This book is based on our experiences in Idaho in 1994 fighting Proposition 1, which was a Christian Right sponsored ballot initiative that sought to institutionalize discrimination and hate against the queer community.
In the fall of 1993, the New York Lesbian Avengers went to Lewiston, Maine to work with local lesbian and gay activists against the Christian Right initiative to repeal Lewiston's anti-discrimination ordinance. We had experience in political organizing against the Christian Right, but hadn't done anti-initiative organizing in a small town. We definitely made some mistakes. The biggest one was agreeing to support the mainstream campaign against the initiative. What we didn't know was that this organization was alienating many lesbians and gay men in the town by asking them to stay in the closet and by giving them no political input or decision-making power. This was being done in the name of "campaign strategy".
We quickly fell into conflict with Equal Protection Lewiston over its support of the closet, and eventually split off from the organization to work with independent lesbian and gay activists in Lewiston. We learned a lot fromand withthese smart and courageous organizers. We learned what it meant to coordinate a door-to-door canvassing effort in the town's low-income district; how to pull off a lesbian and gay "roundtable discussion" whose speakers were so powerful that audience members started unexpectedly coming out in front of the TV cameras; and what it felt like to watch previously closeted teachers, diner owners, and teenagers march down the street together for the first time in their lives.
Our mistakes in Lewiston taught us a lot about campaigns and politics. But it was our successful experiences with local activists that really inspired us, because these gave us a glimpse of what an out, proud, and courageous movement against the Christian Right could look like. It was this inspiration that led us, in January of 1994, to form The Lesbian Avengers Civil Rights Organizing Project (LACROP) as a working group of the New York Lesbian Avengers.
The idea was for LACROP to focus on national mobilization against the onslaught of statewide anti-lesbian and -gay initiatives promoted by the Christian Right. At that point, while we all knew that what we were after was the magical sight of powerful, out dykes fighting back, we just weren't sure what that meant logistically. So we picked up the phone and started calling around to find out.
We looked under every rock and road map and sure enough we were everywhere. As we gathered information from dykes in each state facing the possibility of a ballot initiative that campaign year (Arizona, California, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington), it became clear that in each case there was one unified state-wide campaign which had almost all the money and resources available in that state. These state-wide campaigns often shared a mainstream political vision which did not include or even permit any other kinds of organizing. We found that there were plenty of dykes wanting to do out, visible grassroots organizing, but they had no support. Many saw their only options as (1) to work within the tightly controlled framework of the mainstream campaigns (one state-wide campaign actually required volunteers to sign agreements about what they would and wouldn't say and do during the campaign), or (2) to try to work on their own without the benefit of any of the resources money, research materials, skills, and support systems that were provided by national mainstream lesbian and gay individuals and organizations.
These dykes, who wanted to fight the initiatives without giving up their political style or independence, were under siege twice: once by the Christian Right, which deliberately chose to target regions where queers were isolated and had relatively small support systems, and again by the mainstream campaigns, which wanted to control the strategy for everyone and were not willing to share what scarce resources there were.
As we talked with these activists more, we realized that we had access to many of the resources they lacked. We could effectively fundraise and do leg-work, like preliminary research, gathering equipment, office supplies, and supportive mailing lists, without taking resources away from the state fighting the initiative. As political activists with organizing experience in New York and Maine, we had certain skills, experiences, and contacts to offer. And we knew what we didn't want to doquickie workshops that just told people what to do and then left town. We wanted to offer long-term, day-to-day support that would allow us to work with local activists, and would create an atmosphere of mutual learning and political growth for the duration of the campaign and beyond. Finally our project began to take shape.
With this plan in mind, we embarked on an intense six month, two-pronged effort to send some dykes from New York to work with and support dykes in one of the states under siege. Our initial work was divided between fundraising and research. Those six months of preparation in New York made it painfully clear just how much work (beyond your actual paying job) goes into fighting these things. From January to June we fundraised incessantly through direct mail, benefits, parties, occasional pleading at the office, begging from our friends, passing hats at dyke bars, you name it. We also made about a million phone calls to lesbians in the six targeted states, read everything we could get our hands on concerning the Christian Right, and met other organizers while running workshops in New York, Arizona, Georgia and Oregon. We were in touch with so many dykes fighting the right around the country that we were able to create a manifesto representing a sample of our voices and strategies. We used the opportunity of the 25th anniversary of Stonewall held in New York in June 1994, to distribute 5000 Dyke Manifestos alerting people to the realities of anti-lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual / transgendered initiatives. Whew!
At this point, we'd informally like to thank Citibank, AC&R Advertising, Scholastic Books, CUNY University Graduate School and a host of others who will remain in the closet, so to speak, for all the computer time, copy machine (and paper) use, paper clips, phone calls, stamps, and yes, sometimes, salaries paid to dykes doing basically nothing but organizing on corporate time and money.
By July of 1994, there were only two states with initiatives on the ballotOregon and Idaho. The very strong and active Portland chapter of the Lesbian Avengers asked us to come out and support them. They'd lived through the similar Measure 9, two years before, so they knew what they were up against and welcomed additional support. Although we did end up making numerous trips to Oregon to support specific projects and actions, in the end it was the small and extremely determined Palouse chapter of the Lesbian Avengers that convinced us we were needed for the long haul in northern Idaho. They had formed just weeks before our initial probing into the Idaho activist scene, and their vision was strikingly close to ours. After an exciting telephone conversation, two of us traveled to Moscow, Idaho to meet five of these courageous women. Within a few hours there was no doubt we'd found our new home.
Already exhausted but still full of hope, we quit our jobs, left our girlfriends, climbed into cars with total strangers and went west. Eight long-term and ten short-term LACROP activists journeyed to Moscow, Idaho where we were formally invited by the local Palouse Lesbian Avengers to support them in their fight against the Idaho Citizens Alliance's Proposition One.
After four long, hopeful, torturous, fulfilling, grueling and rewarding months, the Proposition was finally defeated by a narrow margin (less than one percent). The three northern counties where LACROP concentrated our efforts, however, defeated it by considerably higher percentages than the average Idaho vote, indicating that out-and-proud organizing and victory at the polls are not conflicting or exclusive projects. Now, after a year of reflection, we've put together what we hope to be a helpful account of the work we did in Idaho.
Although many of our initial goals and strategies bent, and even broke, in the actual process of on-site organizing, we did maintain the following five basic premises, which are the foundation of all our work:
1. It is vital to organize as OUT LESBIANS when working both within our own communities and against the Christian Right. The Christian Right has been very successful in using the closet against us. When their messages are about "the homosexual agenda" and we respond with de-gayed messages like "no government intervention in private lives" or "no censorship", we look not only ashamed, but dishonest. Voters are unlikely to stand up for the rights of an invisible community.
Beyond initiative elections, being out is a must for organizing in our own communities. One out lesbian can inspire countless other lesbians. Five out lesbians can have a successful direct action. Ten out lesbians can effectively door to door canvass an entire town about an issue. A million out lesbians...well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
In addition to being out, we place a lot of importance on working with a core group of dykes, since lesbians have traditionally been excluded or disempowered in lesbian/gay struggles. We realize that many people, especially in rural areas, will be working in a mixed core group, but we always look for a focus on lesbian empowerment and lesbian visibility. We are a lesbian group with a commitment to lesbian leadership in all our projects and actions. That's our bottom line.
2. People are different. We are most effective when we work with people who share our basic ethical and political perspective, instead of trying to pressure everyone into a single strategy or single organization. We believe that there are hundreds of ways of organizing and just as many approaches to fighting the Right. We don't require our allies to agree with us on every subject, but to get things accomplished, it makes sense for us to focus our support on working with people who are committed to doing out, visible, grassroots organizing. This is the kind of work we believe in and at which we can be most helpful. We do not work with groups that we fundamentally disagree with. All lesbians, gay men and straight progressives simply do not need to work in the same campaign organization. If people disagree strongly about strategy, they should work in different groups. It is a waste of time, not to mention emotional energy, to try and argue everyone into consensus; what inevitably happens is that some peopleusually those without resources and/or confidencesimply give up and others end up determining the strategy.
3. We must challenge racism and classism concretelyin our organizing efforts. The Christian Right targets low-income communities, rural areas, and communities of color. They capitalize on economic depression and on social and political disenfranchisement by using propaganda which says that lesbians and gay men constitute a politically and economically powerful interest group seeking "special rights". They suggest that civil rights are a finite set of privileges if (presumably white, middle-class) gays and lesbians get their piece of the pie, then (presumably straight) people of color or low-income people will not get theirs. In this worldview, there are no lesbians and gay men of color. In addition, it implies that "rights" come in a fixed quantitythere's only so many to go around, so we should all fight over them.
Many traditional campaign groups have been unable or unwilling to confront this strategy. They have virtually ignored low-income and rural regions and communities of color based on the assumption that these communities are not valuable voting blocksthey're too small, too dispersed, too homophobic, or they're probably not registered or willing to register to vote, anyway. Dykes and fags who live in these areas are ignored. Addressing and challenging the racism and classism of the Christian Right is one way to dispel the "special rights" rhetoric for the smoke screen it is. Remember, the Christian Right is banking on the old divide and conquer strategy. We can't afford to buy into it.
This also means that we do not "whitewash" our communities. Some campaigns encourage only certain, "respectable", lesbian and gay people to come out to the public. As we wrote in our 1994 "Out Against the Right" Manifesto, "We will not accept superficial legal rights for some lesbians and gay men at the expense of real human rights for all of us. Butch, femme, and androgynous dykes, lesbians and gay men of color, drag queens, lesbian and gay youth, transsexuals, people with AIDS, lesbians and gays with disabilities, and rural lesbians and gay men will not be sacrificed in the name of 'campaign strategy'."
4. There is more than one message. Campaigns can and have been won by lots of different lesbians doing lots of different things with lots of different messages. If a dyke has a message that's important to her (about how hard it was to come out to her family, how she lost her job, what it's like to be a logger and a lesbian, how as a lesbian librarian she can really talk about the evils of censorship...whatever), she needs to be able to express that message.
Highly centralized, volunteerist campaigns ask that queers stick to the message they've come up with by paying lots of money to pollsters. They ask that we put off our long term goals of mobilizing and strengthening our community in favor of the short term objective of winning the vote. Silencing members of our own community who wish to express what the campaign means to them as people who will have to live with it's results is unfair and as we will argue in a later chapter, ineffective.
Lesbians in local communities can and should organize their own campaigns and/or actions in whatever ways they choose- even though bigger, more traditional, better-funded groups often insist that their way is the only way, and use tired rhetoric about "experts" and "professionals" to pressure everyone else into agreeing with them. In fact, anyone can go door to door, plan an action, have a rally, or flyer a town.
5. It is crucial that lesbians around the country share resources, experiences and support. The forces against us are huge, well-organized and long-term. We cannot expect to take them on alone. This handbook is intended to be one of a growing number of resources available to dykes around the country, who are looking for ideas while forming their own strategies for action. In it, we've included lots of ideas and tactics that have worked for us. They are not necessarily the best ways and certainly not the only ways of doing this kind of work but they are all things anyone can try in one way or another without any more knowledge than we provide here.
Section 1 is the core of our handbookthe "How-To" of fighting an anti-lesbian initiative. As discussed in our introduction, our basic campaign strategy is to put voters in direct and repeated contact with lesbians and gay men. All of the projects in this section contribute in some way to this strategy. So while some of our projects, such as door-to-door canvassing, are also done by traditional campaigns, ours have a different focusto put lesbians and gay men on people's doorsteps. So, for example, we usually make a rule that at least one out lesbian or gay man should be in each canvassing pair.
We have divided our campaign tactics into four broad categories. The first, Direct Action for Visibility, goes step-by-step through the process of pulling off a fabulous, no-apologies actionthe heart and soul of Lesbian Avenger organizing, good for all seasons. It then follows up with a discussion of some special visibility "issues"such as what to do when the mainstream campaign blames you for homophobic "backlash", and how to keep as safe as possible.
The second discusses some special events that incorporate visibility, but have a different focus than a visibility action and are more specific to fighting anti-lesbian initiatives. They include how to organize counter-attacks when the bigots come to town, how to plan a powerful forum where lesbians and gay men can come out to the media and the public, and how to organize a rally, concert or fair.
The third section deals with direct voter contact and mobilization, focusing particularly on door-to-door canvassing and door-to-door literature drops.
Finally, we finish Section 1 with a discussion of how to find allies and how to create and maintain working relationships with them, especially with other political organizations and small businesses in your town or neighborhood.
At the height of the Proposition One battle in northern Idaho, 40 activists staged a "Lesbian and Gay Freedom Picnic" at the Latah County Fair. Surrounded by lesbian and gay visibility banners on one side and pig barns on the other, dykes square danced and fags ate corn-on-the-cob as fairgoers looked on in surprise.
At the violent and homophobic nightclub Xenon in downtown Moscow, 45 lesbians and gay men showed up on a crowded Saturday night and held an all night "dance-in. Over the course of the night we slowly edged the straight dancers out of the way until the dance floor and the multiple stages surrounding it were almost completely filled by queer bodies.
On November 7, during the long evening's wait for Proposition One vote results in Idaho, members of the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society, Maia and Monty, set to work at the sewing machine. The bundles of pink fabric piled upon the window ledge were quickly transformed into a double sided triangle over a hundred feet wide. Lewiston Hill, which towers over the town, was adorned early the next morning with this gigantic symbol of lesbian and gay victory.
Direct action focused on lesbian and gay visibility is the center of our organizing strategy. It builds community, empowers lesbians and gay men, recruits people into the movement, educates the straight community, and demonstrates political strength. It's also really fun.
There are many reasons and many ways to plan a visibility action. Within the context of anti-initiative organizing, challenging the closet for its own sake can be an effective organizing method. We can make a powerful statement simply by being places we're not supposed to be. So when planning an action, don't worry if it's focused on something specific to the initiative or not. The point is for folks to see lesbians and gay men acting up, being proud and claiming our spaces. We think it may help us in the vote--whether people like our action or not, lots of visibility does shift the terms of debate in ways that most people won't acknowledge. It makes it impossible to deny our humanity, if nothing else. And it definitely will create more queer space in your town.
Diligently following local news is crucial easy targets for actions will jump out at you, begging to be zapped. Make sure at least one or two people in your group are checking all news sources regularly.
When there are no current news stories providing obvious action ideas, you can brainstorm for less obvious ones. One approach is to start with a discussion of safe and unsafe spaces for local lesbians in the community. Are there businesses, cafes, bars, parks, or particular organizations where queers are either unwelcome or explicitly harassed?
For example, in Moscow, Idaho a brainstorming session of the Palouse Lesbian Avengers called our attention to the fact that the local Latah County Fair was historically an unfriendly or even hostile event for lesbians and gay men to attend. Members of the group shared stories of violence perpetuated against them and their friends at this event, and the group concluded that something had to be done.
Sometimes ideas are generated simply by keeping your eyes open. In Moscow, the centrally located "Xenon" billed itself as the "Ferrari of nightclubs. Draped over the entrance was a banner declaring the Grand Opening (they had a grand opening every year). We began chatting about the spectacle amongst ourselves until we happily imagined flyering the town with the announcement: "Welcome to the grand opening of Xenon, Moscow's first queer nightclub."
Once you've had your organizing vision, you need to figure out how to implement it. Many actions fall apart right at the beginning poor organizing at this stage can mean that crucial things get left out, some people get burdened with all the work, or there's no communication between different committees, etc.
One method we use is to select one or two co-coordinators who are responsible for communication among group members, and for keeping track of who's doing what by when. These co-coordinators simply keep a list of everyone who's agreed to do something, and call these people now and then to make sure it's getting done.
Next we divide up everything that needs to be done and see who wants to do it. The variety of tasks might include: research and reconnaissance, media, visuals, marshals and legal observers, graphics, and flyering. Some of these, such as media and flyering, are covered in other chapters of the handbook (see "Getting the Word Out"). Those that aren't are discussed below.
Careful research is always an important element in planning a visibility action. Direct, specific zaps require correct information about the group/place/person you are targeting.
Plan a reconnaissance of your action location. It's best to investigate at a time that will be similar to your action time in terms of the crowd, security, light, etc. Go with a few people; draw the area on paper so you can show the rest of the group. If possible, take pictures.
If you're targeting a person, find exact quotes of homophobic things they've said or policies they've supported. Put these on your flyers or fact sheets. If you think they're homophobic but don't have proof, call them up and ask them leading questions.
Resources such as statistics on violence or suicide can be found with your state anti-violence project or lesbian and gay center. If you don't have one of these, try the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C.
Formulating clear, easily understandable messages is an important step in your planning process. The impact of the action will not be as strong as it could be unless people understand why you are doing what you are doing. This does not mean restricting everyone to a single message! This means having a clear goal, and deliberately considering how to translate it into striking visual props. The creation of visuals (banners, posters, flyers, costumes, sets, free gifts) is crucial to conveying your message. Good visuals not only attract media and crowds, but make the point of your action clear and memorable. The more creative, witty and original the better.
Several meetings were spent planning the Latah County Fair Freedom Picnic. We knew we wanted to create a large lesbian and gay presence at the Fair and distribute information about the queer bashing of previous years. The question was: how would we get the information out there? We wanted to capture people's attention and find a more unusual solution than the typical leafleting approach. The Palouse Avengers came up with the idea of handing out Hershey's kisses along with cards which on one side read, "For the last 12 years lesbians and gay men have been threatened, harassed, and beaten at the Latah County Fair. Stop the Violence, Stop the Hate," and on the other side asked, "How about a kiss instead?" The section of the lawn on which the picnic took place was framed by a large and visible Lesbian Avengers banner on one side, and on the other sides by posters with messages like 'Latah County Lesbian and Gay Freedom Picnic' and 'Bigots Beware, Queers Take Back the Fair.
Be as creative with sound as you are with visuals. Avoid boring speeches. If you're going to chant, have a small group of people get together and think up creative and original chants; type them up and distribute them at the action. Songs might be more interesting, especially familiar tunes re-written for the occasion. For more creative and/or disruptive sound effects, add a marching band or rhythm section, with real instruments or simple sound-makers like trash can lids and tin cans filled with pennies.
In both rural and urban areas, the safety of activists should always be planned for before the event. For large street demonstrations, pre-action planning may involve marshal and legal observer training. Actions involving potential arrest will also require civil disobedience training, lawyers, and support sheets.
For actions where no arrests are expected , all potential trouble should be considered within the process of planning for the action. Make contingency plans. But be careful of getting so caught up in possible dangers that you talk yourself out of the action.
The following suggestions can apply to most actions.
Stay in groups or, at a minimum, in pairs.
Assign coordinators whose job it is to keep track of who is going what, and where.
Our dance-in at the homophobic and traditionally violent nightclub Xenon is a good example of a non-arrest type of action that had major safety concerns. Prior to the action, many people in the community thought we were irrational for even thinking of doing it. We decided to go ahead, but were careful to strictly implement the above three guidelines. Before the action, we carefully scoped out the space (how many floors, where are the bathrooms, etc.), and the general crowd was assessed (are folks particularly drunk; are there any signs of violent behavior?). Everyone met together before the action, and went to Xenon in groups of at least five or six. A pre-action meeting set down the action guidelines, in which people were told to stay together, especially including not going off to the restroom alone, and to not leave until the action was over, when everyone would leave as a group. Coordinators were assigned to keep track of what was going on at all times. The night ended without any trouble. The forty demonstrators danced alongside the two-hundred regular attendees, with the most direct interaction being a question such as "Are you gay too?"
(For more in depth tips on Direct Action see The Lesbian Avenger Handbook: A Handy Guide to Homemade Revolution.)
No matter where you go there are going to be people who feel more able to be "out" and "visible" than others. This doesn't have to hinder the possibilities for visibility events. For example, if there are some members of your group who do not feel comfortable picnicking alongside lesbian banners at your local fair, but there are others that do, there are still ways for everyone to participate in the event.
At our Lesbian and Gay Freedom Picnic, activists could simply attend the picnic, sit by the banner and get some food, or they could participate in handing out cards and Hershey Kisses later in the afternoon. Even before the event, there are many ways to participate in an action: banners need to be made, media needs to be handled, food needs to be prepared. There is always more work to be done, so everyone should be encouraged to participate in whatever capacity they can.
Furthermore, visibility events do not always require a human presence. The 100-foot pink triangle put up by the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society worked well as a "day after" visibility action. The entire town was talking about the mysterious symbol for a week, speculating about who had put it up, and what it was all about. And that was before we took out a Lost and Found ad in the Lewiston Tribune, reading "LOST: 100-ft pink triangle, last seen on Lewiston Hill. Please contact the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society at XXX-XXXX." Other visual symbols, such as highway signs, wheat pasted visuals, billboards, and public statues, can also be put up in the middle of the night.
Make sure people always know where you are.
Use marshals, legal observers and lawyers at actions.
Travel in groups
Never publicize addresses, consider seriously before publicizing phone numbers.
Talk to each other about your fears.
When you make the decision to be visible and out as dykes, no matter where you live, you are definitely taking a risk. Lesbians and gay men are targets not only of the organized right-wing, but of homophobic individuals, the police, and the FBI, to name only a few of our enemies. Obviously, those of us who can be out have to take that risk because we are never going to make change if we all remain closeted. And being closeted does not necessarily mean you are safe from harm; coming out can prevent a caught-you-red-handed sort of attack. One of the first steps towards keeping ourselves safe is to be realistic about the dangers. Then we can do as much as we can to keep ourselves safe without becoming too focused on it.
Lesbians and gay men have been and are targets of verbal and physical assault, and have also been killed when there is no anti-lesbian and gay initiative campaign in progress. However, such a campaign gives license to and spurs homophobic violence. Hattie Mae Cohens and Brian Mock were burned to death when some Neo-Nazi skinheads threw a molotov cocktail into their basement apartment in Oregon during the campaign there. In Idaho during Proposition One, people's cars were vandalized and a pipe-bomb was thrown at a lesbian couple's house (it missed and exploded in their lawn). Lesbian Avengers in Portland, Oregon had Neo-Nazi skinheads stand outside of their meeting place surveilling them with video cameras. A high number of people with "No" bumper stickers were pulled over by police in Idaho and Maine. Even without an initiative, police have historically acted abusively towards us at demonstrations or even when we report a crime. The FBI has used various surveillance techniques against lesbian and gay political groups for many years and has also used tactics of internal disruption to split them apart. Groups have had their offices broken into and lists of members stolen. The list is endless and we can't give advice on everything. Instead we can make suggestions and you can decide for yourselves what you want to do.
Figure out how you can keep yourselves as safe as possible. Do your work in pairs. For example, if you are putting up lawn signs or wheatpasting posters, one person can do the work while the other acts as a look-out. Let other people know when you are going out to do initiative work, and find out who will be home if you need to call them. When people go out canvassing or to do literature drops someone should be stationed at a particular place and everyone should have their phone number. When the work is finished people should call in or come to the central location to check in. When you do actions you should train people as marshals, have legal observers, and have a lawyer on hand or on call.
Use reasonable security at your meeting places. A couple of dykes should always be at the door when you have a public meeting or host a social event. When women leave your meeting place or an event they should go in groups, even if it is just to the parking lot. You can provide escorts for women who are leaving alone, at least until they get to their car or to public transportation. If you keep lists of members or supporters, keep them in a secure place. In some areas of the country, offices have been broken into, lists have been stolen and people have been outed by phone calls to their employers or families.
Never put anyone's address on a flyer use a post-office box. When possible, avoid publicizing home numbers by getting a voice mail number. Don't put someone's phone number or address on your voice mail message; ask the caller to leave their name and phone number and call them back. When you call back, trust your intuition if you think they sound phony. Most times, a crank caller won't leave their number in the first place. If you do get a call at your home or headquarters from someone claiming to be interested in an event but seems suspicious, ask for a number and say youll have someone call back. If they're not legit they'll hang up. If you get harassing or threatening calls on your voice mail (or on any other phone), keep a copy of the tape, let the phone company know, and if there is a local Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Protect let them know as well. If you think it is necessary, you can also let the police know.
