Media and Movement Building: The Five Best Strategies of the Last Fifty Years
A Report for Auburn Media
By Paul VanDeCarr
September 12, 2011

TABLE OF CONTENTS


CASE STUDY 1
The Role of the Leader: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Call and Response in the Civil Rights Campaign

CASE STUDY 2
Institution Building and the Christian Right 
How Much of a Foundation Do We Need?

CASE STUDY 3
Militant Tactics of ACT UP and Operation Rescue:
(How Far) Should One Cross the Line?

CASE STUDY 4
Social Media and the Obama Campaign:
How Do We Use Media as an Organizing Tool?

CASE STUDY 5
Marriage Equality: The Personal Is Political
Multimedia Meets the Neighbors

INTRODUCTION
Social movements have long used mass communications to advance their causes. Media technologies have evolved dramatically: from hand-printed broadsides to mass-produced pamphlets; from simple posters to gigantic billboards; from radio and television to internet; from VHS tapes to streamingvideo; from mass meetings to social media. But however much the media technology may have changed, the fundamental questions of communications strategy remain: how to communicate to and with people in order to rally support for a cause? Auburn Media has undertaken a study of various aspects of communications strategy, as seen through the example of different social movements.

Leadership. Leaders help articulate the basic ideas that a movement communicates. A leader envisions the future, writes books, does public speaking, and inspires others to act. In this way, leadership and communications are closely interrelated functions. Here, we look at the relationship of leader and movement in the Civil Rights Movement. The question arises: Do we need leaders, and how do we cultivate them?

Institutions. Institutions—publishing houses, think tanks, radio and TV stations, and more—help ensure the long-term success of a movement’s communications. In this case, we look at how the Christian Right of the late 20th century inherited and expanded an institutional infrastructure that transcends election seasons. This case poses the question: Does institution-building strengthen a movement, or make it calcify?

Tactics. Shocking graphics and militant tactics may help some groups communicate about their cause. Here, we look at the tactics, successes, and failures of ACT UP and Operation Rescue, two organizations that were founded in response to what they saw as emergencies. Some say these groups mobilized activists, while others say they alienated moderates. The question comes up: How valuable is shock value nowadays?

Media. Social media has emerged as a key tool for keeping in touch with friends, finding a job, and now, organizing a political campaign. The Obama campaign used social media to enable supporters to communicate with each other and elect their candidate. This strategy was consistent with the campaign’s populist message that “we are the change we seek.” A key question is: How can we most effectively use social media for a cause?

Each one of these campaigns and movements made moral, ethical, or sometimes outwardly religious claims—about God-given rights, violations of scripture, sin and “blood guilt,” and religiously inspired principles of justice. The lessons of these campaigns and movements suggest that communications is not just about crafting the “perfect” message that will magically persuade even the staunchest opponents to convert. Nor is it something one does only at the end of an organizing effort, such as issuing a press release about a rally the day beforehand. Instead, communications is itself a kind of organizing. It’s an ongoing and grassroots effort to communicate with people of all sorts to enlist, persuade, inform, envision, rally, and, finally, effect change. We hope this study will be useful in the efforts of the many committed activists fighting for the full equality of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

CASE STUDY 1
The Role of the Leader: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Call and Response in the Civil Rights Campaign 
Civil rights activist Ella Baker (interviews here and here) famously said, “The movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement.” (Garrow, 625) Her remark has proved to be an enduring question for grassroots movements. Speaking on the same topic, historian Lerone Bennett “acknowledges that no leader can ‘create an event the time is not prepared for,’ but he contends that great leaders apprehend ‘what the times require,’ and thus act in the face of great opposition to change the times.” (Dyson, 296) Leader and movement act in a complex dialectic. Perhaps it was King’s very ability to be shaped by the movement—to listen, to respond, to be changed by others—that allowed him to shape the movement. King himself, speaking in the spring of 1963, said, “A movement is led as much by the idea that symbolizes it. The role of the leader is to guide and give direction and philosophical under-building to the movement and this is what I have tried to do in this struggle.” (Phillips, 312) In this regard, King’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement had much to do with communications. He helped articulate the ideas that symbolized the movement. He theorized, wrote books, addressed rallies, spoke to the press, and empowered others to join the movement and communicate in turn. For these reasons, leadership and communications are closely interrelated functions. Here, we explore the dialectical nature of King’s leadership: he was called and shaped by others, notably young activists, even as he called upon and shaped them.

The Call: The Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to leadership reluctantly. It was 1955, and
Rosa Parks had been arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to yield her seat on a public bus to a white patron, as was required by the city’s segregation laws. It would become one of the iconic moments in the Civil Rights Movement, and was also a point of decision for King, then a 26-year-old pastor who’d relocated to Montgomery only 15 months before. A local activist called asking for his support, and King said he’d think about it. He was busy with a newborn baby girl, and with his many responsibilities as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. (Garrow, 17) At a meeting that night, King was nominated as president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association, and he accepted, saying, “Well, if you think I can render some service, I will.” As King later wrote, “It was the beginning of a movement, … and the people of Montgomery asked me to serve them as a spokesman, and as the president of the new organization … that came into being to lead the boycott. I couldn’t say no.” (King’s speech to the first MIA mass meeting is here.) (Garrow, 57)

It was not the only call he would get. Once the boycott got fully underway, King received phone calls, sometimes as many as 40 a day, threatening his life, and that of his wife and newborn child. (Garrow, 57) After one such call, King went to his kitchen, made some coffee, and as he recalled years later, “with my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.” (Garrow 56) Then, sometime around midnight, yet another caller told him, “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out, and blow up your house.” (Garrow, 57-58) He was deeply shaken, and sat in his kitchen, where he prayed out loud. “I said, ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak.’ … And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’ … I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on.” King reported, “Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared.” (Garrow, 58) Three days later, his house was bombed, though no one was hurt. (Garrow, 59) King had been called to leadership by members of his community, and he drew on the strength that God and his community gave him to serve as a leader—though not the only one—through the 382 days of the bus boycott. On December 18, 1956 the city buses had full and integrated service. (Garrow, 82)

Student Power: The Sit-Ins and Freedom Rides
King would continue to be called—and challenged—throughout his career, not least of all by students and other young people. Four black students at North Carolina AT&T College sat down at a segregated Greensboro lunch counter in February 1960. They were not served. Within weeks, such protests had spread to other North Carolina cities, and then to Virginia, and later to other southeastern states, all of the sit-ins led by students. One activist called King to ask for his support; in addressing students that month, King said, “What is new in your fight is the fact that it was initiated, fed, and sustained by students.” (Garrow, 129) At an April 1960 meeting, student activists formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), with headquarters in Atlanta, and with King serving in an advisory role. (Garrow, 133)

SNCC activists were a key part of another major civil rights initiative. In May of 1961, The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sponsored the first “Freedom Ride,” in which Black and white activists rode via bus from Washington, DC to New Orleans to “challenge … every form of segregation” that passengers faced. (Garrow, 154) After the first two buses were attacked and riders were beaten, the remaining Freedom Riders flew to New Orleans to end their trip. But two young riders rallied SNCC activists to take another ride from Nashville to Birmingham. That ride was attacked by a mob in Montgomery. (Garrow, 156-157) Together, these rides—and the press attention they drew, thanks to the strategic “crises” that were created—were essential in successfully pressuring the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue an order desegregating all interstate transportation facilities, effective November 1, 1961. (Garrow, 167)

“The student movement had … thrust King to new prominence as the principal symbol of the southern movement,” writes David J. Garrow. (Garrow, 171) King’s fame rankled SNCC activists who felt they had done the bulk of the work to effect change; further, they felt that King’s SCLC was taking more credit than was due in its lucrative direct-mail fundraising appeals to Northerners. The student leaders successfully pressured King’s SCLC to give SNCC a larger share of funds raised. (Garrow, 166-167) Here again, the relationship of King to student activists was give-and-take, if sometimes unequal. King brought a strong moral voice and national attention to students’ efforts. And they challenged him to provide financial and institutional support for what they saw as the real grassroots work that had to be done.

