Stay and Fight

Commentary: Center Field

When the stakes in an election are high and our chances of victory are quite good, we can become so invested in winning that we start making threats about what we’ll do if we lose — whether we are opposing Proposition 8 in California or supporting Barack Obama for president. I have heard things like ”I’ll boycott,” or, ”I’ll leave the country.” We should resist these impulses because they are untrue (how many would actually emigrate?), they waste energy, and they give comfort to our adversaries. Social conservatives would love to see GLBT folk disappear.

Consider the logical result of boycotting states that pass anti-gay ballot initiatives. Such a stance would already exclude us from three-fourths of the country, not to mention punishing friends in those states. Fortunately, a more proactive approach has gained strength in recent years, as statewide groups — members of the Equality Federation — improve advocacy and organizing to elect allies and eliminate discriminatory policies in the states.

Some states, of course, are further along than others in the fight for marriage equality. We stand a better chance this year of defeating California’s Proposition 8 than Arizona’s Proposition 102. It is perfectly reasonable for donors to direct greater support toward fights where we stand the best chance of winning. But our long-term success depends on building capacity across the country in addition to preserving our victories in Massachusetts and California. There is plenty of work for all of us, and no use for hand-wringing and crying doom. To help defeat anti-gay amendments to state constitutions, visit votenoprop102.com for Arizona, noonprop8.com for California, and votenoon2.com for Florida.

As for the presidential election, given the recklessness, dishonesty and desperation of the McCain campaign, and the appalling prospect of another four years of Republican residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., I have some sympathy for those who say they will do something dire if Obama loses. But their time would be better spent seeing that he doesn’t lose.

The past eight years have shown the tactical advantage enjoyed by ruthless individuals. Many deeply religious people are uncomfortable making a public show of their piety, just as many who love their country cannot stand to make a public show of their patriotism. Unfortunately, this modesty can have the effect of leaving the field to those without such scruples, which results in a rapacious few wielding disproportionate influence. It’s easier to turn a crowd into a mob through fear than to persuade them with reason. When lies follow upon lies in an endless barrage, as with the McCain campaign, it can wear you down to the point where you feel like disengaging altogether. That is how the Rovians are hoping you’ll react.

If ever there was a time to make it clear that fundamentalists have no monopoly on faith, this is it. If ever there was a time for rescuing patriotism from intolerant jingoists, this is it. The particular gifts of the Democratic presidential nominee — his organizing skills, his eloquence, his sharp mind and dry wit, his cool temperament and his toughness — give us a rare opportunity on Nov. 4 to reclaim the ”sacred honor” to which America’s founders mutually pledged, and which lately has been sullied.

With the huge increase in new voter registrations, aggressive voter turnout efforts can make the difference in many states, including some traditionally red states. Don’t be swayed by naysayers, and don’t just talk to people who agree with you. At lgbtforobama.com you can find materials for persuading family and friends, and at barackobama.com you can find grassroots groups in your state that you can join.

The same activist spirit is seen in the response to a recent spate of attacks against gay people in D.C. Instead of waiting for someone else to act, people are getting organized. The GLBT Anti-Violence Working Group has a new Web page at glovdc.org. Whether the solution is renewed education efforts, citizen patrols, improved cooperation with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, or the self-defense measures advocated at pinkpistols.org, the point is to channel our outrage into a sustainable program.

Let’s rise to the momentous times we are in by refusing to be either victims or spectators, by taking ownership and saying we will not be driven out or marginalized in our own city, in our own country. Let’s play to win.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org). He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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