many. Sadly, politics is perception, and jumping into such a decision could have endangered every other dream placed in Obama, radical or moderate.

Keep in mind, the nation is so primed right now that if Obama can reach the end of a single term without being assassinated or converting our nation over to rampant socialism, without rewriting the constitution to praise Allah or seizing property from Whites to give it to Blacks, without abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan or invading small town America, it will be a great victory for radical moderation over the dangerous forces of overblown rhetoric (though, without a separate figurehead, one unlikely to be claimed and, therefor, noticed).

There were small opportunities; perhaps Obama’s first weeks in office, or that dizzying week after health insurance reform passed: points in time when Obama was riding on high waves and an executive order suspending DADT could easily have been buried amid a thousand other headlines. But Obama’s approach of moderate action prevented such a stealthy move; what on a national level seems to be a simple transition will still have a direct impact on soldiers who are already psychologically stretched and physically drained. So he has called for a year-long analysis (such a study panel is the kind of moment when even I will mutter “liberal” under my breath with a snarl) to research how best to end DADT.

Will it take a full year to strategize the implementation of a DADT repeal? I seriously doubt it. Could measures further than those recently put in place have been taken to slow the impact of DADT? Of course. However, during that time, soldiers and officers who oppose the repeal will have a lot more time to consider their opinion and prepare for the change (Hell, we may even be out of Iraq by then, which should make anything easier for our military). Knowing it is coming should, I hope, make it easier to accept when the time has come. Even once it is legally possible for LGBT soldiers to serve openly, it will not be easy, and some soldiers will remain closeted for years, if not decades; the social adjustment could easily take a generation, but a gradual implementation (or period of warning) will go a long way into smoothing the rough waters of change.

There are more cynical advantages for Obama to delay, of course. He is keeping his options open, for one; should the November election see the Dems blown out of the water (which I doubt, but six months is an eternity in politics), he will move toward 2012 with one fewer bulletpoint against him from social conservatives. Or make that three, because while Obama supports gay adoption and “civil unions”, the sooner DADT passes, the sooner activists on both side will move on to fighting over even more controversial steps toward equality. And while few of the Black American voters who supported Obama 19-to-1 in 2008 have noticed how little his agenda has thus far helped non-whites and poor communities, you can expect that some of the 64% who find “homosexual behavior” to be “morally wrong” would notice if they saw LGBT equality placed as a higher priority.

(None of these items is as straightforward as presented here, though it is perceived to be by many. Sadly, this comparison–which is not original to me–is just another symptom of us-and-them thinking, where even constituents of progressive values focus on their own communities and do not recognize the commonality with other maligned groups.)

But drawing action from a radical moderate will not come from thinking cynically. LGBT activists have been exasperated with Obama’s inaction since the day after inauguration, and they have only experienced one major victory during his 16 months in office. There has been organization and marching and blogging and activism galore–and this is as it should be. In a way, maybe the DADT delay has been good for the LGBT community, too. Not for the individuals, sadly (rates have slowed since Obama’s inauguration, but hundreds have still been booted through his delay), but for the organizations and the LGBT community at large. As a repeal of DADT has approached… well, become imminent… well, seemed likely… eventually… the LGBT community has had less public attention on same-sex marriage (and even activists were running the risk of outrage fatigue after Prop 8). Perhaps with this little detour toward DADT (and ENDA, which will hopefully come next), the disparate opinions within the community will have a chance to breathe and remember what they have in common.

While the goal of every activist organization should be to render itself obsolete, a motivated and unified community is easier to solicit for donations and volunteers, and I suspect there’s still a huge well of untapped hetero allies out there who haven’t given since they got that HRC sticker on their back windows. At the same time, the broader American culture continues to inch closer toward tacit, even open, acceptance of that community and the notion that, hey, gays are people too! Demonstrations help that and arrests help that, so long as they remain clear, focused, and non-violent. Signs about same-sex marriage and adoption will do well alongside those on DADT and ENDA, but don’t try to also protest the wars, corporate media corruption, and the closing down of your local library (at least not at the same event). Activists must treat every opportunity as a discussion on one specific topic and resist the urge to yell at the hetero-normative public instead of talking with them. While some minds are not likely to ever change, others will be preparing for change who wouldn’t have otherwise.

Don’t misunderstand me; Obama is a busy man with a full agenda. Reneging will come all-too-easily if LGBT activists do not keep up the pressure. Politics being the antithesis of humanization, you cannot expect any politician to treat you like a human being instead of just a vote; you must demand it. It is the right and responsibility of every supporter of LGBT equality (whoever you sleep with) to keep up the protests, keep up the letters, keep up the conversation so the President does not–cannot–forget his promise. Unless the Dems keep a strong majority in mid-term elections (which is possible, but hardly likely at this point), I doubt we will see national progress beyond DADT and ENDA during Obama’s first term; then, it will again fall to LGBT activists to help him win a second term so he can make bigger promises toward equality and we can work tirelessly another four years to hold him to them.