Grassroots Protests: The Albany Movement
With the ICC order in place, student activists led the way again, this time to Albany, Georgia. It was in Albany, a segregated and relatively quiet town of 60,000 where SNCC field secretaries Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon came to open a field office in October 1961. SNCC organizers developed relationships with everyday residents and community leaders alike. On the day the ICC order was to take effect, they led a sit-in at a bus station to test the station’s compliance with the law. After the protest, SNCC, the NAACP, and other groups formed the Albany Movement. More arrests followed at other protests, which only ignited more mass meetings, rallies, and demonstrations. (Carson, 56-59) Again, King was called upon, this time by adult Albany Movement leader William Anderson, who sent a telegram saying, “WE URGE YOU TO COME AND JOIN THE ALBANY MOVEMENT.” In Anderson’s view, the Albany Movement did not have the resources necessary to sustain a long effort, and they needed the outside support—not to mention the media attention and excitement—that King would bring.

King responded to their call, and they responded to his: “Don’t stop now. Keep moving. Don’t get weary. We will wear them down with our capacity to suffer,” King told the largest-yet Albany Movement gathering, on December 15. (Carson, 60) When negotiations broke down the next day, King led a march to City Hall, and was arrested along with over 250 other demonstrators. City officials refused to desegregate the bus service, prompting a Black boycott in the first part of 1962. SNCC tried direct action to revive the movement, but received little attention for it. (Carson, 60) It was only King’s reappearance in town that spring that re-energized the movement, but he left soon after.

King brought attention to Albany, but in such a way that frustrated student activists. As Michael Eric Dyson writes, “What angered many SNCC organizers is that when King held a press conference after being released from jail, he excluded SNCC from the proceedings, a move that further alienated them from his leadership and created even more resentment of King’s camera-hogging strategy of social change. As one SNCC organizer, Cordell Reagon, put it, ‘I don’t think that anybody appreciates going to jail, getting their balls busted day in and day out, and then you don’t even get to speak on it.’” (Dyson, 297)

Frustrating as it may have been, SNCC’s ultimate concern was not so much to get on camera. SNCC activist Julian Bond said that when his group left an area, it left “a community movement with local leadership, not a new branch of SNCC.” (Carson, 62) For the student organization, this stood in contrast to SCLC, which seemed to gobble up resources and press attention, but failed to foster grassroots leadership at the local level. “SNCC’s organizing efforts suggested a framework for understanding the black struggle of the 1960s not as an operation initiated and directed by leaders such as Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, but as a mass movement that produced its own leaders and ideas,” writes Clayborne Carson. (Carson, 4)

King’s Vision: Writings and Speeches
Even as King was criticized and challenged (and, as Ella Baker might say, “made”) by SNCC and the rest of the movement, he in turn made it, and articulated a vision that drew legions of activists to the cause. Many of his writings and speeches had to do with visions and dreams. His April 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” referred to the American Dream in responding to clergymen who had called his course of action in that city “unwise and untimely.” In a May 1963 speech in Birmingham, he saw young activists as doing work for all America that would benefit their own and future generations. King’s vision was of course most famously exemplified by his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC, witnessed in person by some 250,000 people, and seen by millions more on television. He said: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day, even in the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

Other speeches would also cast forward into the future. In a 1965 speech to protestors in Selma, Alabama seeking voting rights, King asked rhetorically how long it would take for justice to arrive, and his stirring refrain was “How long? Not long” (Full speech here.) And in his 1967 address to the SCLC convention, he asked “Where do we go from here?” and provided an eloquent vision to answer his own question. And even in his famous final speech, on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, the night before he was killed, King said, “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

The visions that King articulated served the movement. As Clayborne Carson says in an interview, there are pros and cons of having a charismatic leader like King. “Before and after Martin Luther King comes to town, you have local leaders [who may not be so charismatic], but if the people in that town really want to see MLK, and they’re really disappointed when he goes, then you have that sense of deflation afterwards. The local people have to pick up the pieces. It was fine when he was there, but there’s that tendency to say that it’s essential that he’s there. But when he leaves, people feel let down.” On the other hand, Carson says of a later SNCC leader, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), “when he’d go out organizing in Mississippi, people would ask him, ‘are you one of Dr. King’s men?’ And he would say, ‘yes, ma’am, I am.’ MLK wasn’t going to come knocking on their door, but Stokely Carmichael, here I am. That’s the way many SNCC workers looked at it. They could come behind the charismatic leader and take the energy [he] created and turn it into real organizing.” It wasn’t just King’s energy, but his vision, that they were turning into organizing.

Making Everyday Leaders
Ella Baker, who remarked that “the movement made Martin,” elaborated on this point: “I have always thought what is needed is the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership in others.” (Dyson, 298) Sociologist Charles Payne says that, by focusing on national leaders instead of the daily work (and workers) of social change, we do a disservice. Speaking of King’s work in Montgomery, he writes: “Finding Dr. King to take the leadership of the movement was fortuitous, but the local activists had put themselves in a position to be lucky through lifetimes of purposeful planning and striving…. Taking the high drama of the mid-fifties and early sixties out of the longer historical context implicitly overvalues those dramatic moments and undervalues the more mundane activities that make them possible—the network-building, the grooming of another generation of leadership, the sheer persistence…. The popular conception of Montgomery—a tired woman refused to give up her seat and a prophet rose up to lead the grateful masses—is a good story but useless history.” (Dyson, 300) Good history, rather than good story, might inspire other people to take action, as SNCC activist Diane Nash reflects: “If people think that it was Martin Luther King’s movement, then today they—young people—are more likely to say, ‘gosh, I wish we had a Martin Luther King here today to lead us.’ … If people knew how that movement started, then the question they would ask themselves is, ‘What can I do?’” (Garrow, 625)

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Carson, Clayborne. (1995) In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s.
Dyson, Michael Eric. (2001) I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.
Garrow, David J. (1987) Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Phillips, Donald T. (1999) Martin Luther King, Jr. on Leadership: Inspiration and Wisdom for Challenging Times.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Who are examples of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders today, and how do they use the media?
Is there such a thing as leadership development—or can leaders only be “trained” by doing?
What conditions allow for leaders to emerge?
How does King the man differ from King the legend—and what does his legend do to inspire activism or to dampen it?

