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Lowe himself plans to organize a campaign committee of grass-roots groups and mainstream organizations by the end of June. “We want to make sure not only that people have a seat at the table,” he says, “but groups in rural areas have access to money and campaigning tools.” Then, in July, Yes on Equality wants to hire a campaign manager, after full input from the newly created campaign committee. “We want to create a team as quickly as possible because we know that every day matters at this point,” says Lowe.
Solomon, in the meantime, says Equality California “isn’t going to introduce its own ballot language.” But he believes relative newcomer Lowe may be getting ahead of himself. “We need a strong plan for campaign structure,” says Solomon. “I don’t think we’re at a place to discuss structure yet.”
When asked by the Weekly if Courage Campaign would write its own ballot-measure language, and if Sacramento-based Yes on Equality is suddenly in a unique power position, Rick Jacobs replied in an e-mail: “We are going to work with the community to take back our rights. This is not the province of any one organization. Courage [Campaign] exists solely to empower the grass-roots and net roots, to build the movement.”
David Mixner, longtime gay-rights activist and Democratic political insider, has won important gay-rights battles in his time. In 1978, he was the statewide campaign consultant for the effort that defeated, with the help of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California’s public schools. In 1986, Mixner was a senior adviser for the successful campaign that stopped California’s Proposition 64, which gay-rights activists said would have forced people with HIV/AIDS into quarantine. Mixner now lives in New York state. He stays in touch with gay-rights leaders in California, and though he’s something of an outside observer, he still has ideas about how an effective pro–gay marriage campaign should be run.
“We need a first-rate media campaign,” says Mixner, backed up by a “massive” grass-roots effort. “We need to go out to San Bernardino and introduce ourselves.” But, the activist warns, the first political ads should steer completely away from messages that make the gay community “feel good” or try to convince the public that they should like gays and lesbians.
“You can have gay people in the ads,” Mixner says, “but the message they deliver is important. It’s not about liking us. We so often make the mistake that we need people to like us, but it’s really about getting their vote. Harvey Milk understood this. It’s all about winning.” Mixner suggests that the first political ads should make voters feel as if they have a vested interest in the outcome of the campaign. “We have to make sure that they understand that if we lose, they lose,” he says.
Darry Sragow, the Los Angeles–based Democratic consultant, wholly agrees. “There’s a tendency to preach to the choir. Don’t do that.” And while he believes that grass-roots outreach is needed, Sragow also says it’s extremely difficult in a large and diverse state like California. “Grass-roots is important,” he says, “but how do you do that? It’s very hard because you need to talk with the right people, the 10 or 15 percent of the people who haven’t made up their minds.”
Marc Solomon, who’s new to California politics, says, “We need to have thousands of conversations at people’s doorsteps.” His idea of effective messaging tends to fall on the feel-good side. “The message is about the truth,” he says. “That same-sex couples want to get married because they are committed to each other and they don’t want anything different from any other family.”
Interestingly, Matthew Mishory, a 20-something L.A. film director who independently made online political ads for the “No on 8” cause, is exploring a message that’s closer to Mixner’s. “We need to engage people with the tangible results of their votes,” Mishory says. “If [anti–gay marriage forces] talk about harm to schoolchildren, we should talk about children and show people that their children may some day need LGBT rights. If they talk about families, then we need to talk about families and how they are going to be harmed.”
Mishory adds, “I don’t think many of the people who voted against us necessarily understood what their votes meant to their gay neighbors or family members.”
But if they’re to have a hope of winning, these groups must fend off tough political ads and be ready for smart moves by anti–gay marriage forces, who are already flexing their muscle by drawing 3,000 demonstrators to Fresno last Sunday — just one day after the “Meet in the Middle” rally.