Allies Before Animosity

Center Field

The No on 1 campaign lost despite a strong effort because too many Maine voters were persuaded that marriage equality would require teaching schoolchildren about gay sex. To overcome that, we need to be more aggressive and imaginative in combating the lies and illustrating the harm of discrimination. But improved messaging is not enough. Turning the tables requires better cooperation with others, including minority populations demonized by the nativists on the right.

Mutual mistrust is one of the greatest barriers to coalition building. Trust requires a relationship built over time. Lacking that, we often simply tell people what they want to hear. But real families argue. The surest sign of fake multiculturalism is avoidance of any disagreement with members of other groups. Strong alliances are tested, and require us to venture outside our comfort zones. In dealing with people of different backgrounds, you can’t just talk about equality; you have to speak their language.

Activist leaders preparing for the next ballot fight can start by venturing outside their boardrooms. If you cannot engage dissenting voices within the LGBT community, you can hardly expect to reach more intractable voters. This point is evidently missed by Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, who appeared willfully obtuse in a post-election message rejecting any ”if” questions on how such a campaign might be run differently. He thus dismisses not just recrimination but the analysis and war-gaming essential to any effective campaign. To be fair, HRC doesn’t run the statewide campaigns, and its support wins praise; but when we spend millions and still come up short, the post-mortems need to be opened up.

As long as demonizing entire groups can lead to power and profit, unscrupulous people will keep doing it. Right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin responded to the Fort Hood massacre by waving the red flag of group blame, reprising a 2003 piece on ”Muslim soldiers with attitude.” Her message: The real culprits are multiculturalism, open borders, tolerance and diversity. In addition to the offensiveness of exploiting a tragedy, and the incongruity of a person of Filipino ancestry talking as if America belongs to Anglo Saxons, Malkin’s attempt to scapegoat multiculturalism points to the right’s long-term vulnerability.

Aside from most of America’s mass killers having been white — Theodore Kaczynski, Eric Robert Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh — multiculturalism is not merely a philosophy but a fact of modern life. Instead of seeking ways to promote mutual respect in a diverse society, the right stokes divisions by race, religion and sexual orientation for partisan gain. This cynical scavenging poses a greater threat to the social order than the demons conjured by the Malkins of the right.

When more moderate voters are disillusioned and stay home on Election Day, as appears to have happened in New Jersey and Virginia, they concede the race. Unfortunately, an angry mob holds an advantage on motivation. Maybe it’s time to try something different to mobilize our base, and show some righteous indignation in defense of our lives and families.

One minister of my acquaintance urges other clergy not to be distracted by the closet cases who all too often lead the anti-gay charge. The conflicted homosexuality of many anti-gay crusaders is an open secret, and those wise to it can dissuade others from enabling it without a public confrontation. But I would love to see someone like Mike Rogers of blogActive.com expose these ministers, whether we call their poison hypocrisy or something else.

It is important that we aim our salvos accurately, as Rogers has a record of doing. We cannot defeat right-wing recklessness with more recklessness. Similarly, a ”damn them all” attitude towards foot-dragging Democrats can help elect even worse candidates. (For example, John Aravosis has just launched an effort calling for a halt in donations to the Democratic National Committee, the Obama campaign and Organizing for America until ENDA is passed, and both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA are repealed.) In pressuring purported friends in office, we have more tools besides threats of withdrawal.

To defeat right-wing wedge tactics, we must persuade prospective coalition partners of our mutual interests, which requires listening as well as talking.

We should not allow setbacks to dishearten or unnerve us. Time, as Rogers observed last week, is on our side.

There is not a single strategy, battlefield or organization for all of us to join. We have work to do in our legislatures and courts and families and communities — something to suit every person’s talents and passions. If our campaigns have become too staid, we should try making them dance a bit more. But even dancing requires practice and discipline, if you want to do it well.

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

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