 

CASE STUDY 2
Institution Building and the Christian Right 
How Much of a Foundation Do We Need? 
Institutions play an important role in communications: in some cases, institutions support the media work that organizations do, and in other cases those institutions are the media. Few movements have benefited so robustly from institution-building than the Christian Right of the 1980s and 1990s. Sara Diamond describes the Christian Right of the period as being “a political movement rooted in a rich evangelical subculture, one that offers participants both the means and the motivation to try to take dominion over secular society. The means include a phenomenal number of religious broadcast stations, publishing houses, churches, and grassroots lobbies. The motivation is to preach the Gospel and to save souls, but also, with equal urgency, to remake the contemporary moral culture in the image of Christian Scripture.” (Diamond 1998, 1) The Christian Right’s success in that endeavor was owed in large measure to the infrastructure that Evangelicals had built up over the course of decades.

In the Beginning Was Radio
The first Christian radio broadcast aired in 1921 over KDKA in Pittsburgh, (Diamond 1998, 23) and the number of such broadcasts and stations soon grew. As the power and reach of broadcast media grew, evangelicals recognized a new way to spread the Gospel. The National Association of Evangelicals was formed in 1942 to “raise up a witness” against liberal apostasy; since a primary instrument of their witness was radio, the organization founded a separate wing in 1944, the National Religious Broadcasters, to fight against liberal broadcasters and apostates. By the 1950s, religious broadcasters had started in television, with Sunday programs by such figures as Oral Roberts and Billy Graham. They were fulfilling the evangelical mandate they saw in the New Testament to “go into all the world and make disciples.” (Diamond 1999, 4) (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47) “It was the strong organizational apparatus the evangelicals were then building that would eventually make them useful allies of New Right conservatives beginning in the 1970s.” (Diamond 1995, 13)

Cold War conservatives and others came together to support Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for president, which conservative activists Richard Viguerie and David Franke describe as “the first mass campaign in modern American history,” actively involving some four million people. (Viguerie, 83) Goldwater lost—badly—at the polls, but the campaign had not been without its benefits. A new political star was born when actor Ronald Reagan, near the dispiriting end of the Goldwater campaign, was featured in a 30-minute political program broadcast nationwide on television, “A Time For Choosing.” In addition, the Goldwater campaign had mobilized a whole new generation of conservative political activists and strategists who would fuel the movement for decades to come. (Viguerie, 83-84) What’s more, the campaign had collected their names and contact information. Conservative activist Richard Viguerie would use this information as the foundation for a valuable and ever-growing mailing list of conservative activists, donors, and ideological allies, which was used in direct mail campaigns that Viguerie helped popularize. These enormous direct mail campaigns may have also played a role in the political shifts in the right wing that occurred after Goldwater’s loss. That loss, devastating in its numbers, led conservatives to ideologically reorient themselves so as to be able to win elections and effect policy change; they shuffled off the explicit racism of the Old Right, and modernized the patriotic and anticommunist strains of the movement. Thus did the Old Right start to become the New Right. While the New Right was at least nominally secular, it was in the 1970s that what would later be called the Christian Right started to emerge as a distinct movement, one made up primarily of conservative evangelicals. (Hardisty, 38)

The Revolution Will Be Televised
The development of the Christian Right tracked the growth of the broadcasting industry in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1962, Pat Robertson had acquired a Virginia television station, and, within a couple years, came up with the idea of The 700 Club, in which 700 viewers would each donate $10 per month to keep the struggling station out of debt. (Diamond 1999, 13) The idea worked so well that the show was nationally syndicated starting in 1974, and became a flagship show on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), a 24-hour satellite network launched in 1977. Sara Diamond says that throughout the 1980s CBN was—except for one year when Pat Robertson turned 700 Club hosting duties over to his son Tim—“perhaps the most valuable, consistent forum for New Right political figures eager to organize the fundamentalist masses.” (Diamond 1999, 12) But CBN was just one of several similar networks, including Trinity Broadcasting Network, and PTL Satellite Network, which featured the popular program The PTL Club with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. In addition, the power and number of Christian radio stations would grow at least into the 1990s: from 399 full- or part-time Christian radio stations in 1972, to 1,463 in 1996, and 1,648 in 1997. (Diamond 1998, 21)

The broadcast ministries had a vital role in the evolving political agenda of the movement. As Sara Diamond writes, “By the 1970s, many evangelicals felt a calling to preach on social issues as an integral part of their religious mission. The overarching project of the nascent Christian Right was to insist that questions of faith, morality, and even private conduct belong in the public sphere. Thus, it became part of ‘the Gospel’ to try to outlaw abortion, to reinstate prayer in public schools, and to stop the extension of civil rights to homosexuals. This political agenda has never been separate from the goal of winning converts. It is no coincidence that two of the movement’s most powerful organizations, the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family, are outgrowths of broadcast ministries.” (Diamond 1998, 20)

Along with the ballooning number of radio and television broadcasts, there was also a growth in Christian Right advocacy organizations. As a counterpoint to liberal groups like NOW, Concerned Women for America was founded in 1979 by Beverly LaHaye (wife of the bestselling Left Behind author Tim LaHaye). The Moral Majority was founded in 1979 by Rev. Jerry Falwell (Liberty University bio here) and Paul Weyrich, its goal “to exert a significant influence on the spiritual and moral direction of our nation” by lobbying Congress, helping local communities fight pornography, homosexuality and other social ills, and, not least of all, mobilizing the grassroots. (Martin, 201) James Dobson launched Focus on the Family as a radio program in 1977, and increased his DC beltway influence in 1983 by starting Family Research Council, to provide briefings to legislators on family issues; in 1992 he would move the outfit to Colorado, where he made tapes, films, videos, radio programs, cable TV specials, and more. (Ryan, 59) The conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973, and the libertarian Cato Institute was founded in 1977. (Ryan, 119) These were just the largest of scores of other organizations nationwide.

It was only natural that Ronald Reagan, who had so electrified conservatives during Barry Goldwater’s failed 1964 presidential bid, would win the support of conservative Christians in his own 1980 run. Candidate Reagan famously remarked to a 1980 assembly of the Religious Roundtable, “I know you [as a bipartisan organization] can’t endorse me… but I endorse you.” The comment helped cement a relationship, and some believe helped the Christian Right cohere as a political movement. During Reagan’s two terms in office, the Christian Right enjoyed new political access, and continued building its infrastructure, including think tanks, media outlets, publications and more. Jean Hardisty writes, “The result was a dramatic increase in the right’s capacity for political mobilization. The New Right leadership [now closely linked with the Christian Right] gave equal attention to internal coordination within the movement, holding weekly meetings of the Religious Roundtable in Washington, D.C., and developing the Council on National Policy (CNP) to act as a coordinating body for the movement.” (Hardisty, 47)

Grassroots Power: The Christian Coalition
However well-established the movement already was, there was a moment when it seemed to be in peril. Sex scandals involving Jim Bakker (in 1987) and Jimmy Swaggart (in 1988) made front-page news. Reagan left office in 1989, and the new president, George H. W. Bush, seemed not to deliver for the Christian Right. The Moral Majority closed in 1989. But these would turn out to be fairly minor disturbances in the movement’s growing political power. Also in 1989, Pat Robertson—building on the resources he’d amassed during his own failed presidential campaign the previous year—announced the formation of what would become perhaps the Christian Right’s single most powerful organization, The Christian Coalition.