As far as government surveillance, there is no way that you are going to stop it from happening if it is going on. The best you can do is ignore it. However, if you want to do some action which requires surprise as part of its impact, don't discuss it on the phone. Only talk about it to each other in person. This will cut down on the possibility that law enforcement people will know about it in advance. On the other hand, most of your actions will be in public places and you will be advertising publicly, so don't get riled up about the fact that the police may know about it they can read your posters and flyers too.
If you run a public event or meet in a public place, there is no way you can keep most people out, although you can make it uncomfortable for them to be there. Good facilitation can minimize an interloper's disruption. And while running secret meetings or holding meetings or events in private homes might seem like a solution, the very people you want to find you other dykes will not know where you are either. Remember, you don't ever know all the people who will be important to your project. If some people come to your meeting and stand outside surveilling you with video cameras, get your own video people and turn the cameras on them they will usually leave. The same tactic works well with police video surveillance (or violence) at demonstrations. Above all, be realistic about the danger, talk to each other about your fears, and figure out how you can support one another and keep each other as safe as possible.
History, not to mention our own life experiences, proves that the theory that violence and increased levels of hatred are the results of pride and visibility is absolutely wrong. It is what the right-wing says to justify their behavior against us, and to keep us from coming out. Yet segments of our own communities as well as some well-meaning straight supporters still invoke such theories in an attempting to block direct action activists. No matter who uses the argument, it is all about blaming the victim.
The right-wing usually campaigns against us when we are gaining political ground. So in some ways, we can see their attacks against us as evidence that we are doing something right: we are posing a threat to their homophobic values and actions. Whenever we directly confront their homophobic legislation or actions, they attack again. However, we also know that they attack us when we have done absolutely nothing just because of who we are.
When you are being guilt-tripped or told that you will be responsible for any backlash (or, as we discussed earlier, blamed if an anti-lesbian, anti-gay initiative passes), keep in mind that you are not responsible for the homophobia in the world. There is nothing that lesbians and gay people have done to justify the violence and discrimination we are faced with. We do not have to walk, talk, or act in a particular way in order to be guaranteed the same rights as other people in this country and world. On the contrary, the basic premise of civil rights is that we are entitled to them on the basis of our group membership and do not have to earn them by individual good behavior.
It is hard to keep this in mind, especially when the blaming comes from other lesbians and gay men. There are a variety of reasons why other lesbians and gay men, as individuals or groups, blame direct action activists for homophobic backlash. Some truly believe that their way is the only way. They have a right to believe that, but they do not have the right to tell us what to think or how to behave. Others are political opportunists who gain stature for themselves by claiming to be the "leaders" of the lesbian and gay community. By claiming leadership they imply that they have control over us. But when we do something unruly which may put them on the spot, they lose stature. It becomes obvious that they are not leaders, and they do not control us. And, when some of our straight "supporters" say that shameless visibility will ruin the movement, we have to suspect homophobia, since even the most well-intentioned straight folks have been well trained to be homophobic in this society. Attempts of lesbian and gay organizers to assert power over other organizers in the midst of a right-wing onslaught can be extremely debilitating, politically and emotionally. When they're telling you your shamelessness will damage the movement, it's even harder to swallow.
Some concerns of your allies may be less motivated by expressions of power. For example, other people might tell you not to do an action because it will bring about the wrath of the right-wing or because you will lose straight supporters; they may even say publicly that you are responsible for some violence against a lesbian or gay man because you did a particular action. They might tell you not to do some action because they are negotiating behind the scenes and you will "ruin everything." When lesbians and gay men in your communities say these thing to you, it is a fine idea to think about the particular instance. You may be wrong about your target or tactics for that particular action; on the other hand, re-affirming your decision by consciously thinking it through again can be clarifying. You might even decide to change your plans. However, usually you are not on the wrong track. It is simply that this is not the way your critics are going about their work and they don't want another voice or perspective to be heard. Don't be guilt-tripped into believing that they know how to achieve our goals and you don't. Always remind yourselves that lesbians and gay men are not responsible for the homophobia in the world or for any particular homophobic assault or action.
One significant part of our organizing strategy is creating anti-initiative focused events that also support and promote lesbian and gay visibility. These events include those that expose right-wing activities or strategies, those that allow individuals to speak to the media and the public about what the initiative means for their lives, and those which bring many diverse people together to enjoy themselves, donate money, and inspire others with their impressive display of community. In this section, we will discuss how to organize three types of special campaign events:
Rallies, Concerts, Fairs
These are not the only anti-initiative events a group could organize. These examples cover a range of possibilities and show how even traditional campaign events can be done creatively using a visible, grassroots strategy. You can take it from here and invent your own.
When the Bad Guys Come to Town: Organizing an Anti-Right Wing Action
We do not believe in leaving the anti-lesbian and -gay forces alone to set the terms of the debate. In Moscow, Idaho, every time the Idaho Citizens Alliance (ICA) chairman Kelly Walton and his flunkies showed up, we were on their tails. Sometimes our goal was to overwhelmingly outnumber them and make it look like they had no support. Sometimes it was to show connections between their anti-gay agenda and other issues affecting the area, such as white-supremacist movements or union blocking. Sometimes our goal was to keep everyone aware of their activities so they would have to answer for what they did. And sometimes it was to remind the public of the bigoted intentions behind their family-oriented rhetoric.
Our Crowd Is Bigger Than Yours Is
When a debate was organized in Moscow between the "No" and "Yes" sides of the initiative, we activated our giant phone tree, urging people to show up en masse. Then we made dramatic flyers targeted to our supporters, announcing that Kelly Walton was in town and coming to the debate, and we spent two days flyering the entire town. On the flyer, we listed the time as 6:00, although the forum didn't start until 6:30. This ensured that our supporters would fill the seats first.
As "No" people began filing in at 6:00, we were at the doorway handing out "No on One" stickers, buttons, and support signs. By the time the forum began at 6:30, it was packed solid with hundreds of our supporters and decorated to the hilt with colorful "No on One" propaganda. Every time a speaker said something we disagreed with, the entire audience raised signs saying "No Lesbian Bashing. No on One." and "No Banned Books. No on One." The couple dozen ICA supporters who showed up had to stand in the hallway. The press covered the event extensively, commenting that it was more like a No on One rally than a debate.
Get Them the Hell Out of Dodge
At other times, we organized direct protests of the right wing. When Kelly Walton first showed up in town, claiming he was going to "take Moscow back, we organized a street protest of 20-30 people. We carried signs and chanted on the town's Main Street, creating a very visible disturbance. Our signs and our chants accused the ICA of being antigay and racist. When we found out Kelly Walton was at a local Christian bookstore conducting a workshop, we marched to him, deliberately passing by the local newspaper office, and chanted in front of the store. This action was really exciting for people who had never done a street protest before, and it was a visible and dramatic way to show the public that Kelly Walton wasn't welcome by at least part of the town.
When the ICA convened in the town park to distribute literature to volunteers for their townwide literature drop, we were there. Two hundred "No on One" supporters, recruited mostly from a lesbian/gay dance the night before where we handed out palm cards, stood in a semicircle around the rally. We were silent as the ICA speakers gave instructions on the lit drop. Silence can be powerful, and it definitely made for a tense rally. Our pro-queer signs not only had a dampening effect on the rally, but destroyed their plan to take a group photo of the gathering for their next newspaper ad.
To Organize a Counterattack: Tips
Use phone trees and flyering to get people to the action.
Have a pre-action meeting directly before the action to discuss the purpose and strategy. Will it be silent or will you chant? Will you follow them or not? Also make sure everyone knows your safety plan, and fill out support sheets.
Have good visuals. The other side often doesn't; you can get the media's attention by choosing a prime location and by looking more interesting.
Have a safety plan.
Try not to get into direct arguments with the opposition; they go nowhere. Instead, use powerful visuals and silence or chants to demonstrate your point to the media and public.
Town forums have been organized by lots of different kinds of campaigns. Many of them have tried to sanitize the lesbian and gay community by offering up one or two "respectable" lesbians or gay men and not allowing others to speak. Sometimes they don't have any gay or lesbian speakers. Our town forums are different. They are geared toward supporting local lesbian and gay people to come out and speak out. We don't try to feature "experts" or celebrities. We create a venue for lesbian and gay people who will be affected by the initiative to share their experience or concerns with the people in their communities. Sometimes this can be the first step towards starting a movement in a particular town. A Town Forum is not as potentially intimidating as a lesbian/gay street protest, but it is a big step up from a closeted press conference. Often, the dykes and fags involved in a forum are taking an extremely courageous first step.
Two of the biggest advantages of forums such as these are that they are relatively easy to organize, and in a small town, they can often receive extensive media coverage just for putting real, live queers in front of microphones (these town forums don't garner as much media in big cities). The media aspect should be milked for all its worth in press releases and follow-up calls.
We helped organize one such town forum while working in Lewiston, Maine, against the repeal of the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. The forum provided an opportunity for local lesbians and gay men to come together and talk about living and growing up lesbian and gay in Lewiston, and about the impact of the coming vote. It was the brainchild of local activists and was partially motivated by their frustration at the mainstream campaign's attempts to keep them hidden from the press except when they appeared as "victims" of discrimination. A supportive diner owner agreed to donate his space for the event. The diner was perfect: it provided a comfortable, informal atmosphere that relaxed the speakers and looked great on camera, and was also small enough to make our audience of 20 look big.
Palm cards advertising the forum invited people to have some free coffee and just hang out in a casual atmosphere while the forum took place. Eight local lesbians and gay men, who ranged in age from 18 to 55 and represented a good cross-section of Lewiston's queer community, came out on the panel and spoke movingly about their experiences living and growing up queer in Lewiston. A facilitator was appointed (who was not one of the panel members) to help prompt discussion and ensure that all participants could be heard. We tried to make the forum a "roundtable discussion, in which the speakers (who were sitting in chairs in a semicircle) could respond to each other and have a regular conversation. This worked really well--the speakers bounced stuff off each other until really moving, powerful stories about their lives were being told. The facilitator also collected written questions from the floor which were then put to the panel during a question and answer sess ion. The audience was composed primarily of local "bar queers" and groups of high school students, and the forum was so powerful that three audience members were spontaneously inspired to come out--in front of all the local news cameras. The television press was fabulous in reporting the forum as a positive discussion by local queers about the issues they face living in Lewiston.
Almost exactly one year later, we helped organize another town forum in Lewiston, Idaho. This forum was similar in that its goals were to support local lesbians and gay men, and to encourage people to come out. Panel members included a gay high school student, a lesbian mother, and a gay man living with AIDS. Most of them were coming out publicly for the first time, and all of them were participating in the first organized coming out event in the history of the town. This meant that it was really stressful for all five speakers, and many personal crises came up in the 48 hours prior to the event (related both to the psychological difficulty of preparing for the event, and to the reactions of the speakers' friends and families). Support systems for the speakers were essential, before, during, and after the forum.
The Idaho town forum had a different feel than the Maine one, primarily because of the difference in venue. The forum was held at a public meeting hall, so it felt more formal, and the room was larger, which made our crowd look smaller. Also, each speaker stood at a podium and gave a prepared speech, instead of sitting in a semicircle with the others in a relaxed conversation. In retrospect, this may have put more pressure on the speakers and made for a less stimulating discussion.
Despite these differences, the Idaho forum was a big media success it made the front page of the local newspaper the day before the vote. Good timing definitely helps--we believe the front-page piece had a significant effect on the entire town population. The forum was the first event of the town's first lesbian/gay organization, and concluded a three-day town-wide literature drop. This made it a milestone in empowering, motivating, and mobilizing the lesbian and gay movement in conservative Lewiston. We consider the forum to have been an important factor in Lewiston's narrow but surprising defeat of Proposition One.
To Organize a Town Forum: Tips
2. Create a snappy, timely press release to ensure that there is a good media presence to cover the event, and follow it up with phone calls to your individual press contacts.
3. Find a venue where participants will feel comfortable and that is practical for the press. Try to avoid rooms that are too big (they make your audience look small, especially to the press).
4. Think about the setup of the speakers. Will they each get up separately and speak at a podium, will they have a roundtable discussion, or will they form a panel?
5. Get donations of coffee, donuts, or whatever you can to serve before and after.
6. Decide how many people you want there (and remember that good media is the most important element for this kind of event--it greatly multiplies the audience). A supportive and inquiring audience is a welcome component of such an event, but it isn't necessarily essential given the ability of the press to amplify the event, and a big audience may actually make your speakers feel less comfortable.
7. Expect the speakers to be on an emotional roller coaster the week before the event. Make sure someone has time to help people get through this.
8. If you are in a diner or other private venue, follow up to see if the owners got harassed after the forum. If so, ask how you can help them.
Some campaign events are designed to attract a large audience for a relaxed, enjoyable time to build community, show your numbers, expand your volunteer base, and/or raise money. These events can be complicated and may require long-term planning, but they can also be done on a shoestring budget.
We helped Equal Protection Lewiston organized such an event in Lewiston, Maine. It was called "The Maine Event. It was held at a local high school and attended by hundreds of supporters who listened to speeches by local and state politicians, members of the clergy, and Lewiston's Police Chief, among others. The event was successful because it raised some money, while it also clarified where various political officials stood on the issue some spoke in our support, others refused to speak at all. On the other hand, it was also somewhat alienating politicians were elevated as celebrities at the expense of lesbian and gay activists, who felt excluded from and sometimes even targeted by the assimilationist language of virtually all the speakers (none of which had we been involved in choosing).
The Diversity Fair in Moscow, Idaho, protesting Proposition One is an example of a more enjoyable and inclusive event that served the same purpose. Moscow's Voices for Human Rights group organized the event, which was held on a sunny weekend afternoon in Moscow's East City Park and had something of a carnival atmosphere. Diner owners sold hamburgers next to bookstore owners exhibiting their gay selections next to jewelrymakers and t-shirt vendors. The "Friends of the Moscow Public Library" set up a demonstration table full of books which would not be available to children if the Proposition were to pass. PFLAG distributed literature at one table, Amnesty International collected signatures at another, and Voices for Human Rights staffed a table with all sorts of anti-Proposition One literature. Several folks from Voices and the Avengers spent the day wandering around collecting donations and names. LACROP members boiled tofu dogs, peddled propaganda and recruited likely lasses who might be interested in joining the newly formed Palouse Avengers.
Meanwhile, on stage, local bands and musicians alternated with political speakers. Advertising for the rally included coverage in local newspaper and radio reports, flyering around town, and word of mouth, all of which produced a steady flow of people throughout the day.
Concerts, rallies, and fairs provide an opportunity for us to deliver a clear message about our struggle for lesbian and gay rights and to better educate the public about who we are. They also provide a forum for us to persuade voters, recruit volunteers and collect donations for the cause. Most importantly, these events give us the chance to come together as a community, find out who our allies are, and just have a good time.
Tips: Rallies, Concerts, Fairs
Get everyone there. Politicians, activists, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, non-profit organizations, bands, musicians, etc. Participants can be divided into: speakers, entertainment, food tables, retail tables, Non-profit tables, and audience.
Find out what permits you may need.
Make a program, funded by ads from supportive/participating businesses. Set up your own table with literature.
Don't put too many speakers in a row (alternate with music or performance).
Have people collecting donations & volunteer names.
Have a media contact this is not the only person who will speak to the press or represent your organization, but someone the press can approach to find out what's going on and who will also direct them to other people they can speak with.
Who Can Canvass/Lit Drop?
When you're faced with an electoral situation that has a direct impact on lesbian and gay lives-an anti-lesbian/gay initiative, a local school board election, or any other election of a local candidate with a defined pro- or anti- lesbian and gay agenda-your organizing takes on a very specific focus. You will want to win, or at least influence, the vote. Our experiences in both Maine and Idaho showed to us that using traditional campaign strategies such as canvassing and literature dropswith an out and locally controlled twist can be a highly effective way of influencing a vote without compromising your direct-action organizing.
The first step in setting up a canvass or lit drop is finding out who in town wants to do it. Call a meeting. Hurrah! Outreach to everyone you can think of (use techniques discussed in "Getting the Word Out"), and make it fun. Don't frighten people with visions of some serious "training". Instead, tell them they don't need any experience to come, and order pizza - meat and veggie. Gather relevant information, and make copies to give out. Once you get people there, ask a lot of questions. Things will go much more smoothly if you figure some things out together. You can give tips but listen to people's suggestions. If you're going door to door, do lots of role-playing to get people used to real situations. Make a schedule that everyone feels comfortable with and factor in time for socializing. It's hard work and no matter how committed we are, we all could stand to be rewarded now and then.
In Lewiston, Idaho, where door to door canvassing seemed too threatening given the conservative environment, a literature drop was the best tactic to bring a lot of people into the campaign who previously had not been active. Find out how many residences are in your town, and decide realistically how many you think you can cover. If your resources are limited and your area is big, you may want to consider doing a lit drop in order to cover more territory. If your area is small or your number of committed people is large, you may want to opt for the more time-consuming but more personal method of door-to-door canvassing.
If time and resources force you to limit your targeted areas and choose between neighborhoods, think carefully about your decisions. If there are areas you're pretty sure will automatically vote your way, maybe a quick lit drop will be a good reminder. If there are areas where you think people would respond better to a live person on their doorstep, canvass.
Be careful about stereotyping. As discussed later in this handbook, mainstream campaigns often spend significant amounts of money and time to identify voters to target, and selectively dismiss entire communities. Typically these are lower income, minority and/or rural communities because statistics tell them to expect an "uneducable" audience and low voter turnout. The reality is that, as traditionally marginalized communities, people in these areas may be particularly likely to be receptive to what you have to say. Also, remember that lesbians and gay men live everywhere and would welcome a real live lesbian knocking on their Republican neighbor's front door.
Whether you're doing a lit drop or going door to door, you need literature to leave behind. It's your big chance to get your arguments into people's hands, where they can consider your points in the privacy of their own homes. But before you go tapping on your keyboard, find out what the rules are in your area about Political Action Committees (PACs) and campaign literature (see Appendix on PACs).
If your state has a mainstream campaign, they will have literature which they will most likely urge you to hand out so that you stay in line with their "message". Often this literature does not mention lesbians and gay men, nor does it necessarily relate to other local issues. But if you do your own research and know your community and target audience pretty well, you can figure out what will both interest and persuade them. And, you will be able to tie that to anti-lesbian and -gay bigotry.
Locally generated literature was a great success was in Genessee, Idaho, a township of about 700. When we first began working there, we had a few well-attended organizing meetings, but no one had any ideas for a flyer. We were eager to see a written piece produced, but not being from Genesee, we decided to get the ball rolling by making a few phone calls to local individuals who were rumored to be supportive. We asked them each to write a statement about their opposition to Prop. 1. A local out lesbian newspaper columnist with a loyal following in Genesee then took the bull by the horns and helped gather testimonies and put them together in a pamphlet with a civic-minded spin: "Genesee and Proposition 1 - Who Cares? Your teachers, your neighbors, your librarian, your clergy..." She wrote:
I've appreciated the way Genesee people have left me to live my hermit life out in the woods . . . so it would make me feel really good if you, the people of my hometown, could recognize all the bad things about Proposition One (Idaho's anti-gay initiative) and vote against it.
In Lewiston, Idaho, an overwhelmingly union town, we persuaded the local board of the AFL-CIO to write a letter denouncing Proposition 1. We then folded this letter into the middle of our lit drop brochure. Make the most of whoever already has a good reputation in your town, as long as they are willing to let you be out and visible.
Now that you've got the words, what do you want it to look like? Find somebody with a fetish for, or even just a part-time interest, in computer graphics and it's amazing what you can put together. If possible, find somebody local with access to xeroxing at their job or school to cut your production costs. Kinko's stores or a local equivalent which do xeroxing and have access to computers and graphics software are an invaluable resource. Good graphics make people read your wonderful arguments. Either way, get people's attention. We recommend bright papers like Kinko's sonic yellow, orange and pink.
One of the biggest advantages to doing a door-to-door campaign is that everyone gets to watch the yellow Hi-Lited section on your large wall map expanding, slowly but surely, to engulf the whole town. There are few campaign tasks with a more total, or more visual, sense of accomplishment.
So going door-to-door begins with getting maps, known as blueprints, of the city or district. These maps indicate all streets and houses. They can usually be obtained at minimal cost through the town or county planning office, and should be hung, with the respect they deserve, in a very commanding location on one of your walls.
Once you have obtained your blueprint divide it up into neighborhoods. In Moscow, we divided the city into 5 zones (A,B,C,D,E), marked these out in black marker on the large map, then split each zone into sections small enough for two people to cover in a night (A1,A2,A3, etc), and made 8.5 x 11" photocopies of each small section. Each person will then have a copy of the ground that they are expected to cover. Every time they finish a house or a block, they color it in with a highliter pen on their small copy.
Of course, the best part of going door-to-door is returning home to color in your section on the large wall map, while everyone stands around holding mugs of coffee and beer, staring wide-eyed at the expanding yellow section and exclaiming, "Cool, we're almost done with Section B!" Take advantage of the door-to-door campaign's great potential for morale boosting by making sure that your small-map sections are not too large and not too small--they should be just right, so that folks can complete them in two hours and then feel really good about themselves for the rest of the evening.
It was easiest for us to run most of this out of our house. This entailed handing out maps each night, keeping track of what got done, and keeping stocked up on copies of literature, clipboards, and highlighter pens.
Your fellow campaign workers will be really impressed if you are organized about this. After a hard day at work, after leaving their lovers, friends, or children for the evening, and after making a sometimes difficult decision to interrupt their lives by going door-to-door, most people don't want to show up at the door-to-door home base and having someone say, "Oh! You're here! Well, uhh....what do you need?" Instead, you should hand them a folder and/or a clipboard with everything they need: "Tips for Canvassing" with friendly advice and talking points, standard voter-persuasion brochures to give to people at the door, one small map of the area they're expected to cover, one Hi-Liter pen, one regular pen, a sheet to write down names and addresses of supporters who want yard signs or are interested in volunteering, some bumper stickers and buttons. If they don't have a partner, find them one. (Never, ever, ever turn someone away because you don't have a partner for them or are out of maps! We've heard countless horror stories about campaigns turning away eager volunteers, sometimes losing invaluable activists for good. Always have backup plans: a few extra folks hanging around that could go out on a moment's notice if someone needs a partner, or an extra one-person job such as making phone calls if there's definitely no partner available. If all else fails, give them your job (door-to-door coordination) and busy yourself re-hanging the wall map or making soup for returning canvassers.
In addition to the standard packet, it's good to have a shelf stacked with a variety of extra voter-persuasion literature that people can choose from according to their preferences: literature produced by your local library on book banning, religious arguments against the initiative, etc. We've noticed that most door-to-door activists tend to get attached to a few pieces of literature that help supplement their favorite arguments, and can get quite miffed if, by some small-group decision or general forgetfulness, fresh copies of these are not available. If you change your literature halfway through the campaign, keep some copies of the old one for the creatures of habit in your group. Have someone be in charge of keeping your shelf stocked with fresh copies of everything.
Make time at the end of canvassing for people to hang out and talk about their experiences. Have some food and drink handy. It can be a long and difficult process and it helps to unwind together.
2. At least two smaller (8.5 x 11") maps of each neighborhood (copied from big blueprint)
3. Tons of Hi-Liter Markers.
4. "Tips for Canvassing" handout
5. Signup sheets for yard signs & volunteers
6. Tons of Pens
7. One standard voter-persuasion brochure and lots of other, more specific, literature
8. Bumper stickers, buttons, etc.
9. Voter registration cards, if allowed in your region
10. Folders and clipboards
11. Tea, coffee, beer, chocolate and vanilla cupcakes and hot vegetable soup.
With any action, safety is a legitimate concern which should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. We strongly recommend that people distribute literature/canvass in pairs. Remember that there is safety in numbers, and besides, it can relieve boredom and enhance your power of argument. Be aware of where your partner is at all times, carry whistles and be sure to report any harassment to the coordinator of the drop. This may prevent others from experiencing the same difficulties. Also, make sure that everyone going out has the phone number of the coordinator at your home base. A coordinator who knows where people are should oversee the drops from a place where all participants will start and finish. The coordinator should also have access to a car and phone, and people going out would have this number in case of emergency.