It isn’t fair–and promises have already been broken–but it is the way of politics. You have to fight a lot to win a little, and deserving it means you just have to work twice as hard.

Questions to ask while we wait:

How is recruitment?
Why no temporary moratorium?
What about those already discharged?
Will DADT impact mid-term elections?

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Who’s Not Getting It?

2008.December.15

The parents at Rowlett High School who got Rent cancelled, that’s who.

I mean, I don’t know whether the “it” is the importance of learning other perspectives (even if you disagree with them), the importance of artistic expression that pushes boundaries so their children don’t end up stale and on stronger antidepressants than they take, the fact that lines like “hating dear old mom and dad” are jokes, or – yes I’ll say it – sex. Maybe they need to get laid. Maybe those parents just need to get tied down and something stiff extracted from (or inserted into) places they’re not supposed to be.

In case you haven’t heard, I’m talking about Rowlett High School’s recent cancellation of its student production of Rent, the hit Broadway musical set in mid-90’s East Village of Manhattan (“New York City?!”“Get a rope.”).

Forget that the show’s depiction of drug use is anything but positive, or that its representation of gay lifestyles is anything but simple, or that the musical was made into a PG-13 movie just a couple years ago, or that some of the offensive material was pared down for the school version (which had already been approved by administrators who were very unlikely to be hippie liberals), what bothers me is that the kids are going to miss out on putting on a good show with a good message. Rent celebrates friendship, creativity, critical self-determination, and even monogamy and presents life as ambivalent and complicated.

Guess it’s better if the kids learn that on their own when they go away to college (not knowing how to put on a condom) or take a monotanous job down at the cubicle farm.

Honestly, I was surprised the cancellation came so slowly once the local news started to report, but the administrators were wiley. They got the theater director to cancel the production “for the good of the school” rather than cancelling it from on high. This way, not only is the director responsible for ever suggesting such a barbaric notion, it also keeps angry protesters from harassing the board and other administrators. “Well, we were taking it under serious advisement, but the theater director made the final decision before we had made up our minds.”

The theater director takes the fall, before the students or all of the parents could speak.

The noisemakers win this round.

I have an idea I would love to see happen for a reaction from the community. On the date when the play would have opened (or possibly the date of the next board meeting), gather as many local defenders of Rent and of student expression as possible outside the building and sing the soundtrack from the sidewalk, beginning to end. Show them what the play is really about: people coming together (Hell, if the musical glamorizes anything, it’s how absolutely lonely NYC can get when you haven’t found a community there, and that’s antithetical to the plot).

But I believe in grassroots starting locally. Such a protest should originate with members of the Rowlett community (preferably students and parents), and the only family I knew there moved elsewhere earlier this year (which is too bad, too, because the kids – ages 14 and 11 – know the Rent soundtrack by heart!). But if my idea happened to be picked up and promoted by a student, parent, or teacher in Rowlett or the greater Garland ISD, I would be happy to attend and invite all my friends and allies. Maybe they could tie it to Prop 8 protests… those folks are still trying to figure out what to do with all their anger.

But in the meantime, I hope a rebellious teacher will at least show the crappy film version on movie day. It’s a Christmas story, too, you know.

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Why Protest?

2008.November.17

I know a lot of people who attended Proposition 8 protests last weekend. Time will tell how effective they were, but I think it would be helpful to remember what could or could not be accomplished by them.

No protests outside of California (and arguably, not even there) were going to undo the initiative there, and certainly not directly. It’s not like the legislature can renege a public initiative based on out-of-state rally turnout. The first goal of protesters, I think, should be to show solidarity with Californian activists and encourage them for what will be a prolonged fight. Events like Saturday’s protests increase connections, brainstorming, and a sense of community, and you can be sure new plans emerged from the day.

Secondly, U.S. protesters may have been flexing their numbers in each locality, reminding their lawmakers that the issue is not dead and (depending on the state) either discouraging lawmakers from passing similar initiatives or standing in defiance of initiatives that had already passed. A distant third possibility I can’t overlook is the gathering of information. Information is just as important for political movements as it is for marketers and militaries; if and when nationwide action is needed, Saturday provided an excellent dry run AND sizable contact lists.

Compare this with the Iraq War protests in 2002 and 2003; the threat of an invasion of Iraq triggered the largest international protest ever, with one European city alone surpassing 3 million in attendance. The cities with the highest attendance were those participating in the invasion coalition and many supporting nations have reduced their participation since – but none pulled out immediately after the protests. As for the US, despite several huge rallies in Washington and other major US cities, the protests did not seem to slow the march toward war.

A colleague of mine is of the opinion that the Vietnam War might have actually ended a little sooner if protests in that era had not been so fractious and antagonizing. He is a trainer of activists and has always stressed that when the goal is to be seen and convince a national audience that you have the moral high ground, your message must be simple and consistent and your messengers must be perfectly behaved.