The organization was deliberately grassroots. Its young president, Ralph Reed, explained that Christians “missed the boat in the 1980s by focusing almost entirely on the White House and Congress, when most of the issues that concern conservative Catholics and evangelicals are primarily determined in the city councils, school boards and state legislatures.” (Diamond 1995, 250) The organization started with a $200,000 budget and 25,000 members (Diamond 1995, 250), and by the fall of 1991 it was financially secure and had more than tripled its membership to 82,000. (Martin, 317) After President Bush lost his reelection campaign in 1992, Reed was sanguine. The organization’s efforts at identifying, educating and mobilizing voters paid off with what even People for the American Way said was up to 500 pro-family candidates at the local level.

Reed wrote in Active Faith, “With our new focus on local issues came phenomenal success and a prize that few could have dreamed of—one of the most extensive grassroots networks in American politics and within two years, conservative control of Congress for the first time in two generations.” (Reed, 153) He added, “Our goal was to transform the religious conservative community from a political pressure group to a broad social reform movement based in local communities.” (Reed, 157) The organization’s many members made often small donations that comprised a good part of its large budget: $27 million by 1997, when Reed left his post. As Jean Hardisty characterizes it in her 1999 book, “Though in the late 1970s the Christian Right could accurately be characterized as the tail attached to the New Right political dog, that tail arguably now wags the dog.” (Hardisty, 56)

Follow the Money: Funding for the Christian Right
Perhaps the greatest infrastructural resource that the Christian Coalition and the broader movement enjoyed was churches and church networks. Many of the tens of millions of voting-age Americans who attended church regularly were ripe for mobilization—and not just by direct mail, television, radio or other means, but by cheaply duplicated VHS tapes. Copies of the 1992 video The Gay Agenda by the Family Research Council, and the 1993 Traditional Values Coalition video Gay Rights, Special Rights were distributed widely, and used effectively to activate the base, and spur anti-gay campaigns in Oregon, California and other states. (Clips from these and other videos are included in the short documentary, The Anti-Gay Agenda.) Such videos also helped raise money. Images of Gay Pride parades, and ominous messages about gays’ supposed threat to children, public health and the social order were successful in stirring popular fears and prompting many millions of dollars in individual donations for Christian Right organizations.

Some other funds came from institutional sources. A 1997 report by Sally Covington identified twelve foundations that gave the most to right-wing causes. Among the most prominent were the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundations, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Koch Family Foundations. The Adolph Coors Foundation and its spin-off Castle Rock Foundation also gave generously to right-wing groups. Jean Hardisty reports, “Acting in seamless collaboration with the movement, right-wing funders focus on long-term goals, such as movement-building, leadership development, and recruitment.” (Hardisty, 61) However, she cautions, it would be incorrect to think that the conservative movement in general, or the Christian Right in particular, was propped up solely by a small handful of extremely wealthy donors or foundations. As Hardisty observes, “The right also raises enormous amounts of money from its own members and followers. For those of us who see the movement as a threat to democracy and tolerance, it is dismaying to see how broad its base of support is among average Americans.” (Hardisty, 62)

That the Christian Right has been prone to scapegoating, stealth tactics, and lying does not mean that progressive people of faith cannot learn from the movement. Jean Hardisty says that, among the lessons we can learn from the Right are that “movement-building institutionalizes a social movement and prevents the movement from collapsing during periods of electoral setback.” (Hardisty, 190)

However much the names of the organizations may have changed, the same politics and desires and fears that animated groups such as the Christian Coalition still exist. And the organizations and movements today benefit from the work that has preceded them. They benefit from that first Christian broadcast at KDKA, and the creation of the NRBA, and the work of Pat Robertson. Some of these past leaders planned no further than the next election; others imagined long-range social change; still others looked as far ahead as the apocalypse. Whatever the length of their vision, the institutions they built over the course of more than 50 years are still paying off for conservative Christian groups today.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Diamond, Sara. (1998) Not By Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right.
Diamond, Sara. (1995) Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States.
Diamond, Sara. (1999) Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right.
Hardisty, Jean. (2000) Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers.
Martin, William. (2005) With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America.
Reed, Ralph. (1996) Active Faith: How Christians Are Changing the Soul of American Politics.
Ryan, Michael, and Les Switzer. (2009) God in the Corridors of Power: Christian Conservatives, the Media, and Politics in America.
Viguerie, Richard A., and David Franke. (2004) America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Is there anything different in the DNA of the Christian Right vs. that of that religious left? What can the Right do that the Left cannot do, and vice versa?
Are there similar institutions on the Left—religious or secular—and how have they succeeded?
Does the religious left need similar institutions?
If you “follow the money” on the Left, what story does that tell?
What are the drawbacks of institutionalizing a movement? Do institutions stifle creativity or innovation?

 

CASE STUDY 3
Militant Tactics of ACT UP and Operation Rescue:
(How Far) Should One Cross the Line? 
Some organizations use shocking graphics and militant tactics to communicate about their cause—they create media, attract media coverage, and leverage public pressure. Two such organizations—ACT UP, and Operation Rescue—were founded within a year of each other, each responding to what in both instances was likened to genocide. ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, held its first protest against government inaction on the AIDS epidemic in 1987. That same year, Operation Rescue had its first of many “rescues,” in which participants would block access to an abortion clinic. What did these organizations really achieve? Through direct action, compelling messages, and arresting visuals, these two organizations raised public awareness, changed public policy (not always in ways they intended), and mobilized people who would be active for many years to come. However, critics say that both organizations may also have also alienated moderates, and given a bad name to the larger movements against AIDS and against abortion. Both organizations still exist, but have faded. Each movement began with what they saw as a grave injustice.

The Birth of a Movement
In 1986, the number of AIDS cases in the United States surpassed 30,000—the great majority of whom were gay or bisexual men, and more than half of whom had already died. President Reagan had not said a single word in public about the epidemic (and would not until April of the next year). In the summer of 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Bowers v. Hardwick, upheld a lower court decision that criminalized oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults of the same gender. (Gould, 137) AIDS was being all but ignored by the federal government, and gay people’s sexual behavior was criminalized on the federal level. Such was the context for the creation of a new and more aggressive approach to AIDS activism. Playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer gave a March 1987 speech at the LGBT Center in New York City, in which he asked two thirds of the room to stand up, and announced they would be dead within five years. Drawing from an essay he’d written, Kramer added, “If my speech tonight doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If what you’re hearing doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men will have no future here on earth. How long does it take before you get angry and fight back?” (Mass, 49-50) He called for an AIDS organization that would be “devoted solely to political action.” (Cohen, 15) His speech helped crystallize the anger many people had been feeling, and built on years of activism by other groups, says Maxine Wolfe. Soon after, ACT UP was created. Elsewhere, Kramer wrote, “The worst years of the AIDS pandemic lie ahead of us… There are millions of us yet to die.” (Gould, 147)

Feeling the urgency of Kramer’s cry, the organization adopted some militant tactics, rhetoric, and graphics. The organization made an explicit link to Nazi persecution of homosexuals in its most famous and widely-used image, a pink triangle with the phrase “Silence = Death” below it. The New York City chapter, the first and always the largest, and the some 80 other chapters that sprouted up elsewhere around the country, were known for such tactics as disrupting public meetings, throwing condoms at opponents, and putting up “bloody” red hand-prints around cities. (Cohen, 20). Other graphics from ACT UP, Gran Fury, and other activist groups included “Read My Lips” t-shirts of same-sex couples kissing, and provocative posters.

