by Rex Wockner
About 35 people gathered at the Tubman-Chavez Multicultural Center in southeast San Diego on Sept. 20 to kick off San Diego's part of the effort to repeal Proposition 8 in 2010.
Attendees at the meeting -- which took place in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, far from the city's gayborhoods -- elected three regional representatives to Restore Equality 2010's 30-member Statewide Advisory Council. The 2010 campaign has divided the state into 10 regions, with San Diego County as one of them.
The campaign's first main task is to collect 694,354 valid voter signatures to put an initiative on the 2010 ballot to remove Prop 8 from the California Constitution. It is generally believed that about 1 million total signatures need to be collected to get the required number of valid ones.
Prop 8, passed last November by 52 percent of voters, amended the constitution to immediately halt same-sex marriage in California. Same-sex marriage had been legal for 4 1/2 months and 18,000 same-sex couples married. The state Supreme Court later declared that those 18,000 couples are still married.
Much of California's GLBT activism establishment, including lobby group Equality California, opposes returning to the ballot in 2010, arguing that 2012 offers a better chance of success.
But the 2010 effort has support from the large Courage Campaign and more than 50 other GLBT organizations of varying sizes and clout.
The 2010/2012 disagreement has split the state's gay activists into two sometimes-feuding camps, with the "grassroots" and "netroots" favoring 2010 and the GLBT "establishment" favoring 2012, though those labels are not precise across the board.
Ordinarily, the wishes of the GLBT activist establishment would carry the day, but the California GLBT grassroots and netroots have become a force to be reckoned with in the wake of the large, virally organized "Stonewall 2.0" protests that rocked the state in the days and months after Prop 8 passed -- and as the grassroots Courage Campaign, which claims 700,000 members, has emerged as a major player in California GLBT activism.
Attendees at the San Diego gathering heard from, among others, activist and academic Pat Washington and former city councilwoman and former deputy and acting mayor Toni Atkins. Both are openly lesbian.
Washington told the group: "It's all about you -- what you think is important and how you can put your body in places, as Bayard Rustin used to say, to make some comfortable people pretty damned uncomfortable. ... You have a truly -- I mean absolutely unequivocal -- grassroots movement. ... So what if the powers that be don't like it? What if they don't like your timing? What if they don't like your message? ... There is no wrong time to fight for what's right.
"Anytime someone tells you to sit down and shut up, anytime somebody siphons off some of your best leadership and gives them really nice jobs or gives them really, really good, big promises about what they're going to get when they get onboard for the 2012 campaign, you're not going to be surprised about that. That's called divide and conquer, and it happens every time in every movement, and every time it happens, sometimes it just makes us a little bit stronger.
"Your strategies, your insistence on what's right today is built on the back of a multimillion-dollar failure -- to stop California voters from putting discrimination into the state constitution. I will tell you right now: I still can't believe that it happened. ... We put discrimination into our state constitution. So there is nobody -- I don't care how much money they have, how much political clout they have, how long they've been doing whatever they've been doing -- there's nobody who can tell what the right way is. Because if anybody had a lock on the right way, we would all have the freedom to marry. One of the things I want you to take pride in is the fact that you refuse, you absolutely refuse to labor under the weight of a discriminatory state government."
Atkins told the group: "I didn't immediately stake out a position in my heart or in my mind when I heard of the schism that seems to be occurring in our community and throughout the state, and I'm not sure that I have even a passionate position now. But what I do know is that there is absolutely no way that I wouldn't support this effort. No way.
"In the past few days I've taken a couple of calls from some very respected and longtime and good friends who've asked me why I would agree to be here and talk about this issue and effort tonight. So, I had to back up and do a little research. Thank God for the Internet. I read the editorials, I read the blogs, I talked to people on both sides of the discussion, I had more than a few beers over the weekend with a couple of my friends here that I see, and I think both sides have made some very reasonable and rational comments. I can't deny the relevance of any of the points that have been brought forward.
"But plain and simple, here's ... really what I think, and it's from my gut. ... In my heart, I know the work that you, and that we, are doing on this issue is right, and it is a movement. I do want to challenge you, everyone in this discussion, whether you are a 2010er or a 2012er, I want to caution you and just remind you of a few things: The other side is going to be thrilled that we have a schism in our community and that we are debating this. So let's be a model of civility. ... I'm going to challenge each and every one of us not to make enemies within our own community, not to try to hit below the belt or say the thing that could be lasting after 2010. ... Because it doesn't matter, we are going to win this fight. So, let's just do the work. We can disagree and we can not be disagreeable."
For more information on the 2010 campaign, see restoreequality2010.com.
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