If you're going somewhere you feel is particularly hostile, you could send people out in fours, one pair for each side of the street. Or if possible, each set could go out with their own car, so they wouldn't be stuck somewhere they felt unsafe. If you're working with people you've just met, you could have them fill out a support sheet before they go. This is a sheet with their names, addresses, phone numbers and contact names if there is an emergency. It means that if someone forgets to check in, you can call to make sure they are safe. We never went out much past sunset, not only for our own protection, but because a stranger at your door at night is more alarming than a stranger crossing your lawn at dusk.
Some towns have regulations about going door to door. Call the police department to check. You may need a permit to canvass legally in some towns, but if you're not asking for any money then the regulations may not apply.
It is crucial to report any harassment. If someone yells at you or threatens violence, you should make sure whoever coordinates the canvass knows exactly where it occurred to protect others going out in the area. Also report harassment to anyone keeping track of anti-gay and -lesbian incidents in your town or state. If you have a local Anti-Violence Project or Hate Crimes Task Force make sure that they are notified. Statistics have shown that the numbers of anti-gay and -lesbian incidents soar in the context of an initiative campaign. No matter how small an incident may seem at the time, its important for people tracking to know that it happened.
Canvassing is a systematic visit to every residence in a designated region, in which you introduce your issue to the person at the door, provide information, answer questions, and argue your point.
Canvassing is when you wrench yourself away from event-planning, phone-calling, yard-sign-stake-sawing and coffee-or-tea-drinking, and you knock on some strangers' doors in the dark in the cold hoping that at least one person on the block will be home and that no one will call you a fag or chase you off their porch, and when finally someone comes to the door you ask them, "Have you heard of Proposition 1?" and they say "Oh yeah I've read about it but what is it again?" and you tell them and mention that incidentally you are a lesbian, the sort whose rights would be removed by a yes vote, and some light goes off above their heads, "Oh, you're a lesbian, well, hmmm" and they nod their head slowly and say maybe they'll vote no.
Canvassing is an extremely time- and labor-intensive operation, but in our experience is worth the effort. People respond well to people. You may not change people's minds, but you will make them think. Many people claim they have never met anyone gay and easily swallow lies and stereotypes about us. When we're standing on their doorsteps having civil conversations with them, attitudes often change. Many times people have told us that they had planned to vote against us but that they can't help but respect us for standing up for ourselves so openly and honestly. While we may not convince people to change the way they vote, we will certainly leave them with the responsibility of thinking of who they are affecting when they go into the voting booth and pull that lever. Canvassing is obviously effective. You can see it in people's faces and you can see it in the vote results. The vote has increased in our favor in each placed we have ever canvassed. But don't fool yourself about the level of personal difficulty. It can be extremely frustrating, draining and even infuriating, having to knock on hundreds of doors and convince people of something that seems so very obvious to you.
There are three main varieties of canvassing anxiety:
I can't talk to strangers.
I don't know enough about the topic; I'm no authority.
People hate queers and I am one. I will be somewhere remote and could have the shit kicked out of me.
Stage fright. The first time you go out, go in a pair with someone more experienced. Let them do the talking at first, till you're bursting at the seams because they don't make the point you want to make. At the next house make the point you wished they had made at the last door. At the next house say whatever you said at the last house. You're canvassing. Many of us thought that canvassing would be terrifying. Knocking on the first door often is. Maybe you will blunder at the beginning, but it doesn't matter. No one amongst us was unable to master the basics. Once you get used to interrupting strangers in the middle of their dinner or whatever it is they're doing behind those closed doors, and once you get used to introducing yourself a dozen times a night, and bringing up the hottest political topic in town, and coming out, and trying to have an informative and convincing discussion in five to ten minutes, it's a snap!
I don't know what I'm talking about. If you're already involved in a community organizing project, you must know something about your subject and have some ability for motivating other people. What would stop you from being able to argue effectively with a stranger? Whereas some campaigns require a "single message", we had as many messages as there were organizers. Whatever motivates you is what you should talk about at the door. People will come up with questions you can't answer.
That's okay. The people you work with and the people you talk to at doors all have expertise in different areas. Keep track of questions that often come up at the door and compile a resource sheet with useful arguments or information. Add to this cheat-sheet as issues come up, and make it available to anyone who goes out canvassing. No one is more of an expert on a local campaign than organizers in that community. No one is more of a comprehensive expert on lesbian rights in your town than lesbians in your town. So get out and start talking.
I Won't Be Safe. We've already discussed some precautions you can take to make this a safe experience (See "A Few Precautions" above). In our experience in both Maine and Idaho no one actually got hurt in either in our canvassing or literature drops. Some people did get harassed, and several cars were vandalized. It's important to think through and plan safety measures without obsessing about it to the point that you talk yourself out of doing it.
Along with the literature you've generated to hand out to people, make sure you provide your canvassers with a bunch of written back-up material for whatever may come up in conversation. Make a cheat sheet for canvassers to refer to in conversations or check between doors. What is the exact text of the initiative? What are the main points and what's the best way to explain them? Relevant statistics? Favorite persuasive arguments or come backs? These can be simple fact sheets, (i.e. what the governor said about the issue, how many dollars will it cost taxpayers, which churches support you, etc.) or copies of other people's information.
It can be very helpful to draw on others' research and expertise. Who has done work on these issues that you could make use of? In Idaho, we reproduced copies of "Speaking Tips for People of Faith" from the Unitarian Universalists, lists of religious leaders who had come out against Prop. 1 from organizers elsewhere in the state, copies of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force "talking points" including common myths about gays and lesbians, and ways to refute them. If there are sticky ideas or words in the text of your initiative, look for an accurate definition of the terms from a civil liberties organization, a lawyer, or even in the dictionary. What about press clips? Have you received any positive press coverage? Have prominent politicians, celebrities, etc., received attention from the press for their opposition? Copy it all!
This is entirely up to you. By the end we used some pieces all the time, others we never touched. If its a strain on your time or budget to find and reproduce all sorts of fact sheets and press clippings, you can go with as little as one piece to hand out at every door, and one resource sheet for canvassers. A disadvantage to having a million different pieces of literature is that you have to keep track of it all. Copy what's used up and organize it enough so that when canvassers burst in and out of your living room sometime around sunset, you can give them what they need in a flash. On the other hand, there are advantages to having a range of material. Different canvassers may prefer different pieces of literature. Or a canvasser may want to switch her approach if her arguments are falling flat at every door. Or, she may get sick of saying the same thing night after night, and she may fall flat at the door. Someone at the door may ask a question about the legal ramifications of the third clause in the first provision of the initiative, or about the response of a Protestant church they once drove past in the southern tip of the state. Low and behold, your canvasser has the answer stuck neatly in a stack on her clipboard! How smart, together, and efficient she must be. What a campaign.
Arriving unannounced on somebody's doorstep and giving them a piece of your mind proved to be a remarkably persuasive technique. People's responses fell into a few basic categories, which determined our strategy for each encounter. The don't-assume-anything rule was hard at work keeping us on our toes, so that we eventually believed that not every room full of long-haired guitar-playing young men would be on our side, and not every bristly white man over 65 was out to get us. We were forced to accept that there was no way to gauge where someone stood without simply asking. So we began: "Hi, we're in the neighborhood tonight talking to people about Proposition 1. Are you familiar with Prop 1?"
No matter what they responded--"yes I've heard of it, " "No not really," or "Yes in fact I wrote it myself"we still went on to introduce it in our own terms. We spent a long time as a group looking for a short and accurate way to explain the proposition. We highlighted the three major agendas Prop 1 sought to enact: discrimination against lesbians and gay men in housing, jobs, and public accommodation, censorship in the schools, and censorship in public libraries--then practiced saying it. Over and over. Because when we went out, that was exactly what we had to do--define Proposition 1, over and over and over. By stating the three main points of Prop 1 at the beginning of each discussion, we framed a working definition in our own terms. Instead of entertaining a "No Special Rights" spin on the proposition, we began with the premises that Prop 1 was about discrimination against lesbians and gay men and homophobic censorship.
After presenting the proposition, the more subtle part of the encounter began. Some people were already adamantly for or against the proposition and/or lesbian and gay rights. We decided that it often wasn't worth our time, energy, or emotional health to try to talk to people who were too hostile to hear anything we said. In those cases we simply went on. Some people agreed with us 100%. We encouraged those people to get involved with the campaign, took their names and numbers, and asked them to put up a lawn sign. Unless we needed some pats on the back, we tried not to get into long discussions with agreeable people about all the things we agreed on. The longer discussions took place when the person was prepared to consider our opinion. This is where your persuasive power comes in. Here are some quick tips on door to door canvassing that we give canvassers in our training sessions:
As a conversation progresses, be sure to pause often to allow the person to respond. Otherwise you may lose their interest. Try to gauge how much attention they're giving you; if you think you're losing them try a different tack such as handing them a piece of literature or asking another question.
Try to ask questions often, especially questions that will likely elicit a "yes." For instance, "Do you support the separation of church and state?" or, "Are you opposed to discrimination?" They will like you better when they feel they're in agreement with you.
Maintain eye contact. This is the most effective way to hold someone's attention, and to make a personal connection. The rapport you and the person establish can be as important as the words you exchange. An individual may not be able to back down from his or her position while you are standing on their doorstep, but later on they may remember the friendly homosexual they met last month and things may seem different.
While you are pausing, asking questions, and locking gazes with the person, don't forget to listen. Be an active listener--nod your head a lot, murmur "mmmmm, mm-hmm, uh-huh, right, I see..." Their responses will be your cues for directing the conversation. A good rejoinder, effective even when you disagree with what's being said, is "Well that's an interesting point. Actually . . ." or, "Yes, in fact a lot of people have heard that. Actually . . ."
Make a personal connection whenever possible. For instance, when they say, "As a mother of three children in the school system here", rejoin with: "As a parent I share your concerns..."or, "I live in this neighborhood too so I certainly agree that..." or, "My parents always took a very active role in my local school board, so I relate to your concerns..." Or, when job or housing stuff enters the conversation: "As a lesbian living here in Moscow I can agree with. . .and am also concerned about . . ." or, "I see you can relate to the need for stable housing, and as a gay man living in this neighborhood. . ."
A literature drop is when you take a piece of literature (preferable in some kind of brochure or newspaper-like form), copy it a couple thousand times, and leave it on every doorstep in your area/town. When distributing literature you may encounter people who want to discuss its contents. So individuals who do the drop should also be familiar with and supportive of your literature. They can use the same methods of dealing with face-to-face contact as we just described for in door-to-door canvassing. Once you have your literature, your maps and your droppers, the rest is pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few important things to keep in mind when making the drop:
Make sure everybody knows that it's illegal to put literature in mail boxes. These are solely for the use of the U.S. Postal Service.
Ensure that literature you leave is firmly attached and impossible to avoid, preferably stuck in the screen door or rolled up between the door knob and the frame. It doesn't look good if your literature is in the middle of somebody's geraniums.
Don't exclude specific houses/apartment based on assumptions about people who live there. You'll find supporters everywhere.
Legally, your literature must be clearly endorsed (i.e., that it has an individual's or group's name and address clearly marked). See appendix on campaign literature and PACs.
Besides canvassing and literature drops, there are several other ways you can get your information and message out so that voters are persuaded or reminded to vote on our side. All of these rely more on a short and direct visual message than on conversation or long explanation. Yard signs, bumper stickers, buttons and window signs (for cars & homes) create a really powerful visual effect in a town if you get a lot of them displayed.
Producing Campaign Visuals
Not all visuals need to have multiple messages, of course. Buttons, for example, might be just fine saying something like "No on One". These are not trying to convince someone with logical reasoning--they're just reinforcing the level of support on your side.
Distributing Campaign Visuals
Putting Up Yard Signs
Select your location, and hammer the stake into the ground with the mallet. The firmer it's in, the less frequently you'll have to return to put it back up.
With the industrial stapler, staple the two yard signs down the middle, to each side of the stake. Make sure to leave some of the wooden stake showing at the top, because you may have to come back to hammer it in if it gets knocked down.
With the regular stapler, staple the two sides of the yard sign together along the top and down each side. With two people, this will soon become a very fast process. Make sure you leave instructions for the person who's yard it is, including your phone number in case it gets knocked down by bad weather or torn down by homophobes (both of which are very likely). (INSET Care & Feeding of Your Yard Sign)
Coalitions are not mergers.
Coalitions consist of autonomous groups who treat each other as equals, who share some common goals, values or ideas and work together on some projects. We work for coalitions with other groups at the grassroots level. This means that we attend some of their meetings, we pitch in to help with some of their projects, we keep them well-informed about our projects so that they can choose when they want to help us out or attend our events, and we occasionally organize events and actions together. We find that these kinds of working relationships are ultimately more rewarding than either forced mergers or sanitized coalitions on paper (endorsements).
LACROP makes decisions about working with other groups based primarily on whether or not the group is interested in controlling the movement and the message. We're not opposed to working with traditional campaign groups, whose goals may ultimately differ from ours, as long as those groups don't try to, or ask us to control "the message" for the entire campaign. We also will not work with groups who ask us to be closeted or subjugate ourselves or the people we work with to the supposed expertise of campaign "professionals" who require "volunteers" to carry out the boring and repetitive work of a project while they make the decisions and don't get their hands dirty. On the other hand, in the middle of an intense initiative campaign, it doesn't make sense for us to waste our time in energy-sapping and fruitless debates about how to be an activist or build a movement. So we look for groups and projects whose strategies and values overlap comfortably with our own.
When we do work with another group, we focus on grassroots coalitions--meaning coalitions among people, not leaders. This means that members of both groups are engaged in what's happening, that our coalitions are not dependent on the personal relationships of three or four individuals, and that neither group feels like it has control over what the other does. If the leadership or one faction of a group should turn against you, chances are you will have protected yourself from individual or community trauma by forming genuine working relationships (based on mutual respect--"agreeing to disagree") with a variety of other people in the group.
Some Successful Coalitions
In Idaho, we had successful shared efforts with several local library organizations, with some local branches of the statewide mainstream campaign, with some religious bodies, and with some human rights groups. Some of these groups like the Moscow and Sandpoint libraries and the Unitarian Universalists of the Palouse had their own missions which made opposition to Proposition 1 logical for them, but not their exclusive focus. The Idaho Library Association allowed us to publish an article in their statewide magazine. The Friends of the Moscow Library had a table at a diversity rally we held in Moscow featuring books that would have been banned under Proposition 1. The weekend before the vote, the Sandpoint Library participated in a dramatic action featuring local school children and LACROPers dressed up as banned books. In Moscow, the Unitarian Church of the Palouse was very vocally opposed to Proposition 1. They worked closely with Voices for Human Rights, the local traditional campaign. Though LACROP generally used a different set of tactics than the church did, we found ties when each group had something important to offer the other. LACROP hung a giant red ribbon around the outside of the church a big white clapboard building smack dab in residential Moscow in conjunction with their declaration of the church as a "Discrimination Free Zone". This was a visibility action for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and straight supporters. Our visibility is usually focused on lesbians, but this was an effort we supported. A few weeks later, the church co-hosted a pancake breakfast with us in their basement directly following their Sunday service, which we used as a kick-off to recruit for a day of mass (NICE PUN) canvassing.
Our working relations with the state-wide mainstream No on 1 campaign were complicated for a variety of reasons which are discussed elsewhere. However, the grassroots coalitions formed between Voices for Human Rights (the local "No on One" contact group) and LACROP were extremely rewarding and essential. LACROP regularly attended Voices meetings, both to keep abreast of their work and to participate when it was appropriate. Although some members of Voices were suspicious of our methods or even our motives in our early months in Moscow, we eventually agreed to disagree, and spent a lot of energy and time trying to understand each other's approach. This work happened among members of our groups, not between "representatives" or "leaders" who spoke on the groups' behalf. This exchange ended with many organizers, who had initially opposed LACROP's tactics, working closely with us. On some projects the two groups did not work together, for instance, LACROP and the Palouse Lesbian Avengers had some exclusively lesbian or lesbian and gay visibility actions, and Voices for Human Rights ran a voter-i.d. phone bank that didn't interest us. This was as it should have been we did not look for 100% agreement or a merger, simply a productive coalition.
In addition to working coalitions, we sometimes network with organizations that may not be working against the initiative, but are supportive and have a large following or are highly respected in their community. In Lewiston, Idaho, which is an predominantly union, working-class town, we worked with the local AFL-CIO affiliate. They wrote a supportive letter for a town-wide literature drop, urging labor to "oppose discrimination against lesbians and gay men in Idaho." We put this letter inside the campaign brochure we had written. It undoubtedly had a major impact in Lewiston, a historically conservative town--especially on social issues--which ended up rejecting Proposition One by a surprising 4% margin.
Small businesses (retail stores, restaurants, bars, bookstores, etc.) can be an invaluable asset, especially in a small town. They might buy ads, donate money and supplies, increase your town visibility by posting signs in their windows, put pressure on local government officials and candidates, and sometimes even become informal community centers. The Gayellow Pages, lesbian, women's and progressive newsletters, and alternative bookstores are good places to start looking for supportive businesses. But don't assume anything about a business until you ask; don't just ask businesses that appear "progressive". We've had fabulous support from pawn shops, drugstores, diners and country-western bars.
Think of projects that can be vehicles for getting the support of businesses. In Idaho, when we were planning a day-long rally and music fest in the town park, we made a program and sold ads to local businesses. We pounded the pavements and asked every business in town (and some farther away) if they'd buy an ad. We then designed a simple but nice-looking program (8 1/2 x 11" pieces of paper folded in half and stapled in the middle). This not only raised enough money to cover the costs of our rally and then some, but also allowed us to find out who the supportive businesses in town were. We turned to this supportive network often throughout the campaign. In Lewiston, Idaho, local restaurants donated pizza for a post-literature drop pizza party, grocery stores donated coffee, cups and napkins for the town forum, and the town sawmill donated large sheets of paper for decorating the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society's "Cotillion". In Lewiston, Maine, we procured hundreds of donuts from a variety of local shops for election day tabling--we gave the donuts away free, and gave folks last-minute literature about the initiative. Many of the businesses we identified when we sold ads in the Diversity Rally later agreed to put signs in their window that opposed Prop 1.
Small businesses will often be putting themselves at great financial and personal risk to support you. It is extremely important to keep in contact with them, find out how they're doing and how you can help them if they get harassed. In Lewiston, Maine, a diner owner wanted to go public about the harassment he received from hosting our public town form; we wrote and sent out press releases for him, and did follow-up calls with all the media persuading them to cover the story. Encourage the community to patronize supportive businesses. If your group has meetings in or goes out to public establishments bars, cafes, or restaurants make sure you go to the ones that have supported you. Let the owners know you're making an effort to give them your business.
Don't patronize businesses that respond with unnecessary rudeness to your requests. This can be done informally--spreading the word in the community and letting the store know why you're not going there anymore, or formally--sending out press releases, putting up flyers, having an action, encouraging the entire town community to boycott (if you do organize a formal boycott, make sure you are familiar with boycott laws in your area--if it's illegal, everyone should know that beforehand).
Every area in which we have been part of this kind of campaign has pulled in an equal or higher percentage of votes on our side than the surrounding areas. In Lewiston, Maine, the low-income Franco-American community in which we did door-to-door canvassing, against the "scientifically based" strategy of the mainstream campaign, had the second highest number of votes in our favor. Even the local newspaper remarked how unexpected this was. In Idaho, we defeated the initiative in every town and county we worked in by higher than average percentages and some of these areas were quite conservative. We do not know for sure whether our out-and-proud messages had a positive impact on the voters, or whether it had more to do with the large numbers of people we were able to mobilize.
We believe that both of these helped in winning the votes. Some places which have run closeted campaigns have lost and some won. The most notable victory for a closeted campaign was in conservative predominantly Mormon southeastern Idaho, where few people were publicly out, but which pulled in a high percentage of "no" votes. We agree with the mainstream campaign's analysis that this was probably the result of their well-timed exposure of the Christian Right's bigoted attitudes towards Mormons. It is interesting that in this case, the objects of hatred Mormons stood up and denounced the Christian Right publicly in press conferences and letters to the editor. The mainstream campaign, based in southwestern Idaho, encouraged rather than discouraged this independent display of resistance, without trying to control the messages that came from it. Yet they actually worked against such independence of lesbians and gay men.
Other areas that have run predominantly closeted campaigns have lost, and it is in those places that the biggest psychological and political damage has been done to the lesbian and gay community. This is because many people felt that they sacrificed their own dignity by staying closeted in response to mainstream campaign beliefs that this was the only way to win the vote. And then they lost anyway. Conflicts over strategy were submerged or forced into silence during the campaign and then exploded after the defeat into a free-for-all of blame and accusation, greatly dividing the community politically.
A staff member of Equal Protection Colorado, describing how her campaign had ignored lesbian and gay concerns, gave this advice at a conference held by the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force: "Every decision you make during a campaign, ask yourself the question, 'will I regret this if we lose?'" This is an ethical rather than strategic question. If you are putting the needs and desires of our communities first, your answer will always be "No" But, deciding that you will use an out, grassroots, multi-message strategy will not make the mainstream campaign disappear nor does it mean that there are not other anti-initiative groups you can work with in your area. In the next section we address both of these issues.
When the New York Avengers went to Lewiston, Maine in 1993, there was already a "mainstream campaign" in place fighting against the right wing attempt to repeal an existing lesbian and gay anti-discrimination bill. In fact, the reason we went there was to provide more "hands" for that group -- to support the campaign in any way we could. But, as the time passed, we became unhappy and frustrated by their strategy and tactics. And we weren't the only ones. Many local community members let us know they were as fed up as we were. Some of them were experienced grassroots direct-action activists who were given no voice in the campaign; others were new to organizing but recognized that there had to be alternative ways to running a campaign. Though we encountered many problems working with the "mainstream campaign", two events in particular led to our splitting off and joining with these local activists to create a visible, out, alternative direct-action voice to the fight:
1. we volunteered to do a 20,000 piece mailing for the "mainstream campaign", only to find when we arrived at their storefront that they had placed paper over the large plate glass windows so that the press and the townspeople could not see us -- visible dykes -- helping them.
2. the "mainstream campaign" was unwilling to canvass or do literature drops in a low-income Franco-American section of town because, in their words, "these people don't vote". This area was being targeted by the right wing, was the most densely populated area of the city, had a history of union organizing, and some of the local lesbian and gay men we knew had grown up there.
Our experience with the mainstream campaign in Idaho was similar, although this time we decided from the beginning to work independently of them. Both experiences forced us to explore the structure and strategy of such campaigns and come up with a detailed analysis of how they affect both the vote and, more importantly, lesbian and gay communities. In this section of the handbook, we share this analysis and explain why we believe that the "mainstream campaign" model is inadequate for fighting anti-lesbian and gay initiatives. We also discuss how you can manage your relationships with other anti-initiative groups in your area, not all of which need be problematic. Finally, the last part of this section describes why and how you can do both community research and research on the Christian Right. These will give you the information with which to develop your own strategy and tactics and to make your approach more likely to be successful. They will also help you to counter the pressure you may get from the "mainstream campaign" because you will be well informed and prepared for sometimes heated discussions.
Despite slight differences in strategy and message, there has been an overwhelming similarity among what we call "mainstream campaigns" in every area that has faced an anti-lesbian and gay initiative. They are all run according to a campaign model that stems, not from the lesbian and gay movement, and not from local, grassroots organizations, but from "campaign professionals" that are hired by each state group. (By campaign professionals, we simply mean people who get paid to work on campaigns -- that is their career.) These professionals are members of a national campaign "culture" that uses similar language, philosophies, and strategies. Their experience usually comes from Democratic Party candidate or other issue-based campaigns, and the model they use to fight anti-lesbian and gay initiatives comes directly out of these experiences.