Taking it to the Streets
The organization was perhaps most famous for its loud, disruptive protests, at which activists might stage a “die-in” where people lay down and other activists drew chalk lines around their bodies, or block traffic and commit other acts of (mostly symbolic) civil disobedience. (Cohen, 23). The group’s first demonstration was March 24, 1987 on Wall Street (additional information here), and was directed at the FDA’s “unholy” relationship with drug companies working on AIDS treatments, most especially Burroughs Wellcome. (Cohen, 16) The “Seize the FDA” demonstration in October 1988 brought about almost immediate changes in the drug approval process. (Cohen, 30) At the May 1990 “Storm the NIH” demonstration, protestors demanded—with some success—that the agency widen its medical investigations to include other kinds of AIDS drugs. (Cohen, 31) The 1989 “Stop the Church” demonstration at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City generated the most controversy, alienating even some LGBT activists. At that demonstration, over the church’s stand against condom distribution, over 4,000 people protested inside and outside the church during Mass, and at least one protestor was alleged to have desecrated a communion wafer (others say he simply refused communion). In September of 1989, protestors chained themselves to the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange. At the January 1991 “Day of Desperation,” protestors jammed into New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, where they hung banners decrying spending on the Persian Gulf War instead of on AIDS treatment and health care. (The night before, an ACT UP member had jumped on camera during the broadcast of the CBS Evening News, saying that not enough press attention had been paid to AIDS.) And, partly in response to ACT UP’s protests, the Centers for Disease Control started, in August 1991, the gradual process of amending its definition of AIDS, allowing more women suffering solely from opportunistic infections to have access to clinical drug trials and other benefits. (Cohen, 32)

However loud or out-of-control the demonstrations may have seemed to outsiders, they had a purpose and were planned accordingly. ACT UP’s goal was to end the epidemic, and members wanted existing institutions to reform their practices to that end. (Cohen, 29) Much of their work went on behind the scenes. There were dozens of committees in the New York City chapter and elsewhere, focusing on such issues as education and outreach, treatment and data, access to clinical trials, and homeless people with AIDS. (Cohen, 16) ACT UP drew on the skills (design, organizing, etc.) and resources (money, connections) of its members. Many ACT UP members were white men, who, while not necessarily uniform in their politics, were used to having resources and political access. As Michelangelo Signorile said in 1989 Spin magazine interview, “We’re from the system. We’re gay, but we are running companies, we are working for corporations, we are working for medical facilities, we are legal people. In a way, we’re the same system that we’re fighting.” (Cohen, 38)

The Decline and Legacy of ACT UP
By the mid-1990s, ACT UP had largely declined in membership. (Cohen, 268) Many activists died. Some became burnt out. New drugs were developed, and the number of AIDS deaths started to go down. (Cohen, 63-65). Larry Kramer says he has “no doubt” that many drugs were developed and released under the pressure of ACT UP, and that constituted the organization’s “greatest achievement.” The evidence of “genocide” that many gay men had seen less than a decade before—the awful and endless parade of deaths, the government indifference or outright hostility—had seemed to diminish. The situation no longer felt so urgent, perhaps precisely because ACT UP had achieved some of its goals. It got representatives placed in various government committees, helped effect changes in corporate and public policy, and not least of all energized a new generation of activists. And some argue that, while the group’s militancy may have alienated some people, it may have also made other more moderate AIDS groups seem reasonable by comparison. The latest figures, published in 2010, indicate that over 30 million people now live with HIV worldwide, which seems to confirm the rage and urgency with which Larry Kramer spoke in the 1980s. But AIDS activists weren’t the only ones who saw a crisis of sorts at that time.

“Act Like It’s Murder”: Operation Rescue
“If you believe abortion is murder, then act like it’s murder,” implored anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, in mobilizing protestors to stop what he saw as the murder of over one million nascent lives per year in the U.S. alone. Consistent with that belief, Terry founded an organization called Operation Rescue, of which he later wrote, “I am convinced that the American people will begin to see the pro-life movement seriously when they see good, decent citizens peacefully sitting around the abortion mills, risking arrest and prosecution as Martin Luther King, Jr. did.” (Steiner, 7) Just eight months after ACT UP’s first protest, Operation Rescue staged its first major action. In November 1987, Terry and six others blocked access to an abortion clinic in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. (Ginsburg, 227) The group was formally incorporated in the spring of 1988, and continued to block access to other abortion clinics.

The ultimate goal of these blockades was to end what members often described as a Holocaust—the abortion of untold numbers of fetuses, as made legal by the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. Fifteen years of legislative and legal action since Roe had accomplished little, leaving activists like Randall Terry feeling the need for more drastic measures. And so each protest, or “rescue,” had an immediate objective, as Philip Lawler says in his book on the group. “The goal of a Rescue is to stop abortions—not by influencing legislation, or swaying the courts, but by preventing the particular killings that were scheduled on that specific day at that specific facility.” (Lawler, 60)

Whether or not the rescues really sought to attract press coverage, they certainly did. The organization gained national notoriety with the “Siege of Atlanta” in 1988, demonstrating during the Democratic National Convention in that city. As many as 100 other loosely affiliated chapters sprang up across the country, each holding “rescues” of the same sort, blocking access to clinics and getting arrested for trespass. According to Operation Rescue figures, by 1990 over 35,000 people had been jailed and another 16,000 had risked arrest in rescues. Rescuers could take on one of several roles at the actions: Some rescuers would block the doors, others might chain themselves to the doors; some would act as “sidewalk counselors” to intervene with women going into the clinic (regardless of whether there was a blockade); and “prayer supporters” would pray for the success of the mission. All participants would take a pledge of non-violence. (Steiner, 61-63) Their posters and placards often featured graphic images of abortions, and their slogans and speeches were similarly provocative.

The Organization Reaches its Peak
The climax was the so-called “Summer of Mercy” in 1991, which consisted of six weeks of protests at three abortion clinics in Wichita, Kansas, including a clinic run by Dr. George Tiller, one of the few places nationwide that provided late-term abortions. (Tiller was murdered in the foyer of his Wichita church in 2009.) The actions resulted in 2,600 arrests, and substantial press coverage in papers around the country. (Ginsburg, 228) The “Summer of Mercy” campaign was the organization’s biggest action, and some even called it the “last stand.” Other rescues continued to take place in the early 1990s, such as the “Spring of Life” in Buffalo, New York, and other actions in Baton Rouge and Houston. (Steiner, 10) Rescuers in California were especially active. But by 1993, Operation Rescue had become what one of its leaders called “only a shell of its former organization.” (Steiner, 11) As Faye Ginsburg explains, the decline happened in part because Randall Terry had stepped down as its head and the organization became decentralized. External factors played a role, too. Pro-choice organizations filed lawsuits that led to hefty fines against clinic protestors. President Clinton beefed up prosecutions of those who blocked clinic access. And increased violence at abortion clinics prompted the U.S. Congress to pass the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, making it a federal crime to block access to clinics. The murder of abortion providers and clinic workers also created a “credibility problem” for the organization. By 1995, the New York Times declared the organization “virtually dead.” (Ginsburg, 228)

