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As president of The Wall Las Memorias Project, Richard Zaldivar is a “local hero” in East Los Angeles. In 2005, the grass-roots organizer received that honor from KCET for bringing the first publicly funded AIDS monument in the nation to the Eastside’s Lincoln Park. During the 12-year effort, he earned the support of church groups, neighborhood councils, mothers groups and unions. Zaldivar, a gay man, was certain the “No on 8” campaign would put him to work and tap into his vast network of gay and straight Latinos.
That never happened. Instead, on his own he volunteered at a phone bank, calling strangers to defeat Proposition 8.
“I drove by the [Our Lady of the Angeles] cathedral on Sunday,” Zaldivar says, “and I saw young people protesting. But they need to hold the gay and lesbian leadership accountable as much as the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church.”
Jeffrey King, a gay man prominent in the African-American community, says the campaign ignored advice from black gay and lesbian activists about counteracting cultural opposition to gay marriage.
“We told them what should be done,” says King, executive director of In The Meantime Men’s Group, a South Los Angeles outreach organization for gay black men, “we told them what they shouldn’t do — and they did what they wanted to do.”
“This clearly is not the time to call black folks out and say we were to blame,” King says. “There was not enough outreach. Period.”
With one exit poll showing 70 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Latinos supporting the ban, and with a Loyola Marymount exit poll showing a split among blacks and Latinos — with many refusing to answer at all — blacks and Latinos are being blamed for helping put Prop. 8 over the top. Only the Mormon Church has been slammed harder, by loud and passionate crowds.
Many say the ban could have been stopped if No on 8, with a chest of $38 million, had developed a strategy to address the cultural divide. Among other problems, it appears that No on 8 hired relatively unknown field organizers in Los Angeles County, where multimillion-dollar ballot measure fights are handled by crack field operatives with statewide experience.
Moof Mayeda, senior field organizer in L.A. County, says they focused almost entirely on phone calls, but she didn't know which racial groups they were calling. Steve Smith, a consultant, chose which voters to call, she says.
Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri Jean, a leader of No on 8, was out of town and could not be reached for comment on why liberal Los Angeles County sided with “Yes on 8.” Inside the city limits, officials reported majorities for the ban in heavily Latino and/or black City Council Districts 1, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 15 represented, respectively, by Ed Reyes, Tony Cardenas, Richard Alarcon, Bernard Parks, Jan Perry and Janice Hahn. In Compton, one newspaper analysis showed 65 percent of Compton voters backed the ban.
“There’s no evidence of any attempt to truly reach out to black and Latino voters,” says Miki Jackson, a white lesbian and gay-rights activist.
Zaldivar adds, “They [the No on 8 campaign] have no clue about grass-roots mobilization.”
Long before Election Day, Rick Jacobs, executive director of the Courage Campaign — a kind of MoveOn.org outfit for California politics — grew concerned. Jacobs, a gay white man, wanted to see a strong outreach effort in the black and Latino communities. His African-American contacts, though, had bad news for him. “The No on 8 campaign was doing nothing,” Jacobs says.
He asked campaign insiders to explain their plans. “I was told they were blanketing [black and Latino] neighborhoods with door [knob] hangers.” Such passive electioneering, “shows a colossal lack of understanding for what is needed to win an election,” according to Jacobs.
Richard Zaldivar and Jeffrey King, in fact, didn’t see a single door hanger in South Los Angeles or East Los Angeles. Geoff Kors, a member of the No on 8 executive committee, says door hangers were used in the Bay Area, but he wasn’t sure about Los Angeles County.
Still, Jacobs says, “You cannot expect to win when the first and only contact is a flat piece of paper.”
The No on 8 campaign made several other key errors in wooing blacks and Latinos. It never held a “big table” meeting, where groups meet to discuss their skills and form a plan of action. Jacobs owns an e-mail list of more than 100,000 people, but no one ever asked him to use his online campaigning skills. When Jacobs realized no bloggers were working for the campaign, he and his small staff blogged every day.
In East L.A., Zaldivar, who once worked as a Los Angeles City Council aide, asked No on 8 staffers why no obvious campaign effort was under way in Latino areas; he was told the Latino vote “wasn’t a priority.”
“If Latinos were playing such an important role "in the presidential campaign,” Zaldivar says, “what was the No on 8 strategy?”
Three weeks before Election Day, a No on 8 office was finally opened in East L.A. but not by the No on 8 campaign. It was operated by a Latino group called Honor PAC, which raises money for gay and gay-friendly Latinos.
Says Luis Lopez, of Honor PAC, “We were not a part of the campaign. We were not a part of the planning. So we asked ourselves what could we do.”
The office drew more than 500 volunteers and made more than 10,000 phone calls. Honor PAC reached out to every Latino politician in California, asking for their endorsements.
No on 8 political director Yvette Martinez insisted to L.A. Weekly that the Honor PAC office was, in fact, a No on 8 operation and blames a “lack of resources” for not opening it earlier. Not so, says Lopez, who describes the office as an “in kind contribution” to the No on 8 campaign. No on 8 did pay for some phones and materials, Lopez says, but Honor PAC ran it, not No on 8.
Martinez later amended her claim, saying the East L.A. office was a “joint effort.” Under the gun for what appears to be a failure to address black and Latino opposition to gay marriage, Martinez is defensive. She describes Zaldivar’s accusations as “false” and “untrue,” and then accuses him of working for the No on 8 campaign, by making calls and hitting the streets. Zaldivar, taken aback, says he jumped in on a volunteer basis. “I did whatever I could to stop Proposition 8,” he says.
In South Los Angeles, Jeffrey King and other activists talked with No on 8 staffers about how to approach black churches. “We said, ‘You can’t go in and tell churches to change their doctrine.’?” He and fellow activists advised campaign leaders to stop comparing the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement.
“People feel you minimize their experience, which took place over hundreds and hundreds of years, to a relatively new movement,” King explains. Instead of heeding the advice, the No on 8 campaign, according to King, stopped working with them.
“They knew they needed to work with us,” he says, “and they didn’t. They went over us.”
King thinks the No on 8 campaign gave up on wooing blacks, despite knowing Barack Obama was going to generate a huge African-American turnout. “They should have targeted the black vote no matter what, because of Obama,” King says.
Martinez referred questions about No on 8’s strategy with black voters to Andrea Shorter in San Francisco. Shorter said she was a volunteer, only in the Bay Area and knew nothing about black-voter outreach in Southern California.
Kors, based in San Francisco, says Zaldivar and King have it wrong. “(The black and Latino votes) were always a focus of our work,” he says. But, “In the short span of a campaign, your decisions are based on what voters you can move.”
Miki Jackson believes the No on 8 campaign “ran the campaign in an elitist way .??... They didn’t do any outreach, it was remarkably insular, and there was an enormous amount of preaching to the choir.” Zaldivar and King also used the word “elitist” to describe what they saw.
Jacobs wants Jean, Kors and the full No on 8 executive committee to take some blame. “Yes, there were lies and deceptions by the other side, but the leaders of the [No on 8] campaign have an obligation to say they messed up,” Jacobs asserts.
Zaldivar says the leaders of No on 8, “need to take ownership of the election results. They should not blame anybody but themselves.”
Max Taves also contributed to this story.