Their model, however, has not transferred well from candidate campaigns to anti-lesbian and -gay initiative campaigns. In fact, it has been at the center of intense -- and sometimes devastating -- controversy in almost every area in which it has been used. We think there are two reasons for this:
1. The model is based on a very strict hierarchy and a centralized structure in which a few people expect to make decisions for an entire state. This has clashed with the grassroots realities of the lesbian and gay movement.
2. The strategy and message are determined through interpretations of polling data (interpretations we think are incorrect) which have led them to the conclusion that in order to win the campaign, there should be little or no discussion of lesbian and gay lives. Instead, a variety of de-gayed messages are used (no discrimination; no government interference) which their research supposedly shows will sway voters to "our side". This strategy obviously clashes with the strategy of coming out in numbers, a central aspect of our movement.
Differences in structure and strategy could be relatively harmless - even helpful (It could mean that a diversity of approaches could operate simultaneously in each area fighting an anti-initiative battle.) , if it weren't for the fact that the central campaigns usually have a lot of power. This power is largely due to the fact that they inaccurately represent themselves, both to the local straight media and to the national lesbian and gay community. By representing themselves (inside and outside the state) as the authentic and undisputed leaders of the "No" side of the campaign, they set themselves up for embarrassment when other voices emerge, which they therefore will do almost anything to prevent.
In addition, mainstream campaigns usually represent themselves to the national lesbian and gay community (especially in fundraising letters) as organizations fighting openly for lesbian and gay rights, whereas in reality they actively downplay the fact that the initiative has anything to do with lesbian and gay rights. This misrepresentation generates a lot of money, which causes a lot of resentment in states where other organizations exist to fight the initiative in an out and proud manner, but don't receive any national money because they don't have the resources and connections (i.e. mailing lists) to do direct mail solicitations.
This chapter will describe the campaign model that has been used--with minor modifications--in most states and towns that have faced anti-lesbian and -gay initiatives since 1992. It will then discuss why this model has generated so much controversy and why we think it is inadequate for fighting anti-lesbian and -gay initiatives.
By more closely examining how "mainstream campaigns" operate, we think you will be in a better position to see the value of an out, grassroots. direct-action group. We also think it can help you to pull together the resources you will need to do your work, regardless of the existence of such a "mainstream campaign" in your area.
The key characteristics of a "mainstream campaign" are:
its hierarchical and centralized structure
the focus on creating one (or sometimes 2-4), supposedly clear, usually de-lesbianized and de-gayed message(s) based on what "campaign professionals" believe people will vote for
a tightly controlled media and public relations campaign focused on straight people
the targeting of only certain voters based on other types of campaign models, stereotypes and a kind of cost/benefit analysis.
After discussing each of these in some detail, we'll focus on what we think are the limits of these types of campaigns and why alternative ways of fighting an initiative are necessary to our survival.
Usually mainstream campaign groups start with an informal group of lesbians and gay men concerned about a ballot initiative. Often they are people who've been involved in the local lesbian and gay community in some organizational capacity for some years. As the deadline for filing signatures gets closer, these people find supportive straight people to work with them to create a new organization. They form a steering committee or executive committee, usually made up of a combination of lesbians, gay men and straight people.
After the signature deadline passes and if there are enough signatures to put the anti-lesbian and gay initiative on the November ballot, this executive committee will rent an office (or several in different regions) and hire a full-time staff. This staff usually consists of a campaign manager, a media coordinator, a fundraiser, 1-5 field coordinators (often based in different regions) and, sometimes, an office manager. Usually these are people with experience in either candidate or issue campaigns, and sometimes they have experience with national lesbian/gay organizations. Often they are not from the region being targeted. These staff people are hired by and technically work for the steering or executive committee. But they are usually given wide -- if not total -- decision making powers because they are hired and paid specifically, as professionals, to make the campaign decisions, especially the campaign manager.
While they make the decisions, someone else has to do the actual work that makes up a campaign. These are the volunteers. These are usually lesbians, gay men and straight people, although it is our experience that a strong volunteer recruitment effort is not made within typical lesbian and gay spaces -- bars, for example. The volunteers are assigned to do the non-thinking jobs for the campaign -- they participate in strictly-controlled phone banks and canvassing efforts, stuff envelopes, do data entry, put up yard signs, and so on. Volunteers have little -- if any -- decision making role in the campaign. We call this "top-down" or "volunteerist" as opposed to more "grassroots controlled" models of organizing.
When there is an anti-lesbian and gay initiative on the state level, mainstream campaign offices are always set up in areas with a high number of voters and with a relatively solid financial base for running the campaign. This means they are located in the largest and/or wealthiest cities of each region. Ordinarily, there is one central office, located in the largest city, where the campaign manager and media people work. Sometimes a few other offices are set up around the state where field coordinators work; they take orders from and report back to the central campaign office.
However, there are usually many groups around the state who have been working against the initiative in their areas since before the signature deadline. These groups began on a totally grassroots level within their own towns and regions. Often, some of them will be conducting their own fundraising efforts, producing their own literature, and organizing their own events prior to the hiring of full-time staff by the mainstream campaign group. Usually an informal network will have been created among them so they can share information and strategies, but there will not be a centralized hierarchy. These independent local groups can range from liberal human rights organizations to Lesbian Avenger or Queer Nation chapters.
The centralization of all of these local, grassroots groups around the state is usually the first order of business for a newly-hired staff in the mainstream campaign's central office. The campaign needs the money, volunteers and infrastructure of these pre-existing grassroots groups in order to run its statewide campaign effectively according to its strategy. The money is essential to pay staff, rent offices and run their media campaign. And, they want these groups to follow their strategy, especially in terms of using the same literature with the same message. However, the mainstream campaign has no basis for demanding any of these things from existing groups since they were not formed out of a statewide mandate for them or for their strategy.
To attempt to get such a mandate, after-the-fact of their existence, they will call one or two statewide meetings and invite representatives from all the local groups concerned about the initiative. The campaign manager and other staff people will present their credentials: experience in/ success with other campaigns, knowledge of polling data on voters of the state in question, access to lots of money and national expertise. They stress the need for centralization and message control, often (erroneously) giving examples of other campaigns such as Oregon and Colorado. Then they ask the local groups to centralize. This means they will send all their money to the mainstream campaign and focus their future efforts on raising more money for the mainstream campaign and recruiting volunteers for mainstream campaign efforts such as phone banking. If these local, grassroots groups have projects of their own that they want to do, they will have to make requests to the mainstream campaign to get some of their own money back.
The decision to centralize is, of course, up to the local groups, since no one owns the state in question. Some local groups will decide to send a smaller percentage of their money and to keep some for their own grassroots efforts. Some will decide not to centralize at all, to keep their own money and run their own campaign. The vast majority, however, will probably agree to centralize, either because they are in agreement with the central campaign, or because they are convinced they don't have enough knowledge, expertise or resources to run their own local campaign. Some of these groups will change their minds later, when they don't receive any of their money back, even in the form of bumper stickers and yard signs, because their region was considered unimportant.
Mainstream campaigns against anti-lesbian and gay initiatives use the same basic strategy used by most candidate and issue campaigns: figuring out a clear message or set of messages that they think will persuade people to vote on our side. To do this, mainstream campaigns will spend a lot of their time and money on conducting and analyzing polls and other types of voter research (for example, focus groups). This research asks people questions about their attitudes toward homosexuality and other issues relating to the initiative. People's answers to the question will be analyzed and interpreted by the campaign professionals and then will create a message they believe will appeal to people's strongest reason to vote on our side.
Most polls used for fighting anti-lesbian and gay initiatives have the same basic findings, which are quoted over and over again by campaign professionals. These are:
Most US. voters (50-77%) say they believe lesbians and gay men are unacceptable, immoral, wrong.
Every mainstream campaign since 1992 has concluded from this information that homophobia is too entrenched to focus on before the vote. Instead of including homosexuality in the message, campaign professionals use other issues voters feel strongly about, such as discrimination, high taxpayer costs, unconstitutionality or government interference in private lives. Their logic is that voters will be more likely to agree with us on one of these issues than on the issue of lesbian and gay equal rights/humanity. Since most voters think homosexuality is wrong, the professionals believe the campaign should de-emphasize that issue as much as possible.
This campaign strategy has created major controversy within the lesbian and gay movement in areas targeted with initiatives, because there are groups who do not want to run such a campaign which they see as closeted and as preventing the building of a local lesbian and gay movement. Campaign professionals argue that people who support lesbian and gay visibility and movement building refuse to distinguish between a long term and short term goal. In other words, campaign professionals think winning the vote is most important and that other goals interfere with the type of campaign which will win the vote. They also argue that their point of view is based on a "scientific" method of interpreting polling data and persuading voters, while the lesbians and gay men living and working at the grassroots level are proposing an "emotional" response to organizing.
The purpose of the campaign's media plan is to get out their message clearly and repetitively to voters. The strict use of one message, or set of messages ("staying on message" in campaign lingo), has meant that the majority of print and television ads of mainstream campaigns have not even mentioned the words "lesbian", "gay", or "homosexuality" when explaining the initiative. Of those that do mention these words, most try to downplay them by emphasizing "more important" issues the initiative raises.
Press conferences will be highly orchestrated. Spokespeople will be selected because of their perceived trustworthiness among straight voters (polls are often used to determine this). Most spokespeople will be straight since the target audience is presumed to be mostly straight and straight people don't trust or respect lesbians and gay men. When gay and lesbian spokespeople are allowed, they will only be permitted to speak as victims of discrimination, not as complete human beings with their own opinions. This is the pattern: lesbians and gay men are voiceless victims; respected straight people -- librarians, teachers, nurses, grandmothers, elected officials -- are the thinking people who can consider the initiative objectively and ask people to vote "no".
Other public campaign events, for example, rallies, will also be highly controlled: only certain signs will be permitted -- these won't mention the L, G, or H words -- and only selected spokespeople are "allowed" to speak to the media.
In a mainstream campaign, field coordinators will be hired to oversee all direct contact with voters. This includes persuasive phone banking (calling up "undecided" voters and encouraging them to vote on our side), direct mail (sending persuasive literature to all or certain voters), literature drops (leaving literature on people's doorsteps), and door-to-door canvassing (knocking on people's doors and encouraging them, face-to--face, to vote on our side).
Campaigns will usually limit those parts of the population they contact because they want to maximize the number of persuadable (undecided) voters they reach relative to the amount of time/energy/money they put into each field method. There are three main ways to limit voter populations to be targeted: by likelihood to vote, by persuadability, and by region.
Limiting voters by likelihood to vote means that campaigns target their efforts to "habitual voters", which they determine by polls or by data from past elections. In Lewiston, Maine, for example, the campaign restricted its major mailing to all residents who had voted in the last two elections. Campaigns can cover lots of different regions with this method but exclude people who haven't voted recently.
Limiting voters by persuadability means that campaigns target "undecided" voters. This is usually decided by a preliminary phone banking survey, in which voters are simply asked how they plan to vote. In Idaho, for example, two phone banking efforts were conducted during the campaign -- the first to determine the undecided voters and the second to try and persuade them.
Limiting voters by region means that the campaign decides to focus its efforts on certain geographical areas and to do little, if anything, in other areas. The regions are picked out based on population density and real or perceived political tendencies, and also on the percentages of persuadable and habitual voters. As opposed to the methods described above, all of the voters in an area will be eliminated based on a low percentage of undecided or habitual voters. Sometimes these decisions are based on polling analysis, sometimes on simple logic, and sometimes on stereotypes. Rural areas and low-income urban neighborhoods are usually the first to go. In Lewiston, Maine, for example, three low-income Franco-American districts of the town were excluded from the literature drop, even though they had the highest population densities in the town. This was based on the knowledge of the historically low voter turnout of the areas, as well as on stereotypes about Catholics and low-inc ome people being more homophobic. In Idaho (and other states), rural counties were excluded based on the high amount of effort it would have taken to reach each voter. Other larger low-income towns were also excluded, based on their historically low turnout and/or the belief that their citizens are unusually homophobic.
Phone banking, literature drops, and canvassing are all done by volunteers who have to follow a script as if they were in a play or working as telemarketers. They have almost no choice in what they can say to voters. No matter what questions voters ask, volunteers are required by the campaign to use a set number of responses.
Here are some actual ways that mainstream campaigns have chosen to use this campaign model -- ways that show why they have created so much controversy:
Lesbian and gay activists in groups separate from the campaign who want to do a visibility event or action have been called up by members of the central campaign and told not to do it or they will be responsible for losing the vote.
Yard signs with messages different from the mainstream campaign's put up in various public places have been removed by the campaign manager.
Volunteers for the campaign, when participating in a phone banking or canvassing effort, have been prohibited from using the words "lesbian", "gay", or "homosexual" when describing the initiative to voters.
Members of lesbian and gay groups organizing volunteer days for their organizations to do door-to-door literature drops have been told to keep their butch dykes and femme fags from participating.
Volunteers for campaigns have been required to sign contracts stating that they will not speak to the press or write letters to the editor without approval from the Executive Committee, effectively preventing them from being vocal about their own lives, even when the actions or events have been organized by groups other that the mainstream campaign.
You may think such experiences are rare, but these are only a few examples of the many experiences people have had. They may sound drastic and it may seem like the lesbian and gay folks in your town would never allow it, but it has happened and needs to be understood in context. People panic during a campaign. Lesbians and gay men who, in January before the vote, advocated everyone coming out and talking to their townspeople about their lives, will suddenly switch midstream (usually around July or August) and start advocating what we call the "closet approach". We think this community panic ordinarily coincides with the hiring of a campaign manager and a full-time staff who push for a tightly controlled single message, centralized campaign as the only hope.
But, even if we didn't have such harrowing experiences to describe, we would still think that the mainstream campaign strategy is problematic because it enforces the closet, treats lesbian and gay activists as volunteer followers while professionals are paid leaders, and it eliminates many communities from the campaign debate.
A controlled-message, top-down model will always enforce the closet. This is the inevitable result of any strategy that allows homophobic straight people to determine the message (through the polling of homophobic straight people) and that silences lesbian and gay people with different messages. This typical campaign model is formulated without regard to its real impact on people's lives. It puts lesbians and gay men in the position of being merely "a message" that we can choose to speak about or not, the way we would choose speak or not speak about taxpayer costs.
As we described earlier, campaign professionals claim to have a "scientific" analysis of why we shouldn't discuss lesbian and gay lives during an anti-lesbian and gay initiative battle: Most people think homosexuality is unnatural and wrong, so therefore we shouldn't talk about it. But that's always the reason people stay in the closet. How has this argument for the closet been elevated to a "scientific fact"? When did we become so defeated by the Christian Right that we are now willing to surrender the most central goal of our movement? Lesbians and gay men don't need an expensive poll to tell us that most people in this country think that we are unnatural and wrong or that most people in this country don't want to hear about our lives. We already know these things. We know the closet is built by the people who check "Yes" next to the question, "Do you believe homosexuality is unnatural or wrong?". And we also know those people. They are our high school friends, our co-workers, our teachers, our neighbors, our biological or adoptive families. We know them intimately. It is deeply insulting to imply that lesbians and gay men can't understand the meaning of this polling data, or don't realize how ingrained homophobia is, or can't handle direct communication with the people who check "Yes". We have far more experience than anyone in talking to homophobes about their homophobia.
Given this, it is astonishing how easily we can surrender our own knowledge and experience to campaign professionals and how easily we can believe that people with experience in non-related campaigns have more knowledge and expertise than people with experience in lesbian and gay communities. Nowhere is this more clear than in the issue of polling data and analysis. Questionable information and highly debatable interpretations are thrown at grassroots and lesbian and gay activists all the time, using the supposed "scientific" nature of the research in attempts to intimidate people. Campaign officials don't even bother to present the information they supposedly have and on which their argument for a closeted approach is based; polls and the analyses of them are usually kept "secret" during a campaign, while at the same time we are told they are the only professional, scientific way to win the vote.
As we continued to work against anti-lesbian and gay initiatives we couldn't help noticing how often polling data and analysis turned out to be dead wrong. Here are some reasons we found to be extremely cautious when looking at polls, the information they provide, and the possible interpretation of this information:
1. People tend to respond differently in polls than they do in the privacy of voting booths. Many people tell a pollster they oppose discrimination against lesbians and gay men or don't think that someone should be fired for being a lesbian, but they vote against us anyway because of their homophobia. So, what people say and how they feel and act are different things. In Idaho this was taken to an extreme when the right-wing Idaho Citizen's Alliance actively encouraged their supporters to lie to pollsters. This is a common polling problem when certain topics are researched. As another example, when an African-American man, Harvey Gantt, ran against Jesse Helms, a white man, in North Carolina in 1990 , polls showed that people did not believe that race was a factor in who would be supported. The final vote, however, showed that this was simply not true -- the vote broke down heavily along racial lines.
2. Homophobia is far more sophisticated than it used to be. Most people won't openly say that they support job and housing discrimination to a pollster on a telephone, because it's not acceptable to say those things in mainstream U.S. culture. However, it is still acceptable to say that lesbians and gay men are immoral, unnatural, or wrong and to have complicated explanations for why discrimination doesn't exist or is already covered under existing laws, or that protection against discrimination is a special right. Polls ignore the complexities of homophobia as it currently is expressed in our society.
3.There are lots of different ways to interpret polling data. For example, many polls have shown that voters who believe that homosexuality is a choice tend to say it's immoral, while voters who believe that it's genetic tend to say that it's okay. Almost always, campaign professionals interpret this to mean that if people can be persuaded that homosexuality is genetic (whether we believe that or not), they will be more tolerant. Another interpretation, which seems more realistic to us, is that people are homophobic and, in order to have political justification for their homophobia, they conclude that it must be chosen. The interpretation would impact a strategy decision if organizers are deciding whether to push a message that homosexuality is genetic or a message that homosexuality is chosen or a message that homosexuality is okay. (Not that we would want to base a message only on what people believe.)
4.Polls have no way of taking into account the political context of a campaign. Say that 75% of people polled say they oppose discrimination, 85% say they oppose special rights, and 75% say they think lesbians and gay men are abnormal, unnatural and disgusting -- a pretty typical poll result. This tells us nothing about what they will be most likely to believe when these issues are being debated during an anti-lesbian and initiative campaign. Will they believe it when mainstream campaign spokes people and literature say the initiative is about discrimination? Or, will they believe right-wing spokespeople (who like themselves, think that lesbians and gay men are abnormal) that the initiative is about special rights about homosexuals? Just because someone says he opposes discrimination doesn't mean that he will ever believe that the initiative is about discrimination, no matter how often and cleverly you present the argument. In fact, when our side does not mention homosexuality while the right-wing doe s, we enforce negative attitudes about us -- "you see, they are being secretive and sneaky, pretending this is about discrimination." -- especially when the anti-lesbian and gay initiative is titled something like "An Initiative Against Special Rights for Homosexuals.".
People say they are against discrimination because they don't want to sound like bigots. But if they hate us, as the polls show they do, how much emotional effect will their opposition to discrimination have when they step into the voting booth? How much emotional effect will it have when the other side is talking about nothing except dykes and fags chasing down schoolchildren and demanding special rights?
People aren't homophobic because they think we want special rights; they can believe we want special rights because they are homophobic. Similarly, people refuse to believe we are discriminated against, or that we are not covered under the constitution, because they are homophobic. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't clarify issues of civil rights, special rights, and the Constitution, since many people are obviously confused. But we should realize when doing so that homophobia is stronger and deeper than most people's emotions about discrimination, equal rights, taxpayer costs, and censorship. People organize their understanding of these issues around their hatred of dykes and fags, not the other way around.
In a 1992 pre-vote poll conducted by Miller Research Group for Equal Protection Colorado, only 19% of voters said that they agreed with the statement: "An employer should have the right to fire a person because he or she is homosexual", while a whopping 75% said they disagreed. The campaign therefore focused its message around discrimination, giving voters throughout the state lots of information that the initiative was, in fact, about whether an employer had the right to fire someone for being homosexual. Despite the fact that 75% of people said they opposed job discrimination, and despite the extensive work that campaign did in educating the public that the initiative was about discrimination, we lost the Colorado initiative 54%-46%.
If there is no one during the campaign who addresses homophobia and the reality of lesbian and gay lives, we are not dealing with the underlying problem and voters will be much harder to convince. While it's true that many people with some degree of homophobia have voted on our side, it's our experience that these are usually people who at least will agree that lesbian and gay people are human. Almost everyone is against discrimination; what is really being debated in these campaigns is whether or not we lesbians and gay men matter, and therefore, whether discrimination against us matters.
We believe that people need to have a personal and emotional investment is something they are voting for. It is not enough to explain logically what special rights, equal rights, the Constitution and discrimination are about. Simple logic will not work in the face of centuries of extremely emotional hatred. What may, possibly change voters minds, and what has been the only thing to ever effect real change in the history of the world, is direct confrontation with the objects of their hatred -- in which we are people with the honesty and integrity to say who we are. We are not saying this will work either in the short run -- but at least it has a chance. And, since the right-wing will continue to organize against us even if they lose one vote, as they have in Oregon, unless we confront the underlying homophobia we will always be starting at square one, always focusing on a short-term goal, and never achieving our long term goal of equal participation in this society on our term s -- as we are in all of our diversity. It is our very diversity that is the second reason the typical mainstream campaign model is inappropriate.
An anti-lesbian and gay initiative campaign is directly about many people's lives. Unlike a candidate campaign, an anti-lesbian and gay initiative is not chosen by the people who will be working on it. It is imposed upon entire communities of widely diverse lesbian and gay people. To complicate it even more, lesbians and gay men are already engaged in a political movement and, in fact, it was as part of the backlash to this very movement that the Christian Right declared its "culture war" on lesbian and gay lives. To expect every group and individual within this diverse and vibrant movement to suddenly place all their strategic decisions in the hands of a single campaign manager seems completely absurd.
Campaigns against anti-lesbian and gay initiatives, like it or not, are part of our movement. It is useless to try and separate movement-building from the Christian Right's self-declared culture war on lesbians and gay men. Movements are not built out of thin air; they are built largely in response to attacks on our communities. An anti-lesbian and gay initiative is an attack on our communities. We need to use that attack to build a movement and to do it in such a way that enables the movement to continue after the vote.
Demanding that we must use one, or even three or four messages, regardless of their content, prevents our diverse communities and individuals from defining our own roles in the movement, based on what matters to us as lesbian and gay people under attack. When we make lesbian and gay communities the center of a strategy, we do not sacrifice individual and group differences for the "good of the whole" by staying on message. Instead we make sure everyone is given full opportunity and encouragement to express what the campaign means to them. And this always, necessarily, means lots of different messages.
There is also a more practical problem with the hierarchical and centralized approach to fighting an anti-lesbian and gay initiative. When people get involved in the campaign as unskilled "volunteers", rather than as thinking activists, they will be less likely to feel engaged in the campaign, to feel like it belongs to them. As a result, less people will get involved and for shorter periods of time. This means fewer resources, which means less contact with voters. Strangely enough, many campaigns seem not to mind this.
Yet, campaigns often complain that they don't have enough volunteers to do major projects, such as phone banking, or that lesbians and gay people are not volunteering in large numbers. If these things are true, it is worth looking at why. Are the projects being done of interest to the community? If not, is it because the work is boring? Or because people don't see the relevance of the project? Because people are too closeted to even express interest? Often the reason that people do not show up to begin with is because there has not been a strong, exciting outreach effort. In Lewiston, Maine, we agreed to gather volunteers and also to register people to vote. We went to the bars and recruited people there. We also found out that the mainstream campaign had not reached out to this part of the community or to lesbian and gay owned businesses -- they were totally focused on the straight community. However, once you recruit people you have to be able to retain them and most of the problems cannot be solved in a totally hierarchical structure, which is not based on the needs of the community.
Mainstream campaigns put most of their energies into TV spots, print advertisements, mailings and phone-banking. The first two don't rely on people-power, and the second two occur only at set times. So at the same time that campaigns don't get enough volunteers for their major projects, they often turn away volunteers who come in at the wrong time. In our projects, there is always something to do because different groups are always working on different projects, which need not only the bodies but also the brains of new people. Mainstream campaigns also eliminate communities which could be part of the campaign and where there is lots of work to be done.