Although the organization is no longer as active or attention-grabbing as it once was, it does still exist, and its Web site claims victories in putting many California abortion clinics out of business. Faye Ginsburg weighs the organization’s accomplishments and failures during its heyday. Operation Rescue had an “irreversible impact,” she writes. “Terry revived long-term right to life loyalists, who had become discouraged at the minimal gains of fifteen years of legislative efforts, and delivered thousands of new activists to the cause.” (Ginsburg, 242) However, “for most pro-life moderates, direct action and violence undercut one of the larger objectives of the right-to-life movement: to gain credibility for their position with the American people in order to gain support for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.” (Ginsburg, 238)

Even if Operation Rescue activists failed to turn public opinion in their direction, rescuers saw themselves as fulfilling a moral obligation—a divine call—to act. “When people ask after a rescue whether we achieved our goal, it is hard to answer,” said Randall Terry. “Most of the babies usually die after we are removed. Not all of them, but most of them. Were we trying to save a few? Absolutely not—we were trying to save all the babies scheduled to die there that day. Well, then, does that mean we failed? No, because we were really trying to be obedient to the Lord, who asked us to rescue those babies. And if we were obedient, then the results are in God’s hands, not ours.” (Steiner, 72)

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Cohen, Peter F. (1998) Love and Anger: Essays on AIDS, Activism, and Politics.
Ginsburg, Faye. (1998) “Rescuing the Nation: Operation Rescue and the Rise of Anti-Abortion Militance,” in Abortion Wars: A Half-Century of Struggle, 1950-2000, ed. Rickie Sollinger.
Gould, Deborah. (2009) Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS.
Lawler, Philip F. (1992) Operation Rescue: A Challenge to the Nation’s Conscience.
Mass, Lawrence D. (ed.) (1997) We Must Love One Another or Die: The Life and Legacies of Larry Kramer.
Steiner, Mark Allen. (2006) The Rhetoric of Operation Rescue: Projecting the Christian Pro-Life Message.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Is militancy only sparked by a crisis, or a life-and-death cause? Do we have a life-and-death cause today?
Does militant action effectively push the envelope for more mainstream activism?
What was the context for the creation of ACT UP and Operation Rescue, and how does it differ from today’s context for the movement for LGBT equality?
Do we need street protests today, or should organizing be more based in media?
ACT UP and Operation Rescue arguably created spectacles, or they engineered media events. What are the benefits and risks of such a strategy?

 

CASE STUDY 4
Social Media and the Obama Campaign:
How Do We Use Media as an Organizing Tool? 
Barack Obama started the long slog towards the presidency as one of a number of candidates—and not even the favored one. But in the end he prevailed over ten Democratic candidates in the primary elections, and won the general election with 53% of the popular vote. His election came thanks in part to his campaign’s masterful use of social media to rally the electorate. The campaign did not use social media as a top-down messaging tool only for Obama to communicate to constituents. Instead, Obama used his own community organizing background and the interactive nature of social media to build a community in which communications was multi-directional: between candidate and supporters, supporters amongst themselves, and campaign to prospective voters. In this model, people were not passive recipients of a message, but active participants in a movement. As Rahaf Harfoush puts it in her book, Yes We Did! An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand, “This movement had always been about community. Supporters not only connected with Obama, they had to connect with each other as well.” (Harfoush, 20)

Campaign manager David Plouffe writes, “We believed from the outset that we had to expand the electorate or we were cooked…” (Plouffe, 64) In other words, many people who regularly voted were already predisposed to support other candidates, such as Hillary Clinton. That meant that Obama’s team had to enlist the support of those who did not normally vote. This was an act of imagination. To understand the race as being about how to divide up an already existing “pie” of voters saw politics as a fixed game. Instead, the campaign’s audience was not just some predetermined number of committed voters who would opt for one or another candidate, it was also the spark of possibility within a much larger group of people. And reaching that group, as David Plouffe writes, requires not just knowing who they are, but how to find them. “We met people where they lived, instead of forcing them to deviate from their habits or lifestyle to seek us out. We communicated on all platforms and through all media—including on the phone and at the door.” And not least of all, “We knew our audience spent lots of time online.” (Plouffe, 378-379) The audience was young; and young people spent more time online, and they would be among the ones to help “expand the electorate.”

In order to expand the electorate, the Obama campaign had to create a sense of community among supporters, and build their sense of investment in his campaign. The hub of online organizing (for young and old alike) was Obama’s social network, my.barackobama.com. “Affectionately referred to internally as MyBO,” writes Rahaf Harfoush, “the site allowed users to create events, exchange information, raise funds, and connect with voters in their area.” (Harfoush, 74)

Personalize the Experience
The design of the Web site made it easy to use; a sidebar, visible at all times, allowed users to easily go to any part of the Barack Obama Web site. Each MyBO user also had a “dashboard” that served as his or her own personal homepage or control panel. Users could create a profile with a photo, a username, and answers to questions such as “Why do you support Barack Obama?” (Harfoush, 75-76)

The MyBO site enabled users to track their own involvement with a so-called “activity index,” giving them a visceral sense of their own contribution to the campaign they considered so important. Similarly, each user could create a personal fundraising page, and upload their contact lists from Outlook, Yahoo, Gmail and other services to solicit support. (Harfoush, 75-78)

MyBO also enabled users to create their own personal blogs, so as to document their own involvement in the campaign. One volunteer from Montana created an online cookbook full of recipes and stories she’d collected from other users; the cookbook was free, but its creator, Maria, encouraged everyone who read it to make a donation to the campaign, and so raised two thousand dollars. (Harfoush, 86)

Personalization went in both directions. Not only could users personalize their own MyBO pages, but the campaign would also collect supporters’ personal information (via MyBO, Facebook, mobile technology and other means) to mobilize them. As Diana Owen writes, the Obama campaign “took micro-targeting techniques to a new level by not only tailoring messages to appeal to particular audience segments based on consumer data, but also customizing the delivery system. A young, Latina, first-time voter who worked in a major city and frequented Starbucks might have received a cell phone call from a peer encouraging her to vote and emphasizing the importance of ‘change’ for their generation.” (Owen, 169)

Video was used extensively in emails and on the Web site, not least of all because it gave users a more personal sense of the candidate, and of other campaign supporters featured on the site. The campaign uploaded more than 1,500 videos, which in total had more than 20 million views. (Harfoush, 148) The campaign used videos of the candidate, and so “capitalized on one of their greatest assets: the eloquence and charisma of Barack Obama.” Video of Obama announcing his candidacy or talking about race helped flesh out the candidate into a full human being. Re-mixes of Obama’s content—such as musician will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” video—only gave the candidate more credibility with young people. Finally, user-generated content (such as video responses to campaign posts on YouTube, or videos featured on the campaign blog, etc.) also strengthen ties among supporters, and build community.

The personal touch, rather than the ultra-professional one, won out. Interestingly, video helped the campaign communicate its electoral strategy to supporters, “so they would not feel dejected by national polls showing us losing big in later primary states where Hillary had a huge lead.” (Plouffe, 51) To achieve this, live streaming video of campaign events helped mightily, giving viewers an inside perspective on the campaign, and getting them further invested, involved, and hopeful about their candidate’s prospects.

