Yesterday I experienced an absolute roller coaster of emotions here in North Carolina. In the morning, I was grieving on Facebook with many friends who were devastated that our state passed a Constitutional Amendment (“Amendment One”) to ban gay marriage and domestic partnerships. It was a blow for equal rights, civil rights, in our beloved state which we had hoped would reject this measure.
Then, as we were still coming to grips with the election result, by 3 pm President Obama had announced his support for marriage rights for gay couples! This is a huge advance and I want to thank President Obama for reaching this point of public support. It made all the difference in the world to hear this on the sad day that North Carolina wrote discrimination into our State Constitution.
What does this mean for progressive causes? We should pick up this success and RUN WITH IT all the way to November, building coalitions and working together. I am disappointed that so many progressives are downplaying the significance of President Obama’s announcement, saying that it took too long, didn’t go far enough, or was done for political reasons. We need to shake that off and embrace what has happened. The President of the United States has said he supports marriage rights for gay people. That is a historic milestone. And by the way, from where I sit in North Carolina, a swing state, it took a lot of courage, leadership and vision for the President to make this announcement on the day that the state voted against marriage and partnership rights.
Democrats and Progressives need to get organized and disciplined between now and November. We are up against a very well organized Republican opposition with tons of money. (Actually the Republicans are in a world of hurt, with their coalition ripping at the seams, and a weak candidate in Mitt Romney but they are still very powerful and funded with unlimited secret money this time around.)
Thoughts on what Progressives need to do now:
We will win our causes by addition, not subtraction. We need to build our coalitions. Gay people need civil rights. In North Carolina, even with yesterday’s defeat, advocacy organizations could celebrate the amount of new supporters they had brought together. For example, Equality NC grew from 26,000 supporters to 100,000 supporters since last November. And, the LGBT community saw that their straight allies were willing to make equality a major issue in their political lives, with donations, letters to the editor, yard signs, phone banking, and voting. We had a huge voter turnout. 831,788 North Carolinians voted against Amendment One. How can we mobilize those 831,788 people between now and November?
Who else needs to have their rights protected? Women, whose reproductive rights and health care are under attack. People of color, whose voting rights are under attack in NC. The environment–all the people whose clean water and air would be threatened if fracking came to NC (hint, that is all of us, and particularly farmers and rural citizens, many of whom strongly oppose fracking). Students, who face crippling student loans as well as large cuts to educational funding from birth through college.
How can civil rights groups, economic justice groups, reproductive rights advocates, and environmentalists come together in a disciplined way and work our butts off to have greater wins in November? There are excellent groups doing this work and I will give a shout-out to Blueprint NC, which is a leader in our state.
We need to keep focused on finding Progressive allies wherever they are and not allowing ourselves to be divided. One trend I saw in the conversation on Facebook yesterday was people from the urban Triangle area where I live saying, “I’ll never set foot in the counties where they voted for Amendment One.” That is a huge mistake. We can’t write off those voters. We need to engage them–those areas won’t necessarily be a stronghold of liberal views, but how can we make a case about the economic recovery, health care, clean air and water, and other issues that we share? We need to bring more people into the fold, and come November, each and every vote will count.
Finally, this is probably a good subject for another post but I will touch on it here, I have thought a lot about the asymmetry of Tolerance versus Intolerance. It is harder to organize Tolerance because it naturally comes with a worldview that understands shades of gray and differences of opinion. A tolerant person might be personally turned off by abortion or gay marriage but would still vote in favor of other people’s rights to conduct their lives differently. The intolerance of the Right is naturally more organized because they see the world in black and white. It infuriates me that someone like Rick Santorum somehow thinks his own morality is offended if I use birth control. Intolerance is terrible social policy–and it feels threatened to the core by Tolerance itself–but it makes for a disciplined political approach if a coalition can be sustained.
So for those of us who are tolerant, Progressive, Independent, or Democrats, it’s time to seriously come together. Don’t let the Republicans divide us and for heaven’s sake don’t divide us ourselves!!!! Give President Obama credit and thanks for his support for marriage equality. See the seeds of political progress when they are in front of our eyes, and water, nurture, tend it it and GROW a movement.
Onward to November.