While we're on the topic, something really needs to be said about phone banking. Campaigns claim that they save time by limiting voters through phone banks: first they call everyone in town, and ask how they're voting. This usually takes several extremely labor-intensive weeks of many volunteers a night sitting down at telephones. Once they have a list of all the undecided voters, they target these through (usually) a second phone bank or a lit drop or (less often) a canvassing effort. The logic of narrowing voters to the "undecideds" is that it takes less time and resources per voter. But this is a little confusing, since it takes so much time and human resources to do the initial phone bank just to determine who is undecided--it would certainly take less time to do just one persuasive phone bank to everyone, and it would probably take about the same amount of time to do one persuasive lit drop/canvassing effort to everyone. In addition to saving time, you would be reaching everyone and not just those who say they're undecided.
We can't help but wonder if maybe this attachment to phone banks is an attachment to control of the campaign. It's much safer to have your volunteers on the phone all the time, in your office where you can hear them, then wandering around freely talking to voters at a rally or on their doorstep. In fact, many campaign professionals have told us they prefer phone banks and lit drops to canvassing because they can control the message. You can tell someone what to say when they canvass, but you're not there to make sure they say it.
Most mainstream campaigns have as their only goal achieving 50.1% or more of the vote. Therefore, they are ostensibly concerned only with persuading the maximum number of people to vote on our side for the minimum amount of money spent. While this is perfectly logical, it does raise some issues that need to be considered.
Professional campaigns (candidate, issue, Democratic, Republican, whatever) have a tendency to focus on white, middle-class urban and suburban voters. This is because campaigns are usually run by people from these backgrounds and the issues being debated do not address the real lives of low-income people and people of color. In addition, there is a circular way in which certain people are excluded from the campaign. First, low-income communities do not receive any information about the anti-lesbian and gay initiative, are not encouraged to register to vote, and are left out of the campaign debates taking place in the middle-class areas of their town or county. These communities, partly because of all these things, often end up with a low voter turnout. This in turn, is used by future campaigns to justify excluding them once again.
As a principle, we believe that it is unethical to exclude entire communities from the campaign debate. This is especially true since lesbians and gay men live in every community. Many lesbian and gay mainstream campaign volunteers have noted that nobody in their neighborhood ever received a phone call or a piece of literature about the campaign.
Also it is not necessarily true that eliminating communities will actually increase the number of voters reached for the amount of resources put into the campaign. Lesbians, gay men and progressive straight people willing to work against the initiative live in the communities that are eliminated -- this means the mainstream campaigns are not only excluding potential voters who require more work, but also potential anti-initiative activists who are willing to do the work. Including these communities only takes more overall resources if the mainstream campaign insists on total control of everything. Once again, we are suspicious about how logical the cost/benefit analysis argument really is, and about how much of it it actually boils down to campaign control.
Mobilization of low-income and people of color communities, who have their own reasons to fear the right-wing backlash, is certainly the best short term strategy for defeating the Christian Right. It is also sometimes the best long-term strategy. Most polls have shown that middle-class and highly educated people are more likely to vote on our side than low-income people. Voting results, however, in the two areas we have worked in -- Lewiston, Maine, and northern Idaho -- have shown the opposite. The difference between what people say in polls and what they do in the voting booths may be because middle-class and highly educated people often have different ways of expressing homophobia. For example, it's unacceptable in middle-class culture to say that you are in favor of discrimination or that you don't give a hoot about the constitution. It is perfectly acceptable, however, to be homophobic, as long as this is stated in the language of "special rights" or "discrimination doesn't exist".
Contrary to popular myth, the Christian Right is not based in low-income communities. But one reason for their success over recent years has been their strategy of politicizing previously apolitical people -- in their case, apolitical Christians. It is their strategy to target communities in a grassroots manner, primarily through churches. This is because the Christian Right has perspective. They are far less concerned with winning each initiative than with winning recruits, one by one, to their way of thinking. It is significant, however that this strategy has been very successful in winning initiatives as well as recruits. On the other hand, while sharing with the Christian Right the grassroots focus of a strategy, which by-the-way they took from the progressive movements of the 60s and 70s, our strategies for winning differ from theirs and from the mainstream campaign.
One of the premises of LACROP is that there are as many ways to organize as there are organizers and constituencies. We believe that an out, direct-action, grassroots approach is probably the best way to both fight an initiative and build a community that lives beyond the campaign. However, we have also tried to maintain good relationships with groups which fight ballot initiatives and do community organizing with a more traditional style. (See "Finding Allies".) We try to focus on fighting the right-wing, not other organizers.
On the other hand, we have found that no matter how hard we have tried to accommodate "mainstream" campaign groups, there have been occasions when they actively tried to prevent us from doing our work. We interpret this as indicating that these groups view our work as a threat to their strategies and their goals. Since, as we discussed earlier, many of these types of campaigns are tied into national organizations and usually have access to a lot more money and influence than direct-action type groups, they can sometimes put a lot of pressure on smaller, newer and less well known groups. It can be very difficult to withstand the pressure, especially when you are told that the lives of all lesbians and gay men in your area "will be ruined" by your actions. (See Section on Backlash: Who's To Blame for Homophobia, for more on this subject)
As much as possible we have tried to avoid direct negative confrontation with oppositional mainstream campaigns or lesbian/gay groups since they are not our enemy. We have often gone to public meetings of groups we don't see eye to eye with because we have found that there are lesbians and gay men in attendance who would rather do our type of organizing but don't know there is an alternative to the mainstream group. Occasionally, when there has been no other way to stop such a group from blocking our work, we have had to stand our ground against their attacks, and call them on their behavior. If such a confrontation becomes necessary, we try to do it in a way that will create the least drama, and divert the least of the general community's attention from the vital work of the campaign.
If you are honest and your actions are morally and politically defensible, you will be less vulnerable to other organizers' attacks. You may want to have a community debate or analysis of the work of the campaign after the dust settles. That is often a less intense time to work out organizing differences. In the meantime, every organizer in the campaign doesn't have to agree, they just have to give each other the space to work. In most cases, knowing the community in which you're working will help with these issues.
It's important to realize that the right-wing, in general, and the Christian-Right, in particular are not new to this country. And, we aren't the first people who have fought against them. Reading some general history about the right-wing in this country and your state is a good way to begin. It can give you some good insights into the way they operate, how they have gotten support, and from whom. It will also give you information about how other people have organized against them. You'll also find that people are more prone to listen to your side of the argument when they see that you are knowledgeable about both sides.
Gaining knowledge about the Christian Right groups active in your area will help you frame your argument and begin to organize. You can get a sense of what you are up against in the way they state their arguments and the issues they think motivate people to action. For example are they telling people that homos are going to get their young sons? Do people actually believe that lesbian and gay hiring quotas are around the corner? What do they think are the strong points about their campaign?
Knowing your enemy well will help you feel more confident and be more competent. It will also give you some great ideas and venues for organizing actions.
There are some good books that can give you an overview of the history of the Christian Right. We've listed some of them in the back of this handbook apendix. It's a lot of information to take in, especially when you're dealing with an immediate threat but it's knowledge that can prove to be very useful. There's usually at least one dyke in a group who loves to do this kind of reading and who might summarize for everyone else what she learns. Or, have group members each read a different book and do a kind of teach-in to inform each other of what you've found. Make copies of the most salient parts and put them in your project journal or file.
The right-wing looks local but has an incredible national network for ideological and financial support. Information about their national level -- tactics, strategies, and issues -- will help you put what's happening in your area into context.
There are several national organizations which have been keeping track of the right-wing. We also list some of them at the back of the handbook. One is (Political Research Associates) (I think this is their name), a watchdog organization which has been following the Christian Right for many years. They publish a magazine and may be able to give you advice on the best approach to take in your situation. They might also be interested in knowing whatever you turn up.
You can also call or get on the mailing list of the Christian Coalition (read more about how to do this, below, in the section on mailing lists and phone calls). To find their nearest chapter or to get on their mailing list, contact:
A word of caution: Many of these groups spend their lives following the Christian Right and have enough bundles of information to bog you down way past election time. They are researchers, you are an activist. Try not to go overboard trying to ingest all their very detailed information. You don't need to know the specifics like who's who in each splinter group. Concentrate on the broader strategies and trends and leave the nitty gritty in the neat professional-looking little folders you get from watchdog groups.
The National Lesbian and Gay Task Force in Washington, D.C. has a Fight-the-Right handbook with some helpful information. Be aware, though, that the campaigns they describe are usually "mainstream" models.
Call groups which have already fought against anti-lesbian and gay initiatives in their area -- organizers in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Florida, Cincinnati, Maine -- contact grassroots groups like yourselvesrather than contacting only the "mainstream campaign" equivalent (which usually have names like "No on 1."). If you want to get a direct-action activist view of what happened, make a phone call. Anyone who's done this kind of work is probably very emotionally attached to it and would love to share their experiences with you. You may get new ideas for actions by asking them what worked for them - and what didn't. Out, direct-action dykes in other areas are great sources of information, inspiration and support.
It pays to have some kind of direct contact with the folks responsible for supporting the initiative in your state or area. This gives you the best sense of what you are up against. It's better than just reading the newspaper articles in your local newspaper, which already have a "spin" on them.
When it comes to getting important information about the opposition, one standard means of obtaining it often comes up, infiltration -- becoming a member of the state or local right-wing group For many of us, the Christian Right is an abstraction; we have never seen them close up. Hearing, rather than reading what they have to say, and how they say it, and experiencing how they operate, will be enlightening. In addition, you might find out when certain big-wigs are coming to town, when rallies will take place or when certain literature will be available. All of this can provide a basis for creative actions at venues where the media will be sure to turn up, making your job a bit easier. Infiltration is therefore, one obvious way of obtaining information but it can be very risky and difficult, especially if you want more than surface information. It takes a lot of effort and mental strain(having to sit through meetings quietly when people are going on and on about the "sins and perversions of homosexuality", etc.) and often does not provide lots of information unless kept up on a fairly regular basis.
If you do decide to infiltrate, a church is a good place to get started. Is the church supporting any candidates, mentioning certain upstanding individuals in their sermons or extolling key political ideas? For instance, do they relate the Good Book to local government control or school choice? Do a lot of people in the congregation have fund-raising parties for certain members' campaigns? Do any political groups meet in the church basement? If you already know of a right-wing church, you might get involved with the people there. Go to a pancake breakfast or a coffee hour on Sundays after the service. Find out if anyone knows how you can get involved with the campaign.
If you decide to go to church, the best way is to team up with your favorite fag. Why bring a fag date? For one thing, there's safety in numbers. Another reason is that a single girl is everybody's business; a married lady is above question. No matter what your age, without your husband you're always a girl and people will feel free to examine you and ask you probing questions: "You're here alone?", "Who are your parents?", "Are you new in town?", "What do you do?" The more background you have to make up to create your identity, the greater the chances of making a mistake somewhere down the line. If you go as one half of a heterosexual couple, family privacy will reign and you won't face such scrutiny.
A relatively anonymous place to dip into for information is the local Christian bookseller. Even if that store, in particular isn't supporting the initiative, there's bound to be information around. Look for notices on bulletin boards, stacks of flyers or palm-cards. This is one of the safest types of places you can go to get this kind of information. Whether on the state or local level, you can save a lot of time and energy researching the Christian Right by using the phone, getting on mailing lists and going on-line.
When we were researching the states in which signatures were being gathered for ballot initiatives in 1994, we called the state headquarters of the organizations sponsoring the initiatives. If you chat with whoever answers you may be able to get a sense of where their campaign stands. None of the Christian Right organizations would reveal whether or not they had enough signatures gathered to put the initiatives on the ballot, but you might get someone to brag "Oh, sure, we're over half the way there, we filed our 10 zillionth signature last week...."
Phones are definitely better on the local level. If you do some face-to-face snooping you might be recognized behind the line of a counter-demo or visibility action. But, when you call be prepared with an alias and decide whether or not you will leave a phone number, even if what you get is a taped message. In our case it would have been absurd to leave the number of the Lesbian Avenger headquarters. Not only was it known from all the flyers posted around town but we would have had to change our message and then what would our supporters think? But, you may have access to a more discreet line, maybe at work or a number that's only hooked up to a machine. In some areas you can protect a phone line from Caller-ID boxes by dialing #67 waiting for a dial tone and then dialing the number you want to call. Instead of the number and account name coming up on their box they will get a reading of "Privacy" as if the phone was unlisted.
If you get a real person, rather than a tape, when you call, and don't want to leave them a number -- which they are likely to ask for -- don't make it obvious that you have duped them into giving their enemy some information. This is a good time for an undercover ruse, such as "Oops, I have to run because I'm all alone in the house and I hear the baby".
If you are calling for information you have to have a reason. For instance: " Hi, my husband just got transfered to the town and I was hoping I could get to know some of the other families in the congregation". One of our favorite ways to engage the enemy in conversation, however, is to call with questions for a paper: "Uh, Hi", you can say, using your best shy, is-it-okay-for-me-to-approach-one-as-important-as-you voice, "I'm doing a paper for school about ballot campaigns in this year's vote." Don't use too much language that could reveal how much you already know about the subject or how comfortable you are discussing it. Or, use their language:"Hi, I'm doing this paper and I wondered if you could tell me a little bit about Special Rights for Homosexuals in your state?".
If you don't think you can pull off the phone call ruse, or if you want additional information, one of the best sources is Christian Right written material.
The Christian Right produces a lot of paper and you can get it delivered to your door. Use your real address but don't use your real name in case you are known as a fierce-dyke-around-town. You also wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. Also an alias lets you keep track of who sends mail to that name and if the mailing list has been sold to or shared with other groups. This might turn up more, possibly underground or less obvious sources of Christian Right organizing. You may get a mailing from a candidate addressed to your alias, which tells you that the candidate or campaign, is connected to the Christian Right even if they haven't publicly identified as such. Sign up on all Christian Right mailing lists you can get your hands on.
Definitely check on-line. It's much easier to make up a person on- line and you never have to talk to anyone about why you are interested or where you are from. All of this research, plus the rest of your work, is going to require at least a few dykes and the more you have the more you can do. So it's time to RECRUIT, RECRUIT, RECRUIT.
Good research is a major part of organizing a campaign against an anti-lesbian and gay initiative, but it isn't as dull as it may sound. It can mean finding out things you probably never learned in school and meeting all kinds of new people -- and some of them will be other dykes.
First you'll have to do research to figure out which areas or communities you will target in your campaign. Once you've made that decision, you'll still need to dig a little deeper -- even if you are working in your own town. Most of us don't know the political history of the places we live in, what issues matter to people in another neighborhood, all the groups that exist or other information that can help in getting the word out about the initiative or in finding people to work with. All of this information will be food for your creative thought about strategy and tactics.
Deciding which communities to target is a political act. We had to learn to get past stereotypes, challenge traditional campaign ways of thinking (targeting areas based on previous voting patterns or numbers of persuadable voters) and stick to our basic principles when making these decisions (See Introduction).
We prefer ideally to work in communities not being strongly targeted by the mainstream campaign. This not only helps avoid extra tension and turf wars, but also brings in communities that might otherwise be left out of the campaign debate. It also means that we can more easily evaluate how our strategy and tactics worked. These are also usually disenfranchised communities, such as rural and low-income areas who usually have the least access to information about the initiative. They often have their own reasons to be worried about the Christian Right which means it's easier to tie their issues to ours in literature and events. And, always remember that there are dykes and fags living there, even if you can't find them at first.
Sometimes you can easily pick out the areas or communities which satisfy your criteria -- you might live in one of them. Other times you might initially pick them because of what you have heard about them. At this point, you will have to start doing some homework so you can get past the stereotypes of areas and get a good, solid beginning working knowledge of the places in order to make some decision about whether or not they are areas to target. This decision is always tentative; you may begin work in an area and find you are getting nowhere fast. So, you may have to shift to another one. The better you research, the less likely this will happen. But, just in case, you might begin researching at least two areas that would be likely so that you can shift later on and not lose too much time.
Once you've selected a target area(s), some of the questions you might want to answer are: -- What are the political tendencies of the community (right-wing, mainstream, etc.)? What is this description based on and are there any contradictions (right-wing on one issue; left-wing on another)? -- What is the lesbian/gay history of the area? What is the current status of the lesbian/gay community there? -- What are the issues that matter to people in the community? -- What is the voting history (how many people tend to vote; how many people are registered to vote)? -- If lots of people don't vote or aren't registered, why not? --What is the activist and resistance history of the area (strikes, walkouts, civil rights demos, marches, land rights, etc.)? --Who are the "respected" and "unrespected" individuals and groups in the area, both lesbian/gay and straight? Why is that? As you are answering some of these questions, you will come up with others. Keep following the leads you get, both before and during your work.
Some of the information will be found in printed material:
1. "Blue Books", available at one of your local government agencies ( the County Clerk's Office, the Election Board) will give you the complete voting history of each district and precinct -- how many people voted and how they voted -- as well as the economic structure, religions, and racial breakdown of each area.
2. Political almanacs can usually be found at bookstores. These describe the political and economic history of each area in a more readable form.
3. Books, magazines and newspapers about or from an area can be interesting even for people who have lived their whole lives there. Go to the local library and see what is there. Ask the librarian to head you in the right direction. And, keep up with current newspapers and magazines; even the Pennysavers have information you can use, especially about local events and groups.
4. Lesbian and Gay guidebooks and newsletters. Often we don't know about lesbian/gay networks existing in our town or area but they are listed in national lesbian/gay guidebooks. The Lesbian Connection is a great resource for locating dykes around the country who may be able to provide you with good information about the area, including information about women's land located in rural areas.
Some is on the Internet:
If you are lucky enough to have a computer and a modem and are hooked into the Internet, you can put some of your questions out there and you'd be surprised how much you can find out.
But, reading isn't enough. Finding out how many people vote, or tend not to vote or register does not tell you why they do or don't do these things. In Lewiston, Maine, by doing door-to-door canvassing we found out that many of the residents of the Franco-American area were older people who had never registered to vote and no one was doing a registration drive there. Some didn't know where they could vote, others had no means of transportation. In Idaho, by speaking with activists on the Nez Perce reservation, we found that many people didn't know about the initiative. Face-to-face conversations will get you information nobody put in a book, especially information about lesbian and gay history in your area, about the history of local activism and about groups you might want to work with.
Some of the people you can talk to are:
1. Older lesbians and gay men in your community. They can inform you about the history of the community and the movement. Often, younger dykes and fags won't even know there was a vibrant movement at one point in time in a particular town.
2. People in political groups, community organizations, and non-profit or social service institutions. Conversations with people in these groups can be extremely enlightening, as can more strictly grassroots approaches such as starting a conversation at a local bar or coffee shop.
Information, by itself, does not tell you what to do. You have to figure out what it means for your campaign strategy and tactics. In order for everyone in your group to be able to contribute to these decisions, it's crucial that the information you get is shared. Come up with some structure for doing this. Have everyone keep a log of every informative conversation they have and photocopy these for everyone else or stick them in a centrally located journal. Keep useful newspaper clippings filed in a convenient location. Have debriefing meetings where everyone shares what they've learned in the past week and figures out together what this means for your work.
If you've done your homework and listened carefully, you will have greatly minimized your chances of sticking your foot in your mouth and infuriating potential allies with your ignorance and/or superiority complexes. You also will be able to use this information to develop approaches when canvassing or writing brochures -- approaches that will address the important issue in people's lives. In Idaho, for example, we worked in one town we were told was very conservative politically. We knew it had a history of labor union organizing and strikes. We also found out that the local union was still considered very progressive. We decided to meet with the local union official and he agreed to write and let us distribute a letter opposing the anti-lesbian and gay initiative in terms of supporting diversity and not simply in terms of non-discrimination. We made thousands of copies of this letter and folded it into the brochure we used for literature drops. In this town we won the initiative vote by a significant margin, something that was not expected at all.
In addition to finding out about the history of the community you are targeting, you will also want to find out the history of right-wing, conservative, and Christian Right activity there, as well as it's activity at the present time.
The Christian Right is in your backyard pushing an anti-lesbian and -gay initiative. You're not going to wait around to see if it passes or not. You know it's time to get out of the closet, the bedroom, the office, classroom, ballroom, and gym. Unless of course that's where you're staging your action. But what are the first steps? How do we reach other people and get them as motivated about saving their own lives as we are about saving ours?
Whether you are organizing in your own neighborhood, another neighborhood, your entire town, or one nearby, you'll need to recruit other people with whom to work. This chapter will discuss recruitment into your core group. For us, a core group means dykes who more or less agree with each other on basic strategies and goals, meet regularly, and plan actions. They don't do all the work of the group themselves, but they take responsibility for seeing that it gets done.
In Coeur d'Alene (pop. 28,000), four dykes started a new Avengers chapter.
In Sandpoint (pop. 5,000), a youth group was formed to address lesbian/gay issues, and 30 people showed up for a snowy street theater demonstration.
Following are some tips and guidelines we have found useful for recruiting to your core group. Many of these points focus on how to find dykes, what to say once you've found them, and how to get and keep them involved once you've met them. We assume we are writing to a lesbian audience. However, whatever your background, personal identity, or political affiliations, we're sure you can use creativity to apply these suggestions to your own situation.
1. Learn when to trust your stereotypes and when to throw them out the window.
Whenever we thought someone might be a lesbian, we went up and talked to her to find out. We were almost always right. In Lewiston, Idaho, two members of LACROP were hanging out in a local straight bar when they noticed two butch-looking women sitting at another table. They introduced themselves and started a casual conversation. These two lesbians showed up for the Lewiston literature drop a few weeks later and next thing we knew, they had helped found Lewiston's first lesbian and gay organization.
While stereotypes can be marvelously helpful, they can sometimes throw us off track. If we rely exclusively on narrow, over-represented stereotypes of how a dyke looks and what a dyke does, we can miss the fierce proud dyke right under our collective oblivious nose. Don't necessarily ignore the femme looking lesbian barmaid at your local straight club. Remember also that dykes in different cultures and geographical communities may have different styles and ways of recognizing each other and may therefore be overlooked by organizers from a different region, culture or community group.
2. Brainstorm about where to find dykes, and go there.
Lesbian/gay bars are one obvious starting point in the search for dykes, if you've got them. In many areas, there is a social division between "activist dykes" and "bar dykes." Setting up literature tables, actively canvassing bargoers to see if they're registered to vote, or just shooting some pool to get to know people can help bridge such a gap. If there is no lesbian/gay bar in your area, find out if dykes travel to the nearest one on weekends. We've found that in many rural areas, lesbians will travel a great distance to go to a dyke bar now and then-it might be worth your drive.
The Oregon Rural Organizing Project has had great success finding lesbians in domestic violence shelters. Many small towns have them, and they're usually full of progressives plus a high percentage of lesbians. In northern Idaho, we didn't have the opportunity to check this out (there was one domestic violence center in the entire 300-mile area), so we had to come up with other hot-spots. Some social service and political organizations are likely to include dykes who are already active to some extent, such as AIDS organizations, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapters, and unions.
Case your local bookstores, coffee shops, seed and grain stores, bars, Unitarian and Quaker churches, women's centers, universities, the streets, fairs, carnivals, malls-you get the picture. In Idaho we hung out in food co-ops and political meetings, scoured the yellow pages for likely-sounding businesses (it's not as hard as it sounds-woman-owned and progressive businesses will start to jump out at you), flyered the hell out of girls dormitories at local colleges, talked to organizers on the Nez Perce and Coeur d'Alene reservations, and just hung out for hours on the streets and in the bars of small towns.
In Lewiston, Idaho, a teenage fag took us into a theater rehearsal of the local high school, where we discovered several more young fags and invited them to a pizza party. Our newest recruits started by showing up at the pizza party, then came to the Lewiston literature drop.