Build Community
MyBO users could join or create their own groups, whether it was “Artists for Obama,” “Lesbians for Obama,” “Rhode Islanders for Obama” or whatever other designation. Each group got its own home page, along with a group blog, directory, email list, group activity index and more. Volunteers created more than 35,000 groups over the course of the campaign. (Harfoush, 80)

In addition to group blogs and the users’ personal campaign blogs, there was the official campaign blog, which featured profiles of supporters, campaign-made and user-generated videos, information on Obama’s campaign stops, and more. (Harfoush, 126) New Media Director Joe Rospars referred to the blog network as “the glue that held our relationships with supporters together.”

There were additional means of building community as well. A “Dear Iowa” campaign enabled the online community to write encouraging letters to Iowa precinct captains and volunteers. This allowed people to get involved in the process, support the folks on the ground, and make connections among supporters. (Harfoush, 20) Through an online Donor Matching Program, supporters could connect and share messages with each other when one “matched” another’s donation. (Harfoush, 9-10)

Not least of all, supporters were constantly part of the conversation, and the community. The 75,000th donor, who gave $5, was featured on the Web site talking about why he gave. The 250,000th donor gave $100 and got a call from Obama, the audio of which was put on the campaign blog. (Harfoush, 8-10). Donors of $25 or less got a chance in a lottery of sorts for a sit-down dinner with Obama, and video was posted online of each attendee talking about how a President Obama could help them. The official campaign blog would frequently publish supporters’ content and feedback, making it into more of a communal enterprise, so that users felt recognized and included. (Harfoush, 127)

Link Everything Back to Action Steps
All of these tools helped create a sense of community among Obama’s online supporters, and effectively directed that community’s energies towards concrete action. For example, there was an “Action Center” that informed visitors about the campaign’s needs and how to help fulfill them. (Harfoush, 77)

The campaign sought to give people a chance to help out in small ways—an easy first step to getting involved—and “ramp up” their involvement over time. The campaign got a huge response when it asked users to make a very small donation, or do one small task—such as making five calls from home using the online phonebanking tool, “Neighbor to Neighbor.” (Harfoush, 32-33) Once users had made the calls or the donation or whatever other small gesture of support, they became more invested, and more comfortable in going further. The campaign was well aware of this dynamic, and staffer Stephen Greer said that the email team had an “escalating involvement strategy.” In other words, emails would ask supporters to get a little bit more involved with each action they took. If they attended an event, then next time they were asked to volunteer, and the time after that they’d be asked to host a phone bank. (Harfoush, 102)

The campaign used digital tools to deepen people’s involvement, and to increase the number of people getting involved. The analytics department thoroughly tested the effectiveness of emails—what day of the week and what time of day people were most likely to read emails, what kinds of content (e.g. video, text, graphics) was most viewed and what prompted the most people to click-through to the campaign blog or social network. (Harfoush, 109) In addition, the Web site offered print, video and other resources for people to stay involved. Video tutorials showed how to use the site’s tools, and downloadable host guides gave step-by-step instructions on planning a campaign event. Weekly conference calls enabled MyBO members to share tips and ideas about using the online tools. (Harfoush, 75) An iPhone app released in September 2008 made it possible for volunteers to organize their personal phone lists so that people in battleground states appeared near the top—and could now easily be called for their support.

After he was elected, Obama stuck to the practice of communicating with people online, and soliciting their input. The transition Web site Change.gov invited people to say what issues mattered to them; the inauguration Web site allowed people to share their personal stories of the event; BarackObama.com and MyBO were transformed into a group called Organizing for America, which would help support Obama’s policy agenda. Rahaf Harfoush says in an interview that the Organizing for America Web site is perhaps less successful than its campaign predecessor, for the reason that “we went from a very simple issue—elect the guy, it’s like flicking a switch, on or off—to more complicated legislative proposals.” Nevertheless, in almost all of its digital tools and communications, the campaign reflected the spirit of the community organizer that Obama had been, and which Obama expressed in his victory speech. “This victory alone is not the change we seek—it is only the chance for us to make that change.” (Plouffe, 383)

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Harfoush, Rahaf. (2009) Yes We Did! An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand.
Plouffe, David. (2009) The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory.
Owen, Diana. (2009) “Media in the 2008 Election: 21st Century Campaign, Same Old Story.” In The Year of Obama: How Barack Obama Won the White House, Larry J. Sabato, editor.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
In terms of social media, what’s the difference between a political candidacy and a social movement?
Do you need a single spokesperson to be attached to effectively use social media?
Are there ways that empowering users to communicate among themselves can backfire? How much does a cause need to maintain control of its message in a social media environment? How does a cause empower individuals, but maintain the control it needs?
In what ways has the role of new media been overstated?

 

CASE STUDY 5
Marriage Equality: The Personal Is Political
Multimedia Meets the Neighbors 
LGBT leaders and organizations have fought hard to win the right to marry, and have done so on the streets, in the courts, and in legislatures at the state and federal levels. As such, same-sex marriage is now perhaps the defining issue in the larger struggle for LGBT equality. Marriage affords couples over 1,000 legal benefits, not to mention a special kind of social sanction. The right to marry would not only put same-sex relationships on legal par with different-sex relationships, but might also help break down the “binary” that oppresses people who cross or straddle the gender divide. Since the right to marry presents such a serious challenge to established concepts of marriage, it is no wonder that it has been fiercely contested by many churches, community organizations, and others. The battle against equal marriage has been waged in large part via television and radio advertising, as well as internet organizing campaigns. These mass media strategies are complemented by door-to-door and church-to-church work.

A brief history of same-sex marriage in the U.S.
In the modern era, same-sex marriage was first on the public radar as far back as 1970, when a gay couple in Minnesota, Jack Baker and James McConnell, filed for a marriage license. The license was denied, and the couple appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. (The following year, they obtained a marriage license from another county in the state, and were married by a Methodist minister.) At that time, common law held that marriage was between a man and a woman. It wasn’t until 1973 when a statute was placed on the books—in Maryland—specifically decreeing this, and effectively banning same-sex marriage in the state. In successive years, as the LGBT rights movement gained steam, most other states would adopt similar statutes.

In 1993, the Hawaii State Supreme Court made a first-in-the-nation ruling that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violated the state constitution, barring any compelling state interest to the contrary. This ruling sparked concern among conservatives nationally, leading to the 1996 passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a legal union of one man and one woman, and ensured that no state or other subdivision would be required to recognize same-sex unions from another state. However, other forms of unions—so-called “domestic partnerships” and “civil unions,” which came with limited benefits and obligations—began to be recognized by some municipalities and companies throughout the U.S.

In 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had the City issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples (more wedding photos here), and some 4,000 couples took advantage of the opportunity, during the period of February 12 to March 11. (Although those marriages were later nullified by the California Supreme Court, they became the touchstone of a statewide battle, waged in the courts and by popular referendum, over same-sex marriage.) Just months after the San Francisco marriages, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as the result of a lawsuit brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. Several other states have since followed suit. In California, in 2008, voters passed the state ballot Proposition 8, which repealed the legalization of same-sex marriage and stated that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”—though this did not apply to domestic partnerships in the state, nor to marriages performed before the election. Proposition 8 was upheld by the California Supreme Court, but was overturned by a U.S. district court judge in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s information on that case is here, and video and evidence from the case is here.)

