For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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
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