3. Ask supportive straight people.
Even closeted dykes often come out to the supportive straight people in their lives. Anti-homophobic straights are sometimes easier to find than lesbians and gay men-especially if they're politically involved and outspoken about gay and lesbian rights. If they're straight they have nothing to lose, while some queers feel too vulnerable to be outspoken. In one rural county of Idaho, we had the name of a straight married couple who had been active against homophobia. Although they were hesitant about helping the Avengers, they agreed to have a visit with two of us. We had coffee in their house and camped out on their lawn. Just as the sun was rising and we were about to go home empty-handed, we heard a knock on our camper door. We were presented with a piece of paper with the name and number of a lesbian in a tiny mining town nearby (they had called her first to get her permission). We called immediately and made a date for lunch.
4. Use the lesbian grapevine.
When you find a group of lesbians or even just one, get phone numbers of friends and ex-girlfriends. Find the networks-political and social groups, house parties, businesses, women's music scenes, and women's land. The vast majority of people we've worked with have been found through these types of grapevines.
What to Say
This is your big chance: you get to walk up to as many women you want and you don't have to worry about saying something stupid. You have an idea, a passion, a concern for yourself and for others, so you spread the word about what's going on and what this girl can do to help. Your intelligence will overwhelm her, your inspiration will energize her; women will be giving you their phone numbers left and right. Whew!
It actually can and will happen that way some of the time. But some days, perhaps the first ten women you speak with will not share your enthusiasm. Just remember: dyke activists are out there and we're waiting for your call. Don't be discouraged by the women you don't convince. Relish the ones you do.
There are several approaches LACROP has used in recruiting dykes for political action. One way is to be explicit about why you're there right from the beginning. This is a good approach if you're giving a talk to a group of people. We've asked many groups and institutions if we can speak at their events-not just other lesbian/gay groups, but labor, anti-racist, and grassroots community-building organizations, as well as technical schools and community and four-year colleges.
When we plan a presentation, we think about how we can make our projects sound exciting to the group. We've learned to avoid the common activist trap of throwing guilt trips at people. Nothing turns folks off faster than threats like, "Everyone needs to participate in the phone tree this weekend, or we're not going to win the vote!" No matter how important your project is, if it sounds like drudgery nobody will come. Have options. Offer invitations like: "We're having a literature drop this weekend, and then a pizza party afterward. You're welcome to come to either. . . ." The Palouse Lesbian Avengers and LACROP held a "dance in" at a local straight club in Moscow to which many young dykes and fags came, some from the university group and some without specific group affiliations; after they came dancing many showed up on our doorstep the next morning to join the canvass. And they kept coming back, trying out whatever project needed help at the moment. It's not politically immoral to sell your work-oriented events by having something fun to go along with them. Remember that you're trying to get people involved for the long term; if you can get them to a pizza party now, they may come to a literature drop the next time.
An alternative to up-front recruiting is an indirect approach. This involves introducing yourself casually, trying to bring people into the activist community rather than getting them immediately signed up for a specific task. Walk up to someone who might be a dyke, or call a number someone's given to you. Say anything to get a conversation going. Talk about corny lesbian movies. Talk about corny straight movies. Make a date. In one town, we called up a woman we had heard of, said we wanted to meet more lesbians in the town, and asked her out for coffee. We say we're with the Lesbian Avengers somewhere early in the conversation, but not as if it's the only thing that matters in the world.
Throwing social events (which can double as fundraising parties) is a great way to make personal connections. We had a house-warming party when we first arrived in Moscow. Dozens of local dykes and fags came, the majority of whom we had never met, and many who had never even met each other. Everyone there had a chance to meet new people, and we kept a guest register (aka mailing list, phone tree, or little-black-book) by the door. The names and numbers we gathered at that party were an invaluable resource as the campaign progressed.
Tips for getting dykes involved once you've met them
1. Get over yourself. The possibilities for coming across like a patronizing jerk are endless. You may be talking to someone who doesn't know about your project specifically, but who has tons of activist experience and has just been taking a break. You may be talking to someone involved in a different political group from your own. You may be talking to someone who's been following activist politics (maybe even your own activist politics) for years and has developed arguments on a variety of issues. Don't assume anything. Don't say things like "Have you ever wanted to be an activist? Have you ever heard of direct action? Have you ever considered coming out?" Remember that every dyke you meet will have valuable knowledge and experience that you don't have-whether it's about the area or culture she lives in, her own activist history and ideology, or her life as a lesbian in a context different from your own.
If you are not from the geographical area you're organizing in, don't make seemingly harmless, well-intentioned jokes about the town/state/neighborhood you're in, even if the people who live there do. It's not a good way to break the ice. We believe that concerned and genuine activists have the right to go to-and will be welcomed in-different geographical communities. But acceptance within them is not something to be taken lightly.
2. Pay attention to other people's passions, not your own. Find out and seriously consider what ideas people have for political organizing. Figure out what excites people before you try to excite them. If someone's not comfortable dancing in the streets, tell her about your phone tree or door-to-door literature drop. If she's bored silly with mainstream politics, propose the dance-in. Come up with a wide variety of ideas to offer which fit in with what the other person is bringing up. As always, it's helpful if you have several diverse projects going on at the same time-like a visibility direct action, a door-to-door canvassing effort, and a weekly radio show.
3. Make friends. Don't think that the first few times you talk to a dyke you've worked hard to meet that you need to immediately talk about politics. One of the biggest reasons people get involved is because they're excited by the prospect of an activist community. Someone may have been waiting for something like your project and the community it generates. Spend some time getting to know her and maybe she'll eventually just ask to come along to a meeting or show up at an action.
4. Be patient. Many dykes will be making huge life changes and taking risks to join the movement. At a minimum, they will be spending huge amounts of time with people they barely know. You are a political organizer, check- in phone calls, postcards, etc., are part of the work. Make time for the people you with whom you work and on whom you rely. Call and remind people about all your meetings and actions. If someone doesn't show up for an action or a meeting she said she would attend, call and make sure she's okay. Plan social events now and then (yes, you will have to stop working sometime) and invite your new recruits, even if it's just for a movie or a game of pool. Make sure people are available for support when personal crises come up. Don't fall into the trap of believing that "if people really cared, they'd show up"-if you act based on that principle, you'll shrink your ranks faster than a Christian Right takeover would.
5. Expect tons of setbacks. People will be hesitant. The majority will never get involved at all or will get involved in a different group. Some will get involved, change their minds, stop coming, and maybe even later they will come back. Some will agree to come out by attending an event or an action, and then not show up. Be patient, and let each organizer come out of the closet or get involved at her own pace. Remember that for every one dyke you help mobilize, there will be many others who can't or don't want to get involved. It's worth the effort.
It's also important to remember that once people do get involved, they will have different amounts of time and energy that they are willing or able to focus on the group. If groups or individuals start demanding 100% of everyone's energy, they will end up losing valuable part-time activists and burning everybody else out.
All these strategies should eventually get you enough dykes for a core group. Then it's time to start meeting and to build momentum. This is an exciting but delicate time for a budding activist group. To keep your core group intact through this strenuous time will require you to be able to resolve conflict constructively and take care of one other.
Because an initiative campaign entails intense work within a tight time frame, you will probably have to hold meetings more often than you would if you were organizing on an ongoing basis. But having too many meetings can easily backfire-when you're sitting in a room talking, you're not out doing the organizing. Having meetings late at night when everyone is totally exhausted most likely won't be productive either, and can create or exacerbate all sorts of tension. Considering all the other pressures your group will be facing, you won't want to add meeting stress. Try to create a schedule of meetings which facilitate accomplishing work without decimating your ranks.
See "Working Together/Taking Care of Each Other" for more on avoiding burn-out.
The way you run your meetings can make the difference between keeping people in your group or causing them to leave, and between getting things done or spinning your wheels. Meetings of your core group should be efficient and even enjoyable. They shouldn't be a chore.
Keep in mind that many people don't like meetings. It's a good idea to keep them short. Providing snacks and drinks also makes them more bearable. If a meeting absolutely must or unpredictably does go on forever, you should consider building in some break times. Get up, stretch, do some yoga, flirt, tell loud jokes about the Christian Coalition, drink water. Refresh yourselves however you can then come back and finish the work.
You'll need to figure out what style of meeting works best for your group. Be willing to evaluate how things are going every once in a while and don't be afraid to try new approaches if things aren't working out. For example, sometimes people think that having everyone go around the room with the chance to speak is a good way for everyone to participate. However this assumes that the issue is one which requires discussion, when in fact it may be an issue which requires no discussion because everyone agrees. A rigid standard of going around the room for every issue would, in this case, make a meeting longer than necessary, and not too interesting. You could ask, first, if the question posed is one which people want to discuss. Or ask: is there anyone who needs to say something about the issue? Another option is to take a "straw poll" (a non-binding preliminary show-of-hands) to make sure you catch the input of people who might want to discuss something but aren't comfortable saying so. Flexibility in structure is the key to running a meeting productively and efficiently. But too much flexibility-or a total lack of structure-can leave things out of control. You will need to continually seek the best balance for your group.
The facilitator sets the tone for the meeting, calls on people to speak, and makes spur of the moment choices about structure and the agenda. This puts her in a powerful position. We try to make sure a different woman facilitates each time to avoid the domination of any one person's style. Also, we want everyone to learn how to do it-if someone is frustrated with the way a meeting is being run, she should be comfortable enough to facilitate on her own next time.
Facilitators are responsible for:
2. Calling on people during discussions
3. Keeping track of who's next (We let people speak in the order they raise their hands, excepting someone who has already spoken often on a topic, in which case we let other people speak first. If lots of hands go up we write them down and call on them in the order they were raised. This is called the "stack.")
4. Keeping the meeting running smoothly-cross-talk should be kept at a minimum, and discussion should be focused on the issues at hand without making people feel like they're being shut up. Discussion should also be focused on actions, not on theoretical issues-unless such discussions are relevant to the action, they can wait for the post-meeting pool game.
In large groups meetings, we usually choose two people to facilitate; in smaller meetings, including most of our LACROP meetings, we designate only one. Even small meetings need someone to facilitate so discussions don't meander into free form conversations that don't accomplish specific work.
Facilitation is a skill that is easily taught and learned. In New York we have held facilitator trainings outside of regular Avengers meetings, but in Idaho we ran trainings from time to time within the Palouse Avengers meetings. Facilitators are responsible for the meeting working smoothly. But that is hard work, and they need the support of the group in order to do a good job. When discussions get heated, people have a tendency to take their tensions out on the facilitator. Avoid this at all costs. Otherwise, only the thickest-skinned facilitator will continue to take the task on, no one else will learn how to do it, and no one will ever want to even try. At the end of one or several meetings you might want to evaluate the facilitation or meeting structure so the facilitator's job is improved. Offer constructive criticism and make sure to tell people when they've done a good job so that hard tasks don't feel thankless.
There are some ways we've found helpful to make meetings run more smoothly and to keep people coming back to the group.
At the beginning of the meeting everyone adds items to the facilitator's list for the agenda. The facilitator then orders the topics. The order we usually use is:
2. Reports on ongoing actions and projects
3. Evaluation and reports of completed actions
The main theme, obviously, is actions. We do not debate theoretical points, because this is time-consuming and can create false divisions before something concrete is even on the table. We might debate concrete strategies as they come up around concrete actions. This does not mean we hate theory-we just discuss it concretely in our meetings and abstractly outside our regular meeting times. Without some prioritization, meetings would last all night and all day because in the midst of a campaign, talking and planning is never complete. Prioritize based on deadlines or on the importance of a discussion to your strategy and tactics. We put announcements last, and outside groups' announcements, if there are any, after our own.
Make sure you make new people feel welcome. It's hard to come into a group that's already going, where everyone knows one another, and conversations are based on intimate knowledge of obscure and accumulated details which everyone assumes are self-evident. When there are new people at the meeting, everyone should introduce themselves. It's a nice idea to have a "hostess" so that an established member of the group makes sure to spend some time with newcomers after their first meeting, or call them during the week just to check in. The facilitator can help new members by making sure that people presenting ideas explain the issues and their history, and refer to things by their full names rather than the lengthy acronyms that make the died-in-the-wool organizer's heart beat fast ("members of INWGPA will attend the NWCAMH conference next week at U of I"). If you take the trouble to explain information, people can see that their understanding and input are valued no matter how long they've been with your group, and they'll be more likely to stay involved.
The facilitator's job is to keep the discussion running smoothly and efficiently, which means keeping speakers focused on the actions at hand and restraining speakers who are repeating themselves or other people. It's easy, especially when you're with a group of friends and people you work with a lot, to get away from the designated subject. The facilitator needs to keep everyone on track and, when a proposal is made, needs to make sure that that proposal is clear to the entire group before it can be decided upon.
Discussions can be clarified by dividing them into parts. When there is a proposal:
2. After everyone determines that they understand a question or proposal, begin the discussion. But don't let it go on forever. The facilitator listens carefully, so when the same points are made over and over again, she can point that out: "So it sounds like the things people agree on are this, this, and that." She can then ask if there is anyone who has anything new to add. This is a delicate task, in which the need to keep discussions within a reasonable time frame must be balanced with the desire of group members to have their say.
3. Before a vote, the proposal should be restated. This ensures that everyone clearly understands what they are voting on.
It's sometimes helpful to end a meeting by having everyone go around the room and repeat her name, then say what she's taken responsibility for doing before the next meeting. This is not to guilt trip anyone, but to summarize exactly what's going to happen and to remind each other that the main purpose of your meetings is to plan actions. It helps people see that everyone's input is valued and even expected, so that new members don't think that a core clique of people do all the work. It will also help people get into the habit of seeing that even a small task is a task, and individual's work will be acknowledged. It will also reveal if someone has taken on too much. If this is the case, the facilitator might ask her if she wants some help, or if anyone might take on some of her tasks or responsibilities so she won't be overwhelmed.
Before you conclude, decide on the next week's facilitator. If people come up with specific agenda items before the next meeting they can let her know early, so she will be better equipped to organize that meeting.
Finally, if you're all going out after a meeting, remember to invite the new members.
These points may make it sound as if meetings always run smoothly and there are never any problems. Don't be fooled! This is not true, as our experiences have shown. But there are ways to keep conflict from getting out of control.
If you succeed in creating a group with people who are willing to be out, to do direct action, and to fight the right-wing, you can guarantee that the members of this fabulous group will have all sorts of opinions about what to do and how to do it. And these are girls who won't shy away from arguing for their point of view! When a discussion about strategy and a possible action is seen as a think-tank-a time for you to play off each other's ideas and creativity until you come up with something that grabs all of you-you'll be glad to have such a vocal group. You can toss around all sorts of different strategies and move them towards one idea that your whole group can get behind. But this mix of opinions and ideas can be difficult if people dig in their heels or take negative stances against another's ideas.
We have learned the hard way what kinds of responses in a discussion move us closer to our goals, and what kinds leave us feeling angry and defeated. It is not helpful to simply tear apart someone else's idea-but it does help to point out a weak part and propose an alternative solution. Frame remarks as constructive criticism, not personal, political, or strategic judgment. Try to set up a group in which everybody's ideas can eventually be realized, and in which each person has a positive rather than a negative impact. Those suggestions may help you smooth a rocky discussion.
But there may still be an idea for an action or an issue which brings up strong divisions in the group. When we find ourselves in this sort of situation, we don't back away from the issue or let it tear our group apart. Instead, we try to enter into a process of negotiated compromise. In general, we operate by majority vote. We want to be able to move ahead with an idea even if every person doesn't love it. However, we have also learned that the more your group members are behind an idea, the more you can count on people doing work and showing up for an action. So seeking out a simple majority for an action isn't necessarily in our best interests. Also, if something passes by only a small number of votes it means that a lot of people think something is wrong with the idea, even if they haven't been able to articulate their concerns during the discussion. At such a time, we all make a commitment to negotiate so we can override factions, cliques, and division.
During this kind of discussion, each side must be willing to be flexible and open until a comfortable solution is found. Here are some strategies you can use during these types of negotiated discussions:
2. Don't speak unless you have something truly new to add to the discussion.
3. Try, despite the passion of your positions, to treat other group members respectfully, focusing your passion on the issue and not on each other.
4. Sometimes it helps to take a non-binding straw vote before your actual vote. If this preliminary vote is severely divided you can attempt to come up with a constructive alternative which addresses the divisive issues before you call the final vote.
Working on an initiative campaign is an intense experience. The emotional and political intensity is exacerbated by the tight time-frame, which has been predetermined by an outside force. Usually anti-initiative groups form in response to an initiative which is already in the works; they see the day of the vote as the end of the campaign. If an out, direct-action, grassroots group can form way before an initiative is filed, and can plan to continue to work after the day of the vote, then all the work of that group won't be riding an a single situation. But no matter how far in advance you plan, there is no denying that a lot of work will have to be squeezed into the few months between the time when the initiative is filed and the vote. And lots of things you could never have anticipated will happen during that time.
When people work together under such pressured conditions, whether or not they also live together, they spend a lot of time with each other. The positive side of this experience, for most of us, is that it is exhilarating to be with like-minded people working for something you believe in. There can be magic in that experience. But there can also be a down side. The work can seem overwhelming, and getting everything done in time can seem like the only important thing. "Success"-winning an initiative vote-can seem like the only goal and no one will want to be blamed for a "failure." Group members can feed off of each other's pressure-the more everybody else works non-stop, the more you feel you ought to, too. It can be hard to put your foot down and take a break (even though of course you'd work more efficiently, afterwards).
Under these circumstances it is easy to forget that you are human beings whose needs do not disappear just because you're working together on a specific time based campaign. It is also easy to forget that there is more to this work than what happens on the day of the vote. As a group and as individuals working within that group, you must find ways to work collectively with a minimum of tension, and ways to take care of yourselves within and outside of the group. Paying attention to these concerns will make a huge difference in how you feel about the whole experience both while it is happening and after it is over. It can make the difference between a group falling apart or staying together.
Here are some thing you can keep in mind to make the experience more positive than negative:
1. People have different personal styles. These are not likely to change over the course of a campaign. Some people are always on time; others are always late. Some people work best under pressure; others do better with advanced planning and time. Some people are sticklers for perfection; others do things with a broad stroke. Unless a person's behavior is offensive or irresponsible, learn to live with the differences and let each person do things in a way that is comfortable for her; you can take comfort in knowing that as a group you will have many different strengths. If someone is offensive or irresponsible, talk to her about it directly rather than grumbling to someone else behind the scenes and heightening tensions by forming cliques.
2. People have varying amounts of time they can put into political work. If you expect everyone to put in the same amount of time, and expect that amount to be lots of hours per day or week, you will limit the numbers of lesbians who can be involved in the group. On the other hand, if you figure out how much time different people can put in and organize tasks and responsibilities accordingly, you can insure that most will be able to contribute to the work.
3.The LACROP model is one in which each lesbian is a part of the decision making process-each member helps determine what should be done and how. It is not a model of leaders and followers. Our approach can be very trying. It can take a lot of time to make group decisions, while there are also some decisions which have to be made quickly without lots of time for processing. And, while planning collectively is important, constant meetings don't work. They are exhausting; people stop paying attention; they take time away from other work. Try to find ways to keep meetings to a minimum without sacrificing collective decision making and communication. Figure out which kinds of decisions should be make collectively and which can be made individually. Keep each other informed of what you are doing or have done; try also to respect the judgment of group members who have put time and energy into a specific project and have independently made decisions based on that expertise. When you are attempting to reach a group decision, listen to each other. Each person should be willing to give up her individual position if it is based on her preference and not on her political or moral opposition to someone else's ideas.
4.Sometimes people want to say how things should be done but never take responsibility to make things happen. Or, they show up once in a while and want to change everything that's already been decided. The temptation to tell them off is great. But it can never hurt to listen to what someone has to say, even if they haven't been around as consistently as someone else. They may see something with fresh eyes that has the rest of you stymied. On the other hand, it is sometimes more reasonable to stick to a plan everyone has made and is happy with-especially when a deadline is near-even if a new idea is a little better. Save it and do it the next time rather than put everything into a spin. Also, while it is not always necessary for someone to do the work for an action in order for them to suggest the idea, people do have to show a willingness, in general, to take responsibility for work and to be active to some extent if others are going to be willing to accept their input.
5.Figuring out who will do what is not easy. Some people are good at certain jobs but would prefer not to do them. Few people want to be stuck doing the same thing all the time. Other people avoid certain kinds of work because they don't know how to do it, think they won't do it well, and don't want to fail. There's no easy answer to any of these conditions other than to keep them in mind when you're splitting up work. You might pair someone who knows how to do something with someone who doesn't . Or if one member of the group is particularly experienced at something-writing press releases or making flyers-she can do a workshop for everyone else. One of the exciting things about working in a grassroots organizations of lesbians is the exchange of leadership, information, and skills-especially where tasks to which women don't traditionally have access are concerned (like sawing wood for lawn signs, or taking credit for leadership and hard work. . .). Try to expand everyone's skills and try not to let anyone get stuck doing something she hates or feels uncomfortable with. Above all, make sure to share the jobs that are boring or tedious. You can flip a coin for the ones with all the fun and glamour.
6. Speaking in public is something many people are nervous about-especially women. We think we need specific expertise or have to have a certain kind of style. We're afraid no one will listen to us or we won't be able to make ourselves understood. Or we don't think what we have to say is important enough to demand someone's attention. Speaking to the media or to the public is a skill almost anyone can acquire by just doing it. Specific suggestions for practicing public speaking are discussed in Section 4B, Media. Our point here is that as activists you are entitled to make your voices heard. Encourage each other to believe that.
7. People need time and space for themselves away from a group. Allow each other that time and space without guilt or intrusion. Sleeping and eating are not luxuries if you intend to be able to keep going. Creating a schedule in which you are constantly sleep deprived, eating on the run, or surviving on junk food (unless that is your preference) will make you all irritable and tense. Respect the boundaries that people set, and don't require explanation or justification for time away.
8. Do some things that have nothing to do with the group of the campaign, individually and/or collectively. Go to a movie; have a meal together. Read the book you've been carrying around for weeks. Buy the paper and skip directly to the crossword puzzle. Take a walk. Take a hot bath. These are not extras. They are necessities in order to maintain the energy and outlook that organizing requires.
9. Split your work into attainable chunks. Take note when you finish one specific item. With amorphous and endless work, it's hard to tell if you're ever getting anything done. Know that you are, but that if you keep going till midnight every day just in case, you will definitely stop getting anything done. 10) Remember to tell each other that you are doing good work. Sometimes we can get so focused on what else needs to be done that we never take time out to appreciate one another. With all of the pressure coming at us from the world outside our groups, we need to be there for each other in this way.
Out, direct-action, grassroots organizing costs a lot less than large scale, media type mainstream campaigns. But it still requires money and other types of resources-more money and resources than most of have access to personally. Despite your best fundraising efforts, money can become a troubling organizational and personal issue. How much is there? What should it be used for? How do you decide? How do you keep track? Often you can substitute other kinds of resources for money-you know someone who can contribute a computer, print flyers, or lend you a space at no cost-but even access to resources differs among a group of dykes. Some of us know useful contact people and others don't.
There are some things we can do to minimize tensions around access to money and resources. In order organize yourselves, it helps to lay out a budget in advance. In fact, preparing several budgets-each based on what you can do if you have different amounts of money-can help to keep things going without crises. Constant cash crises create lots of tension and sap energy required for the campaign work itself, so knowing where you are and what you can realistically do financially helps keep the tension level down.
One issue that can come up around money is the temptation to agree to do something because someone personally has access to the money to do it. Sometimes someone, who probably has good intentions, will simply say: "Well, I'll pay for it so lets do it," and the group will agree because it's available instead of deciding where it fits politically into the work. What this means in the long run is that someone with access to money will be able to advance their views of what needs to be done politically while someone without access to money won't. Political decisions should be made based on the soundness of an idea. If people working on the campaign think something should be done, but there is not enough money to do it, then everyone can figure out how to get money for it (see Section 5-Fundraising). In the meantime, members of the group who wish to contribute resources can do so-for the general use of the group, not just their project.
