Out Against the Right: An Organizing Handbook for Queer Activists and Grassroots Organizers
For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.

The Mainstream Campaign Model

Despite slight differences in strategy and message, there has been an overwhelming similarity among what we call "mainstream campaigns" in every area that has faced an anti-lesbian and gay initiative. They are all run according to a campaign model that stems, not from the lesbian and gay movement, and not from local, grassroots organizations, but from "campaign professionals" that are hired by each state group. (By campaign professionals, we simply mean people who get paid to work on campaigns -- that is their career.) These professionals are members of a national campaign "culture" that uses similar language, philosophies, and strategies. Their experience usually comes from Democratic Party candidate or other issue-based campaigns, and the model they use to fight anti-lesbian and gay initiatives comes directly out of these experiences.

Their model, however, has not transferred well from candidate campaigns to anti-lesbian and -gay initiative campaigns. In fact, it has been at the center of intense -- and sometimes devastating -- controversy in almost every area in which it has been used. We think there are two reasons for this:

  1. The model is based on a very strict hierarchy and a centralized structure in which a few people expect to make decisions for an entire state. This has clashed with the grassroots realities of the lesbian and gay movement.
  2. The strategy and message are determined through interpretations of polling data (interpretations we think are incorrect) which have led them to the conclusion that in order to win the campaign, there should be little or no discussion of lesbian and gay lives. Instead, a variety of de-gayed messages are used (no discrimination; no government interference) which their research supposedly shows will sway voters to "our side". This strategy obviously clashes with the strategy of coming out in numbers, a central aspect of our movement.

Differences in structure and strategy could be relatively harmless - even helpful (It could mean that a diversity of approaches could operate simultaneously in each area fighting an anti-initiative battle.) , if it weren't for the fact that the central campaigns usually have a lot of power. This power is largely due to the fact that they inaccurately represent themselves, both to the local straight media and to the national lesbian and gay community. By representing themselves (inside and outside the state) as the authentic and undisputed leaders of the "No" side of the campaign, they set themselves up for embarrassment when other voices emerge, which they therefore will do almost anything to prevent.

In addition, mainstream campaigns usually represent themselves to the national lesbian and gay community (especially in fundraising letters) as organizations fighting openly for lesbian and gay rights, whereas in reality they actively downplay the fact that the initiative has anything to do with lesbian and gay rights. This misrepresentation generates a lot of money, which causes a lot of resentment in states where other organizations exist to fight the initiative in an out and proud manner, but don't receive any national money because they don't have the resources and connections (i.e. mailing lists) to do direct mail solicitations.

This chapter will describe the campaign model that has been used--with minor modifications--in most states and towns that have faced anti-lesbian and -gay initiatives since 1992. It will then discuss why this model has generated so much controversy and why we think it is inadequate for fighting anti-lesbian and -gay initiatives.

By more closely examining how "mainstream campaigns" operate, we think you will be in a better position to see the value of an out, grassroots. direct-action group. We also think it can help you to pull together the resources you will need to do your work, regardless of the existence of such a "mainstream campaign" in your area.

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