Of course the most effective use of rallies and protests in US history came during the Civil Rights Era, but they did not come overnight. Marches during the 60’s were only the latest steps in a long, gradual climb dating back to Rosa Parks’ bus defiance in 1955. Direct actions from sit-ins and boycotts helped spark outrage because of the violence police often used against nonviolent protesters. Doing the right thing wasn’t enough reason for many Americans until they saw the consequences on their TVs. While it would be a bit much to say organizers wished for the violence, they did plan for it rather than planning around it. In contrast, violence and suppression at marches over the last ten years or so have been much more sporadic and less extreme.

In the 60’s, boycotts were very effective locally – but again, it didn’t happen overnight. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted just over twelve months – no small duration for a service many people counted upon daily.

With Prop 8, there is discussion of boycott as well, but so far nothing definitive. Individual merchants have been targeted, but the scope of corporate power has altered the landscape of business since the 60’s. While a handful of household names will stick their necks out to support progress, none will allow themselves to be caught opposing it.

So would you boycott a particular company, large or small, over the politics of its founder, even if those politics are not directly related to the business at hand? Here’s a nice, juicy, complicated example:

Although the extent of the support has at times been overstated, the founder and CEO of Curves International (one Gary Heavin, with some credit also given to his wife Diane) is an outspoken ally and financial supporter of pro-life organizations. Yet his company has provided a service, helping women to live healthier lives and even develop camaraderie along the way. Kind of sticky, isn’t it? Is he all evil? All good? Somewhere in-between?

OK, so most men are off the hook on the boycott question, because most of the gyms are women-only, but here’s a further complication to keep you involved: Curves is allied with General Mills to produce cereal bars and possibly other food products bearing the Curves name.

If you are a pro-choice voter, how would/does this color your business with Curves and/or General Mills?

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Who’s Your Scapegoat?

2008.November.14

For those who don’t know, there will be national and international protests of Proposition 8 tomorrow at 12:30pm Central. Visit Join the Impact for more information. North Texas events are taking place in Dallas and Denton, possibly others.

Some of the strongest opponents of Prop 8 have released a letter asking for a little perspective from their allies:

“It is natural to analyze what went wrong. But in recent days there has been a tendency to assign blame to specific communities, in particular, the African American community.” The letter goes on to question early reports about the proportion of African American support for Prop 8. The organizers accurately describe this perspective as a divisive distraction away from the organizers who successfully leveraged passage of Prop 8 with aggressive campaigning. “The fact is, 52 percent of all Californians, the vast majority of whom were not African Americans, voted against us.”

Some commentators have also said that campaigning and funds from the Church of Latter-day Saints (mostly out-of-state) contributed heavily to Prop 8’s passage, which raises church-and-state questions.

But there are also reports of retaliation. Opponents of Prop 8 are using a website that tracks Prop 8 donations to target boycotts, on both personal and community levels. Protests have lead to the resignation of a musical theater director who donated $1,000 in favor of Prop 8. Even Mormons are leaving their famously insular church.

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What Happened in California?

2008.November.7

In the midst of celebration of our next president, a lot of folks feel like they got a mixed bag because California voters passed Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state. The opposition to Prop 8 is refusing to concede and, with several lawsuits pending, there is a possibility the issue is not dead, but many supporters (in California, across the U.S., and even across the Atlantic) are stunned by the outcome. I’m sure even a few opponents were surprised, given the reputation California has for being a liberal bastion,  but it’s never that simple.

Ironically, my best guess is that Tuesday’s biggest victory is tied to Tuesday’s biggest defeat. The biggest reason Prop 8 succeeded was…

the victory of Barack Obama.

And while I hate to say the answer lies in demographics… the answer lies in demographics.

A lot of liberal voters (and I want to distinguish Democratic voters here from the Democratic Party, who I think should have been less surprised and to my knowledge were not directly involved in the ballot initiative) overlook the differences within their own party, especially during an upswing like 2006 and 2008. If Dems are going to win big, they think, surely the policies they like are going to pass as well. If a Democrat is elected president by a significant margin (and Obama won California with 59% of the vote), surely all of the ballot initiatives will go their way also!

But ballot initiatives aren’t part of straight-ticket voting, and they are an opportunity for wedge issues to be culled and highlight the differences between members of a party. That voters in red-turned-blue Colorado and red-as-ever South Dakota turned down initiatives targeting abortion reminds us that wedge issues wield a double-edged sword. Anyway, I’m rambling again. My point is that Democrats take some of their own for granted.

Obama triggered record voter turnout, with many lapsed voters registering for the first time specifically to vote for (or occasionally against) him. Among the block of new voters (and of dutiful ballot-casters as well), there was a huge turnout of voters who are Black and Latino, and they strongly favored of Obama. But those communities (which the Dems so often claim to be looking out for), are actually rather socially conservative, especially among older voters, who are most likely to vote. On this very issue, huge wars of words have occurred under the radar of most media between surviving Civil Rights leaders as to whether Gay Rights were the new civil rights or an abomination to the Civil Rights Movement’s church-value foundation. That question is not realistically answerable. “It is imperative to discuss rights issues without comparing the suffering of one group against that of others.”

So while pundits pontificate on the emerging split in the Republican Party, don’t forget that the Dems have been there before, and will one day be there again.

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