Most of us working on a political campaign contribute out-of-pocket money when we have it. But making assumptions about people's access to money and their ability to contribute financially, either to the group itself or to the work for it, can create problems. Don't count on the fact that people will have money to lay out before getting paid back. People who cannot do that can be made to feel less adequate than those who can, or will be put into the situation of having to let everyone know what their financial state is. This can be embarrassing and a strain imposed only on members of your group without money. And don't assume that someone who may have money should automatically pay out of pocket every time, either. In both cases, the group should be responsible for group expenses.
To avoid these kinds of tensions, have petty cash on hand and assume that everyone will use it (people who feel they don't need to use this money can make a small donation to the group at the beginning to cover those expenses, then when the time comes to photocopy a few pages and eat a sandwich, they can take it from the petty cash like everyone else-this way the sandwich doesn't become a symbol of political commitment or moral fortitude). Allocate money also for group work situations when you know people will probably have to eat or might want a drink, because not everyone can do this out-of-pocket either. Another way to avoid out-of-pocket payment is to set up accounts with businesses you use often-for example, a photocopying store. Then anyone from the group can take on the job of reproducing leaflets or brochures, even a small amount, and not have to front the money.
People also differ in their access to resources other than money. Some of us might know a person who does artwork, or theater, or someone with a space they might be willing to give to the group for a fundraiser. Other people don't have access to these resources. In order to make it possible for everyone to be able to do their part of the work by calling on available resources, keep a list of people and businesses, including who their original contact in the group is, and what they might contribute to your work. Then anyone can call on that person: "Hi, I got your name from Hothead Paisan, who suggested you might be able to help me knock over this building for an action I'm organizing . . ." This will ensure that anyone needing a resource has potential access to it-otherwise, you can set up a situation in which some people will find it easy to make things happen and other people will constantly fail.
All of these concerns-building and maintaining a core group-are relevant to your work on an ongoing basis. Some of the issues discussed may not seem important at first, but will come up as you go about your work of organizing. You will no doubt add to our ideas you own solutions. In the meantime, how do you get other people to learn about the prolific work of your established, healthy, functional, and efficient core group? Read on!
Recruiting is a constant process. This section focuses on getting people to come to your actions and events. Publicizing events has two purposes: to bring potential activists into your movement, and to create an audience for your actions, events, forums, and ideas. If you are taking the trouble to put some message out to the public, you hope there will be a public to receive that message. You never know what someone will get out of attending your event-they may wind up getting more involved in your group, the idea may inspire their work in a group in which they're already involved, or they may start their own group. Someone who is attracted by an unusual flier and drops in on a forum to learn more may start thinking about the issues you raise, or may be persuaded to vote in your favor. But whatever responses people have to information about your campaign, events and actions, you need to start by getting them there.
A sure-fire way to get the word out about your hot new group (or your hot new project) and to increase the buzz around town is to throw a party. When you inundate your community with flyers inviting all righteous dykes to come meet you at your upcoming bash, people are bound to be curious (see "flyering" in this section for step-to-step instructions on fierce bountiful flyering). A party can be a magnet for people to come together from all over. Don't be overbearing, but it is important to let people know why you've thrown the party. Have posters of information relevant to your political project on the wall, and flyers ready to distribute. Most importantly, don't forget to make a sign-up sheet to get the names of all the people who attended, so you can add them to your phone tree. You could start a "guest register," a book which you bring to all your social events. It can be a more inviting, less I'm-going-to-hit-you-up-for-work-immediately approach for coaxing a newcomer to give you her name and number.
Another approach is to attend regular meetings or other events where you may find interested people and announce yourselves. You could plug an upcoming event, hand out flyers or invitations, or simply announce that a new group has formed to do specific work, will meet regularly at a specified time, and new members are always welcomed.
Phone Tree Now that you have your little book chock full of names and numbers, what do you do with them? Make a list of all the numbers you have gathered-we call this a phone tree-and indicate in whatever capacity someone is interested in being a part of the campaign. Every time you have an action or event, call everybody on your list. When you need help with something specific, look at your list to see if anyone has signed up to do that. Some people may have offered to donate specific services, such as graphic design, guerrilla photocopying, or bartending at a party. The more you use your phone tree, the more valuable it will be to your organization.
You may set this up as a list, if it isn't too long and you plan to have one person make all the calls, or you may want to split it up, so the first person calls 5 people, and they each call 5 people and so on. Setting it up as a tree can be risky if your phone callers aren't 100% reliable, or if they don't get their message in enough time. We didn't split up our list, but tried to have a few people come over to make a portion of the calls when they were available. Always have a sign-up sheet at all your events in order to increase the numbers on your list. With the proper care and feeding, the phone tree is a resource which will grow and grow.
Always notify the press of your events. Even if you can't get them to run a story beforehand, you may get into a calendar or announcements section. If you can catch someone's ear or make up a good hook, you may get a longer blurb. Coverage of an event after the fact will still help get more people to your next event, because your name recognition will increase. See Media for more information on this subject. Even More Often
Flyers are an easy way to get your word out all over town. Use the phone tree and announce at a meeting that there is a need for many a flyering hag or fairy to post flyers all around the town, the city, the state, the country, the world, the universe! Confer about strategic spots where many people will view your handiwork.
Then pull together to put out a fierce flyer out for the party, for the announcement of the group, and for all upcoming. Make 8 1/2 by 11 flyers to stick on every outdoor surface within a 5-mile radius of your organization. Make 1/4 page sized "palm cards" (3X5 cards which are the smaller version of the flyers) to leave at bars, bookstores, fairs, or any other events, and to hand out to girls as they leave clubs, meetings, or even walk down the street. Handing them out is a great excuse to walk up to women and start an interesting conversation . . . . Make 1/3-page sized cards (the size of a legal envelope) to ask other groups to stick into their own mailings.
The same places you went recruiting are good places to hang flyers. Coffee shops, bookstores, and co-ops are prime places for flyers. Put them on street poles, light fixtures, town bulletin boards, in laundromats, at construction sites. Plaster multiple flyers in one space, take a step back and admire your art. Then get the hell outta there. Use tape, a staple gun, or wheat paste. Wheat pasting entails using wheat paste, available at your local hardware store (sometimes called wallpaper paste), water, a bucket and paint brushes. Wheat pasting flyers means you can plaster a whole bunch of flyers in no time flat. It is also generally illegal; your group should be aware of the ramifications (the status of the misdemeanor and size of the fines) in your town if you choose to do this. And don't wheatpaste on people's houses or privately owned spaces-it won't get you much support!
You will find that your opponents will have the need to tear your flyers down. Flyer hags love this occasion to be able to show off and strut their stuff. We will stop at nothing to stay a step ahead of our opponents. We put flyers up at four in the morning and case our spots daily to make sure they stay up. When our opponents tear them down, we just put them back up again. True flyer hags will piss off their opponents with their vigilance and commitment (For some real fun check out Greasing Your Poles for lawn-sign vigilance, in Section 1).
Persistent flyering and use of the phone tree cannot be underestimated. We once made over 400 calls to get people to a debate in Moscow featuring local support and opposition to Proposition 1. We told everyone an early start time and consequently, the hall was packed with rowdy anti-Prop 1 forces before anyone from their side ever showed up. When they did, there was no more room-the lone right-wingers squeezed in to stand behind the last row of chairs; the rest of their ranks milled around outside. We brought a variety of signs for our supporters to hold up during the debate, so that even at a distance or on camera, we stood out as opposing Proposition 1. Coverage of the debate was fabulous: it was obvious to anyone that Moscow stood firmly opposed to Proposition 1.
Attracting people to come to your events goes hand in hand with media-as your actions find larger and larger audiences, your media coverage will grow, too. And when your group is in the newspaper, on the radio, on-line, and on TV, people will discover your work in even larger numbers. Recruiting takes many forms and has many purposes in your growing movement, and the same is true for making use of media.
No matter what the occasion, a little media attention goes a long way. With effective media coverage, a visibility action that is seen first-hand by thirty or forty people can suddenly capture the attention of thousands. As a campaign strategy, our media goals are threefold: to promote lesbian visibility, to recruit people into the movement, and to persuade more people to vote on our side.
Our experience is that media coverage is easier to receive in a rural area, small town, or small city than it is in a large urban setting-for instance, New York City. When an anti-lesbian ballot initiative is sponsored in a region for the first time, tensions run high and the controversy is fresh-it's safe to say that getting some coverage won't be too difficult. The media thrives on controversy, so we rarely had trouble attracting attention in small towns and cities like Lewiston, Sandpoint, and Moscow.
The first step in using media is to find or create a media list. This is a list containing all your media venues-newspapers, magazines, television programs, and radio channels. It should include a fax number, at least one good contact name, and a phone number. There are different kinds of media which can be used in different ways, so you may want to keep the lists separate. The most salient divisions for our purposes were queer media versus mainstream, and regional versus national.
Lesbian and gay media outlets in your region (papers, radio shows, on-line bulletin boards or web pages) can be used to share strategies and organizing ideas, to educate the community, to publicize actions and social events, and to recruit volunteers. These press sources should receive all the press releases you send to mainstream media (see below). In addition, you could send them entire articles you have written, or pitch stories about your group to them in the hopes that they'll write their own articles.
You can also utilize regional press in different places around the country to share strategies and educate communities nationwide. For example, other communities may be fighting similar ballot initiatives at the same time as you are. Regional lesbian and gay press are often run by a small, dedicated core who are happy to receive material to print, and may even print press releases verbatim. If you send a written article, they may also print that in its entirety. During our preliminary organizing, we sent out an article about LACROP to small regional papers around the country to publicize our strategies for fighting initiatives, and to find lesbian activists who agreed with wanted to work with us. In the course of our research, we discovered the Palouse Avengers when we happened upon an article written by one of their core group members in Diversity, the Idaho lesbian and gay paper. You never know who might read something once you put it out there.
The national queer press (a forum with national distribution which doesn't focus on one region) can be used to share strategies and ideas, to educate the national community about what's going on in your region, and possibly to solicit financial donations for your work. Obtaining coverage of your organization in national forums often requires more aggressive pursuit. Contact names of sympathetic writers/editors will help-if you don't know anyone offhand, you can scan past issues to try and find a writer who might be interested in your work.
You'll want mainstream media to: 1-publicize your events before they happen in order to increase the number of participants, 2-cover your actions and events, hopefully in a sympathetic way, and 3-to be aware of your group's presence and importance, so that they will contact you for an interview whenever a relevant issue comes up, or so that they might write a general interest story about the ongoing work of your group.
Even when you're in the mainstream press, you're speaking to dykes and fags. In Lewiston, we got a story written about the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society's "Cotillion" the morning before the event. Dozens of lesbians and gay men showed up that night for the first publicized lesbian/gay event in the history of the town-many of whom who had heard of it through the newspaper.
1. Write a press release. A press release is designed to grab the attention of reporters and editors so that they want to attend your event and/or write a story about your group. It is ideally a one page (occasionally longer) event description, and is traditionally written in the voice and tone of an actual article , in the third person, but is livelier and more clearly supportive of the event than a typical article would be. It must include who, what, where, when, and why-answering those questions is a good place to start from when you're writing. The press release can also include quotes from members of your group. Describe the aspects of the action that will be most titillating for reporters, although these details may not necessarily be the ones you find most meaningful. Make sure the most important information is in the first paragraph, and the least important information is in the last paragraph . A compelling heading is very important-it's relatively easy to do this with lesbian and gay issues, especially in small towns. Be sure to include a contact name and phone number at the top of the press release. Anyone in your group can be the contact person, but remember that that is the person most likely to be quoted by the press at an event-you may want to rotate people for this task.
2. Fax the press release to your media list. A fax machine is a worthwhile investment; make getting one a top priority for your fundraising. There is also software designed to fax a document to every fax number in your file-it might be worth looking into the availability and cost of this.
3. Follow-up the faxes. Make personal phone calls to the contacts on your list, urging them to attend your action or event. This is often easier in smaller towns and cities as you or someone in your group may have personal contact with some of these people. For example, in Lewiston a member of the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society made a call to a friend which got us the pre-event story about the Cotillion, instead of just a listing in the upcoming events section of the paper.
4. "Train" yourselves to speak to the media. When attending actions we think everyone should prepare themselves in advance to talk to the media and that this opportunity should be shared by everyone in the community. This way, we all assume ownership of our actions-and we don't manufacture artificial lines between "experts" and "volunteers," as if some activists are good enough to show up and do some work, but not qualified to speak on their own behalf. There is no one lesbian who can represent every dyke in your group. Each member should have the opportunity, as much as they want, to speak to the press and the public. When different lesbians talk about their own reasons for being in a group, or participating in an action or event, you will sound like real people. If you all spout the same line, you'll end up sounding like followers of a cult.
Most people get better at public speaking every time they do it. You can give each other help by suggesting wording or by working together on a speech and listening to each other practice. Or a group member can stand with the dyke on the spot to give her moral support. Also, we do have a general principle that, unless everyone has agreed to the statements beforehand, anyone who speaks in public or to the press should make it clear that they are speaking for themselves and not as a spokesperson for the group or for anyone else.
Your media training could just consist of a discussion of possible responses to media questions. It's always helpful if, before an action, everyone can go around in a circle and articulate to the group what they think the action is all about. It clarifies everyone's own thoughts and gives them ideas of what to say if the press does want an interview. Just in case people get cold feet at the action and don't want to talk to the media, make sure that at least one or two people are willing and prepared to do it.
5. Keep track. At the action/event: make sure to get names of media people who show up, so you can keep track of who shows interest.
6. Make follow-up calls and send out a follow-up press release or story. Make sure to call the media people who showed up at your action or event. Ask if they need more information, how you can be helpful, etc. Also send a follow up press release including a contact number to other local, regional, and national mainstream and gay media. Call the local media who didn't show up. Often they will write a story anyway, using your original press release as a base, and adding information you provide over the phone. Even if this doesn't get you coverage, you'll be creating a relationship with the reporter who might show up another time.
7. When you get coverage clip the newspaper stories & tape the TV/radio shows for your files. You can use these press clips for continued fundraising, for new leaflets, or to pass on to others. TV/radio show coverage can be used at events or incorporated at a later time into a video about the campaign or your group.
8. What if you get no media coverage? Sometimes, no matter what you do, the media ignores you. Sometimes it's because some other major event occurs on the same day as your action. A kiss-in may not be able to compete with a 3-foot snowfall or a mass murder. Other times there won't be reporters available at that time and place, and your follow up call won't be enough to convince them. Remember that actions are not done solely for media coverage; you will reach people at the venue, and continue to build your own momentum even without media coverage.
There are many types of media coverage other than straight news stories. If you are creative, you can get your group to turn up all over the place!
Letters to the editor are a good source of media coverage. The editorial section will usually print anything, and during heated initiative campaigns, papers sometimes devote extra space to pro- and anti- proposition letters.
Another venue to try is the classifieds. After the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society had their mammoth pink triangle stolen from the Lewiston Hill, they placed an ad in the lost and found: "Lost: 100ft pink triangle, last seen on the Lewiston Hill. If you have any information please call the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society at 208-xxx-xxxx." Insidiousness works, too.
The internet is always a good media area: place information on relevant bulletin boards; create a home-page on the Web.
In Idaho we started the Lesbian Avengers Radio Show, which in addition to being a break from our usual work, gave us the opportunity to get our word out to the radio-listening college campus crowd. We brought in guest speakers to talk about Idaho's Proposition One, publicized events, actions, and parties, and tried to solicit volunteers. College radio stations in your area, the local affiliate of the National Public Radio, local Pacifica radio stations, or any other public access radio are good places to investigate getting Public Service Announcements or your own show on the air. In our case, two local lesbians in Moscow already had their own shows at the college radio station and were able to set us up with a time-slot through the station manager. We didn't have any experience, but they were glad to show us around the equipment and it didn't take long to learn (although we made our share of embarrassing mistakes at the beginning).
By federal mandate, there is one station in every cable system that is designated for public cable-access. Facilities for these stations vary widely-some towns' public access stations include full production facilities that are available for public use and have introductory training available, too. Others don't have such extensive production facilities, but will still run what you give them as a special or a regular series. You can use these stations to run a video-tape you make of an action, or start your own show. Host a talk-show and invite other organizers to speak on a topic. In the state of Washington, x project produced a series called American Values which they ran for twelve weeks while the Christian Right was gathering signatures to place an anti-lesbian -gay initiative on the ballot. American Values was geared towards "public education" at a time when misinformation was rampant. In Idaho, a gay farmer produced a 30 minute piece called "Out in the Middle of Nowhere." This was on the public cable stations several times in the weeks just before the vote; it was also shown at local screenings designed to bring people together and get out more information.
There are also lesbian and gay shows with national distribution that are shown on public access cable or the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS). DYKE TV is distributed on public access cable and is happy to run segments sent to them by lesbians around the country. In The Life is a PBS project which may be willing to cover a story in your area.
It is often useful to videotape your own actions and events. You can send it to established media sources (mainstream or queer), or play the tapes at social events, conferences, etc. to motivate new recruits. You can also promote a video screening as a way to bring people together and raise money. Super VHS and Hi-8 are consumer-level formats-they're easy to use, look pretty good, and are far less expensive formats to work with than the professional standard, Beta. If no one you know has a camcorder it might be worthwhile to find one to borrow, rent, or solicit a donation to buy one new or used. Colleges and public-access stations are good places to check out free equipment. Having a video camera at actions is also a good safety device: people will think twice about pummeling you to the ground if you are getting it all on tape.
In the craziness of your final campaign hours, don't forget about cultivating media coverage for after the vote. You can send press releases, story ideas and articles about your vote analysis and the effectiveness of your strategies to both queer and mainstream venues. Prepare two versions of your materials for immediate release-one as if the vote was won, the other as if it was lost. If you lose, it will be important to keep the momentum going and bring something positive out of all your work; this will help the community from self-destructing. If you win, you can celebrate your work and your strategies through the media.
As the dust settle, plan to share your experiences with lesbians in other states through regional lesbian/gay newspapers throughout the country. Again, these venues will often print your stories verbatim. We wrote a story about the Idaho vote that was picked up by The Nation. For more discussion of ways to work after the vote, see Section 6B.
Working with media can be as simple or involved as you want. At the bare minimum, you can publicize your work with fax lists and press releases on an ongoing basis. If you want to get more involved, you can create your own media by writing articles, creating a web page or bulletin board, producing a video, or hosting radio and television shows. These are all projects which offer opportunities for creative and different kinds of organizing-which can attract new people to your movement, spur new kinds of visibility actions, and give organizers a break from one kind of work as they learn the skills to do another. As we have learned, it is always to our advantage to be working on a range of projects.
The impact of media work is not always immediately obvious, but in the long run you may see direct results. As with all of the organizing work we discuss, if you look at the campaign as a jumping-off point for sustainable movement building, then you can see the media generated during the campaign as one piece of that greater visibility. Initiative campaigns are a chance to capture the attention of an entire town or state-now is your chance to say what you want, and know that it is being heard.
OK, so not many people like to fundraise. In fact, most people hate to fundraise. Unfortunately, most long-term organizing is going to cost something no matter how bare-boned you go. The good news is that there really are all sorts of sources for money and resources, and all sorts of ways for your group to get your hands on what you need. And, as discussed in the "issues" section, developing creative ways to raise money can also allow many people to make use of different kinds of personal skills, resources, and access.
Remember, fundraising includes both "in-kind" donations and money. In-kind donations are things that are given to you directly, as opposed to money to buy those things. For example, a big box of envelopes or 30 hours of legal counsel constitutes an in-kind donation. Then there's plain old money, which occasionally is "restricted," or intended to be used for one specific part of your project (like someone makes a donation to cover your rent, which you theoretically can't spend on anything but your rent), but most often is "unrestricted," which you use for whatever you want.
In order to come up with a plan for funding your project, start by making a budget. This will help you figure out just what you need and what you already have. Also, many sources of funding require you to submit a budget, so it's a good idea to have one on hand. Your budget will change constantly. You may want several versions-a few for your own use (one if you hit the lottery, one if a few of your fundraisers are successful but a few are not, one for if you have one eighth of the money you had hoped for), one for a foundation which doesn't want to pay for travel, conferences, or general operating expenses, another for the foundation that likes to pay for travel, but not photocopying, and another for the major donor who really likes projects that use up a lot of stamps.
Include in your budget every possible expense your project will incur. You may need to pay for copying; postage; paint, poster-board and fabric for making signs and banners; gas to reimburse drivers; conference fees; lunch for the 35-hour-day; phone bills; phone bills; phone bills; and whatever else your groups must shell out money for. Because our project included traveling-leaving our jobs and apartments-we decided that our budget needed to include provisions for whatever the members of our group needed in order to go on the project-whatever they required once they quit their jobs and sublet or gave up their apartments.
We didn't want to have a project that excluded activists who couldn't afford to make those sacrifices, which would only enable those dykes who had certain financial resources to do the political work. We therefore committed to helping each member of our group secure housing when they returned-a loan to pay a security deposit, or finding subleters for them before we left.
Other personal concerns could include health insurance or child care-for example, if working on your project means giving up a job, and members of your group can go without earning their salaries but can't give up their health benefits, maybe you want to include COBRA payments in your budget. Or maybe you want to find a pool of baby-sitters so dykes with children can work with you. These kinds of expenses are as important as photocopying and gas for the car, because if you don't consider them you could end up with a project that is accessible only to wealthy dykes.
Once you have a rough preliminary budget for your expenses, you can begin to make plans for raising an equal amount of income. Money can be found from a variety of sources. Foundations (people who make grants), individuals-both "major donors" who give big money, and the women who send you anywhere from $5, $20, $100, or more-and special events, are standard places to look for money. A good long-term fundraising strategy is one that doesn't rely exclusively on any one source-you don't want your project to be devastated if your major sources fluctuates.
Direct Mail/Private Donations-a.k.a. Hit up everyone you know!
Why should people give you money? Write it down. Be sincere. Now send it out to everyone you know. Sending massive mailings to everyone you know, anyone your organization has been affiliated with, any potential ally and supporter, is an honest and truly grassroots way of funding your project. If your constituents don't think what you're doing is worthy, who will? A project that can get big money from foundations and corporations is often not the same project that best serves our communities. A project that can rake in $5, $10, or $25 from hundreds of regular old dykes-not just major donors-is an honest grassroots project. Giant gifts come and go, but a wide base of support is more steady and will serve you far into the future.
Sometimes other organizations will be willing to lend you their mailing list (a loan means they will give you names and addresses once, but not for your use forever), or will stuff your mailing into the next thing they send out. This can be useful if you think some of the people on their list are people you would reach. But do consider the cost of mailing, versus the probability of an organization's constituency overlapping with your own. You will also need to decide at some point whether or not you are willing to "trade" names-if you will give name from your mailing list to another group in exchange for some of theirs. The security of your list might be very precious to rural dykes that are coming out for the first time. LACROP does not give names from their mailing list to anyone.
Thank donors promptly and sincerely. Make it clear that you appreciate any size contribution. Keep the names of people who contribute or even just contact you in a database, to which you can mail in the future for more donations or to update on your work.
So who is a major donor, and how do you get her to donate majorly? The major donor is someone with the ability to finance a significant portion of your project, and who has shown an interest in the work. We solicit these contributions the same way we solicit anyone: through an articulate and sincere presentation of a damn good political project. Also, think up a discrete part of the project that a donor could fund: "We're hoping you could underwrite our travel expenses. We need 6 round-trip tickets from New York City to Spokane Washington, which is going to cost us $xxx-thousand dollars." Or, "We need rent for three months, which is $800/month." This is a better approach than: "our total budget is xxx; do you think you could give us a bunch of that?"
Another way to extract big bucks is to ask celebrities to get involved. We had playwright Tony Kushner do a benefit reading of his new play for us, using various famous friends of his in each of the roles. You could ask a popular figure in the community to publicly endorse your campaign, or write a letter in their name asking for support. You could also ask one donor to underwrite all the costs of a benefit.
