For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.
Most mainstream campaigns have as their only goal achieving 50.1% or more of the vote. Therefore, they are ostensibly concerned only with persuading the maximum number of people to vote on our side for the minimum amount of money spent. While this is perfectly logical, it does raise some issues that need to be considered.
Professional campaigns (candidate, issue, Democratic, Republican, whatever) have a tendency to focus on white, middle-class urban and suburban voters. This is because campaigns are usually run by people from these backgrounds and the issues being debated do not address the real lives of low-income people and people of color. In addition, there is a circular way in which certain people are excluded from the campaign. First, low-income communities do not receive any information about the anti-lesbian and gay initiative, are not encouraged to register to vote, and are left out of the campaign debates taking place in the middle-class areas of their town or county. These communities, partly because of all these things, often end up with a low voter turnout. This in turn, is used by future campaigns to justify excluding them once again.
As a principle, we believe that it is unethical to exclude entire communities from the campaign debate. This is especially true since lesbians and gay men live in every community. Many lesbian and gay mainstream campaign volunteers have noted that nobody in their neighborhood ever received a phone call or a piece of literature about the campaign.
Also it is not necessarily true that eliminating communities will actually increase the number of voters reached for the amount of resources put into the campaign. Lesbians, gay men and progressive straight people willing to work against the initiative live in the communities that are eliminated -- this means the mainstream campaigns are not only excluding potential voters who require more work, but also potential anti-initiative activists who are willing to do the work. Including these communities only takes more overall resources if the mainstream campaign insists on total control of everything. Once again, we are suspicious about how logical the cost/benefit analysis argument really is, and about how much of it it actually boils down to campaign control.
Mobilization of low-income and people of color communities, who have their own reasons to fear the right-wing backlash, is certainly the best short term strategy for defeating the Christian Right. It is also sometimes the best long-term strategy. Most polls have shown that middle-class and highly educated people are more likely to vote on our side than low-income people. Voting results, however, in the two areas we have worked in -- Lewiston, Maine, and northern Idaho -- have shown the opposite. The difference between what people say in polls and what they do in the voting booths may be because middle-class and highly educated people often have different ways of expressing homophobia. For example, it's unacceptable in middle-class culture to say that you are in favor of discrimination or that you don't give a hoot about the constitution. It is perfectly acceptable, however, to be homophobic, as long as this is stated in the language of "special rights" or "discrimination doesn't exist".
Contrary to popular myth, the Christian Right is not based in low-income communities. But one reason for their success over recent years has been their strategy of politicizing previously apolitical people -- in their case, apolitical Christians. It is their strategy to target communities in a grassroots manner, primarily through churches. This is because the Christian Right has perspective. They are far less concerned with winning each initiative than with winning recruits, one by one, to their way of thinking. It is significant, however that this strategy has been very successful in winning initiatives as well as recruits. On the other hand, while sharing with the Christian Right the grassroots focus of a strategy, which by-the-way they took from the progressive movements of the 60s and 70s, our strategies for winning differ from theirs and from the mainstream campaign.
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