Welcome to our brand new feature: What’s Bothering Michael Petrelis Now? Other than everything of course! Michael’s a local activist, and he’s been stirring up shit on gay and HIV-related causes for years and years. No matter the situation, he always has an uncanny ability to find something — anything — to vehemently oppose. Sometimes he actually does stuff! Other times he just gets annoyed. So! What’s bothering him now?
The looming ballot fight for marriage equality, probably coming in 2010! We’re probably going to lose, says Michael. As in, he thinks California will probably vote AGAIN to ban equal marriage. And you know, if things don’t change, we’re inclined to agree with him. We’ve been seeing the same unsettling signs that he has, and we’re just as nervous.
So, what’s to blame? Too many homosexuals! Or rather, too many groups of them. California has lots of clubs for politically active homos, you know. They’re all opposed to the marriage ban, obvs, and Michael’s opposed to them failing to cooperate with each other.
“There’s a need for me to know exactly who all are the existing players, and you know there will be more as the gays plot and implement a losing strategy for 2010 or 2012,” Michael writes. He sure sounds like a fun guy! Anyway, the other day he blogged about how he got stoned and made a list of 40 California groups that are all potentially fighting to restore marriage equality; because those groups will be competing for gay dollars, he writes, “the 2010 or 2012 ballot prop is going to fail.” Feeling gloomy yet?
The thing is, he may be right. Things are pretty gloomy right now. Check out these similar articles from leading gay blogs Box Turtle Bulletin and Pam’s House Blend — they both express reservations about a gay march on Washington that’s slated for this October.
Is now a good time for a march on DC? Everyone has different opinions about why the march is happening, lots of people don’t want it to happen, and nobody’s sure who’s going to do the organizing. And who’s going to pay? No wonder some groups are pleading for a different march — in Maine, not in DC, since in October Maine will be only a few weeks away from voting on marriage equality.
If someone were to ask you, “who’s leading the fight for gay equality these days,” how would you answer? With increasing alarm over the last few months, gays have been lamenting the lack of leadership — either from an individual or an organization. But this isn’t just a failure of leadership — it’s also an unwillingness to follow, or even cooperate. If the movement for equal rights is an airplane, there’s nobody at the controls; but even more crucially, even if there was a pilot on board, nobody would let him into the cockpit. Everybody wants to be the pilot, and nobody’s ready to surrender the possibility that they might eventually get to be in charge.
If you really want to feel panicky, check out this terrifying article in LA Weekly. None of the major players sounds ready to cooperate with each other — in particular the group “Yes on Equality,” which managed to claim the reins for a 2010 ballot fight, despite being a bunch of young people who’ve never really done this kind of thing before. Courage Campaign is a relative newcomer with lots of campaign expertise but less experience advocating for gays; and EqCa was among the fumblers of Prop 8. Nobody has anything mean to say about each other; but they also don’t say anything nice, either.
So there you go: the thing that is bothering Michael is also bothering us! Actually, “terrifying” might be a more appropriate word for it.
But this is totally frustrating, because just as you’re getting ready to say “we need more collaboration,” you remember that that’s exactly what sunk the campaign last year: death by committee. Back in 2008, a group of representatives from a bunch of different gay orgs formed an Executive Committee to fight Prop 8, but even they couldn’t agree on a cohesive strategy until the Gill Foundation sent in new leadership at the last minute. And by then, it was too late.
So too much autonomy will fracture the campaign — but too much power-sharing will paralyze it. We’re doomed! There’s only one thing that’ll guarantee a successful overturn of the marriage ban; and that’s all of us reaching out, one person at a time, to family and friends and coworkers and everyone, until eventually enough voters understand why equality matters. And then even the worst campaign won’t matter. So how far away are we from that point? To be honest, if this is really going to happen in 2010, we’re finding it hard to be optimistic. (And so is noted civil liberties professor Dale Carpenter.) That’s a lot of hearts and minds to change. Right now a win in 2010 all rests on how many people you can talk to today.
So, get to work.
Oh and one interesting side-note about gay groups collaborating: after the election, the No On 8 campaign tried to keep the names of the people on the Executive Committee secret, and they were successful — until one person finally stirred up so much shit that they eventually released the names.
You’ll never guess who that person was. Michael Petrelis.
Matt Baume is the creator of Stop8.org, and does a bunch of behind-the-scenes marriage-equality organizing.