Have a party or a performance or a night at a club at which a percentage of money from each ticket or entrance fee goes to your group. Brainstorm a list of people you know who could contribute to such a project: poets and writers who could give a reading; fledgling or famous playwrights, choreographers, dancers and actors who will put on a play or dance; the owner of the dyke bar; the owner of the straight bar that all the dykes in your town go to . . . etc. Benefits can be extremely labor-intensive with low returns-if you're going to put a lot of work into an event for which you will only get a small percentage of the money that comes in-for instance, hosting a night at a club where you will get $2 per head but none of the money made at the bar, and you'll have to publicize the event (flyer, phone tree, press-by now you know the routine) and mobilize your volunteers to work there (set up, clean up, working the door, working the bar) and the event will be packed so it looks like you're raking it in but you're actually coming home with $84.20-maybe it isn't the best use of your time and energy. On the other hand, if an established party is willing to give you some money and all you have to do is give them some flyers, it could work out very well for you.
As a policy, Lesbian Avengers have historically charged $5-$10 for events. We wanted to make the lesbian spaces we created accessibly to all dykes. And at the door, no one was ever turned away for an inability to pay. Fundraising for LACROP raised some difficult questions for us-what should we do when someone was able and willing to host an event that would draw plenty of people for an expensive entrance fee? Big ticket special events wrought constant debate in our group. Did we want to have events that most of us and our regular supporters could never afford to attend? On the other hand, would we give up an opportunity to raise thousands of dollars through one event? These are sticky issues which your group will have to find comfortable solutions to, whatever route you go
A more grassroots approach to special events is throwing a series of house parties. These are parties thrown in your honor hosted by someone in their house-preferably someone outside your core group, whose friends haven't already given their life blood for the project. The two most common approaches are to charge people something at the door-depending on who's throwing the party, you could charge $5 to $50-for a cocktails or a dance. If you have a low-cost party it won't exclude members of your community from attending, but you can have potential money makers inside and can provide opportunities for those who can to give more. For example, you could sell raffle tickets, chocolate kisses to be delivered to that special girl, hair-cuts, tattoos, etc. The other approach is to charge nothing for people to attend, then have speakers during the evening who make a serious pitch for the project. At this point your lovely guests whip out their checkbooks and give what they can.
Try to get house parties out of your back-yard. Look for people who aren't in the midst of defending themselves from the Christian Right to take on some of this work, either organizers and allies in another state, or members of your community who aren't participating in the campaign. It isn't too effective to try to raise a lot of money from within your base of organizers. On the other hand, if you need to raise a small amount of money for a specific event, you could pair the action with a fun fundraiser, like a dance or a party at one of your members houses. Is someone you know a fabulous chef? They can throw a fundraising dinner for you.. Charge a SMALL fee, our maximum is usually $5/person, which is what someone might expect to pay for a minimal night out, and gives people a chance to be together in a social setting.
There are grants out there which, with enough lead time, your project could get. A good place to start looking for grant-making organizations is the Working Group on Funding Lesbian and Gay Issues' guide, "Founders of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Programs-A Directory for Grantseekers." This invaluable directory is periodically updated, so contact the working group to get the most recent edition: 212-475-2930. Most grant applications require a few basic elements: a cover sheet summarizing your project, a narrative application responding to certain questions (how will you implement the project, who does it serve, etc.), a project and organizational budget (make those up if you don't have them), attachments including press clips, literature you produce, or other representative material, and letters of support. Some foundations are less formal than others; if you are just starting a project or are new to grant-writing, it may not be worth your time and energy to apply at this stage for giant grants that require giant applications. On the other hand, you absolutely deserve to be funded, so don't be daunted by the process. You may not look as slick as certain big-budget national organizations, but you're not trying to, either. You're trying to do an important political project and if there is money going to lesbian and gay work, your project should see some of it!
There has been a heated national debate going on for years about how to defeat anti-lesbian and -gay ballot initiatives. Some take the "winning is everything" approach, saying that visibility actions which might upset straight voters should be put on hold until the legislative assaults are over. Others say the ballot initiatives are not a fight chosen by our movement, and we should therefore focus solely on visibility and movement-building instead of on campaigns. We believe these objectives do not have to be separate. The Lesbian Avengers Civil Rights Organizing Project set out to prove that visibility and courage builds movements and wins votes. The following is a detailed analysis of the voting results in the 1994 Idaho vote.
Statewide, it was an extremely tight race. "No" votes put down the anti-gay initiative with just 50.4% of the votes. That means that out of 406,265 ballots cast, 3,098 votes made the difference. In fact, all of the anti-lesbian and -gay initiative races leading up to and including Idaho have been won or lost with very small numbers of votes. This means that using as many strategies as possible, that speak to varied constituencies, can make a difference.
Every county that LACROP worked in produced a "No" vote that exceeded the statewide average of 50.4%, even when compared to counties with similar political and economic histories.
In Bonner County, an extremely rural region in the far North, where Human Rights Task Force meetings are routinely disrupted by swastika-wearing Aryan Nations members, we won the initiative by 54%. In the town of Sandpoint (pop. 5,000), the location of our Bonner County door-to-door canvassing efforts and anti-censorship direct action, we won by 75%.
In Nez Perce County, a working-class, historically conservative timber county with no history of lesbian and gay organizing, we won by 54%.
In Latah County, where our home base of Moscow is located, we won by 61%, or 3,005 votes. While Moscow is a relatively liberal town, the rest of the county is not. We won by 58-64% in the other small, conservative, farming towns of Latah County where we helped rural lesbians and gay men organize literature drops and public forums.
By comparison, counties that LACROP did not work in did not fare so well. Kootenai County, the north's largest county, was considered by No on One field coordinators to be pivotal in whether Idaho defeated Proposition One. It is often considered the second most "liberal" county in northern Idaho, next to Latah. Kootenai was the site of the northern "No on One" office, where they centered their yard sign, phone bank, and other mainstream campaign efforts. LACROP members were strongly discouraged from doing visibility work with local organizers in Kootenai County. Kootenai County lost, with only 46% "No" votes.
Out of the ten northern counties, Proposition One was defeated in the three counties in which we worked, and two others: Shoshone, where we did not work at all, and Lewis, where we did minimal work. Some campaign analysts have used this as proof that our work was electorally insignificant. But Shoshone voted overwhelmingly liberal that year; in fact, it was one of two counties in the entire state where more people voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Larry Echohawk than voted "No" on Proposition One. This is significant because Echohawk lost heavily throughout the state, and because, as Attorney General, he had been vocally against Proposition One. In other words, there are not many reasons somebody would vote for Echohawk and "Yes" on One, but in Shoshone many people did.
Lewis County, the other northern county where Proposition One was defeated, is predominantly Nez Perce (the reservation takes up most of the county), and historically anti-homophobic. No on One did not do any work in Lewis County. LACROP actually did do some work there (a literature drop), but not a sustained organizing effort, due to the fact that our contacts developed there late in the campaign season.
The four northern counties not discussed here passed Proposition One by overwhelming margins, as did most of the southwestern region of the state. In fact, in Ada County (in the southwest where the state capital of Boise is located), the area with the largest gay population, the most gay groups, and the only gay bars in the state, the Proposition was defeated by only 2725 votes out of almost 97,000 (51%).
These county returns on Proposition One clearly indicate that LACROP's strategy worked. The entire state of Idaho (population 1 million) defeated Proposition One by 3,098 votes. The three counties targeted by LACROP (population 85,000) defeated it by 4,785 votes; without those three counties, Idaho would have passed Proposition One.
A Final Note: The above analysis does not mean that closeted approaches can't win elections-they can, and they have. But when closeted approaches lose, it's absolutely devastating to the community-ask activists in Colorado or Cincinnati. On the other hand, even if a pro-visibility approach loses (and this hasn't happened yet, to our knowledge), there is still a lot gained during the campaign (see "After the Vote").
Doing Your Own Analysis
After you have done the work in your area, and after the vote is in, it is a good idea to do your own analysis of the votes. Some of the information you need will be in the local papers the following day or two. Other information can be obtained from your local election board. Don't just look at overall vote counts. Compare the areas in which you canvassed to the ones in which you did lit. drops (if you did things differently in different places). Compare the towns in which you worked to other similar places in which you didn't. Compare votes on the initiative to other blatantly conservative and liberal races. This kind of information, while never totally conclusive, can give you a basis for future work and will also help you to send out media stories in which you can document the value of your work in ways that people understand.
The vote analysis, however, is not the only kind of evaluation you can do. Your whole core group should get together to discuss which things worked or didn't, and why. Talk about what you might do differently next time. And consider other things you can do to evaluate your work and to keep the energy going after the vote.
The Christian Right has a long term planning strategy and we need one too. Whether we win or lose a vote we need to make sure there will be an organized community afterwards, one that will develop sustainable structures and groups who will be there to fight for our future survival. An anti-lesbian and -gay initiative campaign is a good situation in which to start building, though obviously not one we would choose, because there is intense momentum gained in a short concentrated amount of time. How can you hold on to this momentum?
Thinking about "after the vote" has to begin early-as early as thinking about "starting a campaign." Some strategies lend themselves to ongoing organizing; others do not. Does your movement or group have only one spokesperson, one person who makes all the decisions? What if that person leaves town or gets burned out? That movement or group is probably not going to make it. On the other hand, consider a campaign which has given many activists a point of entry, and has promoted shared ownership of the work. That campaign can evolve into a rich movement, with room for many kinds of ongoing work and shifting leadership.
We try to organize in ways that build momentum and will be sustainable. Some of the ways to accomplish these goals are:
sharing skills and information
sharing ownership and leadership of the work
keeping track of how we do things, what is successful, and what is not and
ALWAYS, ALWAYS BEING VISIBLE AND RECRUITING
But even if you work in all those ways, the success of your group after the campaign is still not guaranteed. We learned painfully, from our experience in Maine, that if we were organizing in an area in which we didn't live, we couldn't just leave after the vote and simply maintain personal contact with individuals we had met. We had to figure out a way to put closure on the initiative campaign which would give us information about what did and didn't work and also would provide a place for all of the diverse groups which had worked against the initiative to meet and talk about the campaign and the future of organizing in their area.
In the section which follows we talk about what happened in Idaho, both immediately after the vote and during the next year. Some of the events the New York LACROP group was involved in, including actions immediately after the vote and the "Out After One" Conference. Other events were described to us by Natalie Shapiro, a founding member of the Moscow Avengers (which later expanded to become the Palouse Avengers) who later founded IRONGAL, the Idaho Rural Outreach Network of Gays and Lesbians, and by Judy Hasselbrouk, a co-founder of the Lewiston lesbians and Gay Society and who, after the vote, also joined the Palouse Avengers. One NY Avenger moved to Idaho for the following year, and worked on IRONGAL. We've compiled these experiences to give you a picture of what happened after the vote, along with suggestions for what you might do in your area.
The Day After the Vote
It may seem that once the voting is over and the results are in, your work is done. In reality, it has only just begun. The challenge after the vote is keeping people active, uniting different aspects of the community, and changing your stance from reactive to proactive. Whether you've won or lost, the day following the vote is a key time for an action.
Plan an event to symbolize your strength and endurance, and to inform the Right that although the vote is over you will not lie back down and return to the closet. Use it to acknowledge all kinds of contributions that the community made to your campaign-the hard work, support, and donation of space or resources-and to point out the progress that was made by your project, regardless of the outcome of the vote. And don't forget to gather names.
Here's how Judy described the day after in Lewiston, Idaho:
Election evening in Lewiston, Idaho was spent sewing together a 100 foot wide pink triangle to be placed on the top of "Lewiston Hill," a giant hill that encloses the town and can be seen from every point of the city. It was a non-confrontational action yet it united the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society as we struggled to complete the masterpiece before sunrise. It towered on the hill the day after the vote, demonstrating our commitment to continue fighting for our rights and illustrating that our spirit was not diluted.
The Lewiston action was designed so that it would be meaningful whether or not the vote was won. The same was true of the action planned for Moscow by the Palouse Avengers. On the day that voting was taking place they distributed and wheatpasted a flyer that said:
What are You Doing the Day After Proposition One?
Join the Lesbian Avengers in a Victory March or Protest
After debating between a protest, a waltz-in/kiss-in at the local downtown square, or fire-eating, they settled on eating fire in a central location. The action was timed to happen just after daytime working hours. The media was invited and were astonished, along with many other onlookers, as Avengers extinguished the radical right hatred they had seen and heard over the past few months by eating the fire that symbolized their fury. And, although we won the vote the signs spoke to the future. For example, one sign addressed the frighteningly close vote: "51% is not enough." The message that we had triumphed was clear, cut it was clear too that we could not become complacent.
If the results of the vote are close, the outcome will not be known until the following morning. Planning an action that you can use regardless of the results means that you won't have to alter your action plans at the last minute. You will also have plenty of time to alert the media. And, doing an immediate action the day after that symbolizes your strength-win or lose-will contribute to your momentum for a long time to come.
A Few Weeks After the Vote
The vote is over, you've slept for a couple of days, seen a couple of movies and begun to relax, but the Right will not be wasting any time planning next year's initiative so neither can you. Keep in mind that many people in our communities will be burnt out. They have been living and breathing this campaign day and night for the last few months. On the other hand, many will still be flying high on the adrenaline, rushing to take a proactive stance to ward off any future attempts by the right to legalize homophobia.
This is a good time to reflect on what you have learned, and how the political process has changed you, as an individual, and how these same events have impacted on your larger communities. Not everyone will respond to what has happened in the same way that you do. Groups fighting anti-lesbian and gay initiatives tend to have the same end goal but all want to take different roads to get there. This is a useful time to bring together the many groups and individuals that worked side by side so that you can relate positively now that the vote is over.
During the campaign we made alliances with people throughout northern Idaho; the stage was set for long-term organizing. Proposition One, the anti-lesbian and -gay initiative, was a short-term issue that drew people together. How would people maintain these connections for a long-term movement? What issues were important and what strategies would we need? To help begin answering these questions, LACROP organized and coordinated a conference to be held two weeks after the vote, called "Out After One."
We tried to organize the conference so that the widest diversity of people could come and would come. Natalie thought:
The conference was unique in that it was free. Most conferences cost money, which precludes poor people from attending, thus ensuring that only those with money have access to information and empowerment. In addition, lunch was free and we offered to reimburse people for transportation costs. To cover expenses we wrote a grant (and got a local restaurant to donate food). To reach as many people as possible we mailed invitations and a conference schedule to all the individuals and groups we had met during the Proposition 1 campaign. One thing we did not do that we should have was place ads in all local newspapers and put up flyers in all rural communities.
The conference had four workshops:
2. Responding to violence in Northern Idaho: How and why is violence used against gay men and lesbians? How can we build long-term support structures for each other in the face of such violence? Speakers from the Idaho and Oregon Anti-violence Projects were invited.
3. Rural Organizing in Northern Idaho: How do rural lesbians and gay men find each other? How can we build long-term structures to organize for lesbian and gay rights in rural communities? The Oregon Rural Organizing Project and those in Idaho interested in rural organizing presented.
4. The Lesbian Avengers: using direct action to fight for lesbian visibility and survival.
The conference was emotionally moving as participants reflected on the last three months. The importance of queer visibility in fighting anti-gay initiatives came up again and again. During the anti-violence panel, people discussed anti-gay incidents in their lives, and what resources are out there to fight hate crimes. During the rural organizing workshop we discussed how to approach rural communities. Overwhelmingly, people wanted to build coalitions between the various groups in our communities, both within the queer community and between the queer and straight communities. How do we do that? We discussed finding an issue that would tie us together, such as democracy at risk .
Natalie detailed what she considered to be the four goals that emerged from the conference: building coalitions within the queer community, starting an anti-violence project in northern Idaho, starting a rural organizing project throughout Idaho, and continuing and strengthening the three grassroots groups in the area: the Palouse Avengers, the Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society, and PLUS (People Like Us). Everyone agreed that lesbians and gay men had to continue being visible and working to make northern Idaho a place where they could live openly and proudly.
The Months That Have Followed the Vote
In the months that have followed the vote, some ideas and groups have survived; others haven't. The attempt at a lesbian/gay coalition fell apart, and the anti-violence project didn't seem to garner any interest. On the other hand, the Rural Organizing Network is alive and despite some fits and starts, the Palouse Avengers, The Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society and PLUS are still going strong. Following are details about ongoing work in Northern Idaho:
Attempting to Create a Lesbian/Gay Coalition
The Anti-Violence Project
The Rural Organizing Project
Shortly after the vote, three Avengers formed the Idaho Rural Outreach Network for Gays and Lesbians (IRONGAL). They had several goals. One was to help break the isolation rural lesbians and gay men experience by forming support networks. They also sought to help organize educational efforts in rural areas which would focus on lesbian and gay issues (such as photo exhibits, speakers and films). Instead of only dealing with lesbian and gay issues in the face of an initiative, their overall goal was to change homophobic attitudes to those of human acceptance of lesbians and gay men.
The project was modeled after the Oregon Rural Organizing Project (OROP) that began in 1992 in response to rural communities' frustrations at the religious right wing that was taking over their communities. OROP is a network consisting of human dignity activists (both lesbian/gay and straight groups) in just about every county, rural and non-rural, throughout Oregon. OROP provides informational and technical support to groups in the network, and helps bring people together to share ideas.
The IRONGAL project used many of the approaches we have already described in this handbook-researching communities, understanding how rural communities function and where you can enter, gain trust, and so on. IRONGAL members contacted as many existing human rights groups as they could. They found it very difficult to find lesbians and gay men, and very few were willing to participate in the network. They also found some sympathetic straight people. In some places, though, IRONGAL organizers couldn't even find anyone interested in broader issues of human rights.
After talking to human rights activists throughout northern Idaho, organizers of IRONGAL felt that in small communities a broader group might be more desirable because there weren't enough people to spread out in groups to deal separately with every type of human rights abuse. So to fit the needs of the communities they wanted to work with, IRONGAL changed. It became IRON-The Idaho Rural Organizing Network.
They have found that people often say they are working on what they see as the "immediate" threats, such as militias, constitutionalists, and racists taking over their communities. While they may agree that a pro-lesbian and gay educational effort is needed in their community, they want to focus on what they see as the most imposing threats. There are a couple of ways that IRON is dealing with is this: 1) offering to take on responsibility for organizing a pro-lesbian/gay project with a minimum of help from the group; and 2) illustrating ties between pro-lesbian/gay projects and the groups' perceived concerns. For example, IRON will bring a speaker to address the rhetoric of militias including homophobia.
Natalie has struggled with how far she is willing to change her original intentions: I was willing to make IRONGAL more broad. However, I am not willing to compromise on my values. If a human rights group were to say they want to work with me but please don't say I am a dyke, or they don't want to deal with queer issues, then too bad. I will continue to work with them to help them to get over their homophobia, but I will say that queers are a part of IRON and I need people who aren't homophobic to belong. This scenario hasn't happened yet, but if it does, I'll remember that a goal of IRON is to educate people about queers to eliminate homophobia.
Even though IRON emerged from a successful anti-initiative campaign with tons of momentum, sustaining lesbian organizing in rural areas without the impending initiative has been extraordinarily difficult.
Ongoing grassroots organizing: The Palouse Avengers, The Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society, and PLUS
According to Judy:
The single factor that has determined the groups' success over the last nine months is their ability to plan actions and make them happen. The groups that began in Idaho-the Palouse Avengers, The Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society, and PLUS, People Like Us, remained strong by being visible and planning actions as well as social events. The last thing we want now is for queers to go back into their closets and disassociate themselves from altering their community. We want to keep people together.
Things these groups have done include fundraising dances to celebrate the victory-The Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society held a Cotillion, the Palouse Avengers marched in the Mardi Gras parade and took out advertisements in the local papers on Valentine's Day exclaiming "Jane loves Jill". Groups have taken over a local bar and made every Friday night queer night; they have planned queer camping trips. They have painted signs for any random reason and posted them around town-for example, "The Lewiston Lesbian and Gay Society wishes you a happy St. Patrick's Day." In essence, they have put a lesbian/gay slant on as many events as they could get their hands on.
On the other hand, Natalie talks about some of her frustrations:
. . . it is difficult having a radical, all-dyke group in a small town. There are over 50 dykes (that I know of ) in the Moscow-Pullman-Lewiston area. Only a handful are interested in direct action, radical ideology, and a dyke-only group. Since Prop. 1, we have had 7-8 consistent Avengers who show up at all the meetings and do most of the work. Most of our actions include gay men. . . . We have always felt that we needed large numbers at actions to show the non-gay community how many of us there were. However, we were compromising our ideas of promoting lesbian survival and visibility. The men were still the ones who would shout the loudest and get most of the attention. In our male-dominated, patriarchal world, we need to focus on lesbians, even if we have fewer numbers in our actions. An Avenger visiting from Austin, Texas, pointed out to us that all you really need is 3 or 4 dykes for an action. This was great to hear, and our next two actions were all-dyke actions and were absolutely marvelous!
One action was handing out lollipops that said "Lick Homophobia-Don't Sign on To Hate," along with a flyer that discussed the new anti-lesbian and -gay initiatives in Idaho and Washington State. The second was an action at a July 4th celebration in a local park: the Avengers constructed two ten foot high, paper mache women embracing, and read their "Dykelaration of Independence" which pointed out the racism, sexism, classicism, and homophobia attached to the Declaration of Independence. Natalie said that lots of folks came by, and she thinks the action made people think.
The Palouse Avengers have come to the conclusion that some of their actions will include gay men when they want large numbers. But they have also found out that you only need a few dykes to do an all-dyke action. And you never know when new dykes will join to do an action.
But the Palouse Avengers has had its share of growing (and shrinking) pains. According to Natalie, burnout, frustration, and disagreements over tactics at times nearly brought the group down. In order to work through their problems, they planned a weekend retreat with a non-violence trainer and an Avenger from Austin, Texas, who was visiting. Natalie said: This weekend saved us, I think. We were in a beautiful, remote area away from the "city," and we spent the weekend talking about how to resolve conflict, peacekeeping, planning actions, role playing in actions, communicating, what bothers us, and how we can work through our difficulties. . . . Even though the workshop wasn't officially a mediation, the two women who ran it were not from this area so they were absolutely not involved in our shit. They could talk to us about our problems and make suggestions and we didn't get defensive. They could also offer advice based on their experience.
Ways for Your Group to Survive
Based on their experiences in the nine months after the vote, here are some of the things Natalie and Judy suggest:
2. Minimize business meetings or separate these from meetings for planning actions.
3. Bring in an outside mediator to deal with internal conflicts.
4. Keep all phone lists, and if you don't have phone lists, throw a party and collect names and numbers.
5. Keep people connected and reach out to as many parts of the community as possible.
6. Let your presence be known. There are hundreds of ways to do this. Here are some: approach the local police and initiate a hate crimes awareness training focusing on fears of the queer community; go to local colleges and plan an "Everything You Wanted to Know About Queers But Were Afraid to Ask" panel; plan a self-defense workshop; protest "At-Risk Youth" conventions that do not include a queer contingent; write letters to the editor thanking those who have been supportive and denouncing those who have not; work with PFLAG chapters, your local teachers associations, religious groups, League of Women Voters, AIDS groups, health departments, senior centers, YWCA's, women's groups, and more.
This is what Natalie and Judy had to say about their experiences thus far:
Natalie: As far as dealing with those who try to discredit us, the best way is to let our actions speak for themselves. LACROP won people over during the campaign by showing their integrity, respecting others, and being willing to work with them. I have gotten great feedback from the "lollipop" and July 4th actions and have heard no negative things from those that dislike us. . . . Many of us were worried that our enthusiasm would diminish once (New York) LACROP left and the election was over. But the opposite has happened. We had learned new skills and what is more important we were empowered. We felt like we could organize, that we could do wild and crazy and serious things in little communities. We have the strength to keep going, even when we almost fell apart, even when the most committed of us was seriously burned out.
Judy: continue to make contacts and BE OUT. And, when the next initiatives begin collecting signatures you will have spoken with a great number of groups, letting them see you as a person, having spoken with you, and possibly having changed a few minds. Remember that it's harder for people to vote against queers when they know us, work with us, or live near us. And, as Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; Indeed, it's the only thing that ever does."
© 1993, 2011 Lesbian Avenger Productions
The Lesbian Avenger Documentary Project