In 2011, President Obama’s Department of Justice stopped defending DOMA in the courts, further eroding the legal basis for the ban on same-sex marriage. (A full timeline of events related to same-sex marriage is here, and another one is here. The Human Rights Campaign has information on same-sex marriage laws in the U.S. here, including a downloadable PDF of a state-by-state map. Wikipedia also has this state-by-state wrap-up, and this look at same-sex marriage worldwide.)

Arguments about marriage
Opponents of equal marriage say that it poses a threat to children, families, tradition, and the public good. Many of the key arguments against equality are contained in “Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles” (PDF), a widely-disseminated 2006 report by The Witherspoon Institute. That report is the result of gatherings of scholars from various disciplines to “share with each other the findings of their research on why marriage, understood as the permanent union of husband and wife, is in the public interest.” (Witherspoon, 3) For the report’s authors, marriage helps citizens govern their private lives, limits state power, and offers men and women a “complete giving of self.” Same-sex marriage is one in a series of interrelated factors (the others are divorce, illegitimacy, and cohabitation) that it says contribute to a weakening of marriage. (Witherspoon, 5) Some of the key arguments made against same-sex marriage have to do with the definition of marriage; the welfare of children; democratic governance, and the significance of race.

The definition of marriage
“Most Christians know from the Bible that marriage is part of God’s original order,” says “Why Marriage Matters,” a “talking points” memo by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). It cites scripture in support of that notion. “‘And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a help mate’ [Genesis 2:18]. Jesus also affirmed that lasting, loving marriage is basic to God’s plan for us. ‘But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife… What therefore God hath joined, let not man put asunder.’ [Mark 10: 6,7,9]” (NOM, 1) For some anti-equality forces, male-female marriage thus represents not just a legal arrangement, but the divine order.

“The definition of traditional marriage is under attack as liberals seek to radically redefine an institution that has existed for thousands of years,” asserts the Christian Coalition. (Web site, cited 5/18/11) Some opponents of same-sex marriage fret that it will lead to further erosion of social codes—leading to polygamous marriage or other deviations from “tradition.” The Witherspoon Institute report quotes New York University professor Judith Stacey, “a leading advocate of gay marriage,” as saying that same-sex marriage will promote a “pluralist expansion of the meaning, practice, and politics of family life in the United States.” (Witherspoon, 27) (In this video, Prof. Stacey responds to the misuse of her own writings, and the “distortions” of Dr. James Dobson on research about the children of same-sex parents.)

For anti-equality forces, to “redefine” marriage is to undermine the social order and the authority of scripture. That is why they seek to protect the “traditional” definition of marriage, as shown in this advertisement, “The Story of Prop 8.” Changing the definition of marriage is only significant as it pertains to the supposed purpose of marriage.

Marriage and children
The purpose of marriage is to serve as a governing institution for procreation and child-rearing, argue many opponents of same-sex marriage. The Witherspoon Institute report cites Belgium, Canada, Massachusetts, the Netherlands, and Spain as societies where “child-centered marriage has ceased to be the organizing principle of adult life”; these examples support the notion, they say, that “same-sex marriage is both a consequence of and further stimulus to the abolition of marriage as the preferred vehicle for ordering sex, procreation, and childrearing in the West.” (Witherspoon, 27) Or as the National Organization for Marriage succinctly states, “Marriage is about bringing together men and women so children can have mothers and fathers.” (Cited 5/18/11)

Same-sex marriage will also “confuse” children. The National Organization for Marriage asks rhetorically, “Do we want to teach the next generation that one-half of humanity—either mothers or fathers—are dispensable, unimportant? Children are confused enough right now with sexual messages. Let’s not confuse them further.” (Cited 5/18/11) Further, the organization says, “Marriage teaches that men and women need each other and that children need mothers and fathers. A loving and compassionate society comes to the aid of motherless and fatherless children, but no compassionate society intentionally deprives children of their own mom or dad. But this is what every same-sex home does—and for no other reason but to satisfy adult desire.” (NOM, 2)

Opponents are also concerned about what their children would be taught. This television advertisement and others said that Proposition 8 would help prevent a situation where schools would be forced to teach children that same-sex marriage is “okay.” In the more formal language of the Witherspoon report, “Same-sex marriage would further undercut the idea that procreation is intrinsically connected to marriage. It would undermine the idea that children need both a mother and a father, further weakening the societal norm that men should take responsibility for the children they beget.” (Witherspoon, 26-27)

Marriage and democracy
Traditionalists say they are troubled not only by the fact of same-sex marriage, but also the means by which they see it being passed into law: through the courts, and in opposition to majority opinion on the matter. They decry “activist judges” (“Men in Black” ad for Proposition 8) and the alleged desire of LGBT people to impose their definition of marriage on the larger society (“Whether you like it or not” ad for Proposition 8). It is, in other words, a violation of basic democratic principles.

The Christian Coalition argues, “Every time the American people have an opportunity, they support traditional marriage at the ballot box—but the attacks by liberals continue. In 2008, voters in California, Arizona and Florida added their voices to those in twenty-seven other states by adding amendments to their state constitutions defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. But radical liberals and gay activists are working to overturn the will of the people—even attempting to get judges to rule the amendments unconstitutional. Others even want the new liberal majority in Congress to pass legislation revoking the federal Defense of Marriage Act.” (Cited 5/18/11)

The National Organization for Marriage echoes the sentiment, and offers some talking points that uphold the democratic principle of tolerance, even as they deny LGBT people equal marriage rights. The organization has found that “the single most effective message” in support of their cause is, “Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.” They also recommend against using the language “Ban same-sex marriage” (it causes them to “lose about ten percentage points in polls”), and instead say they’re against “redefining marriage.” Here again, opponents are politically attuned. By speaking of “banning” same-sex marriage, they are seen as anti-democratic, whereas being “against redefining marriage” appeals to others’ sense of tradition. (Cited 5/18/11)

Marriage and race
Race enters into the discussion on marriage equality in important ways. Many people compare the ban on same-sex marriage today to the ban on interracial marriage in years past—and say that this ban should and will meet the same fate as its predecessor. Same-sex marriage opponents will say the equation is inaccurate. The National Organization for Marriage suggests this talking point: “Bans on interracial marriage were about keeping two races apart so that one race could oppress the other. Marriage is about bringing two sexes together, so that children get the love of their own mom and a dad, and women don’t get stuck with the enormous disadvantages of parenting alone. Having a parent of two different races is just not the same as being deprived of your mother—or your father.” (Cited 5/18/11)

That logic is no logic at all, say supporters of same-sex marriage; it’s more of an appeal to emotion than to reason. And herein lies a thornier problem. To make a comparison between the two bans is perhaps to imply a comparison between African Americans (or other people of color) as a class, and LGBT people as a class; or a comparison between the centuries-long struggle for African American freedom, and the relatively modern fight for LGBT equality. Such a comparison is offensive to many, especially if it’s made by someone who is not Black. Same-sex marriage opponents may say that LGBT people were never enslaved as gay people, were never systematically kept out of jobs as lesbians, and so on. To equate the two peoples is to ignore history, and to diminish the pain and the historical struggle of African Americans. Add to that the polling data that suggest many African Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage.

As indicated in the Witherspoon report, race enters into play in another way as well. That report suggests that the breakdown in marriage—because of the advance of same-sex marriage rights, and other factors—is especially deleterious to communities of color. The report says, “The latest social scientific research on marriage indicates that minorities and the poor pay a disproportionately heavy price when marriage declines in their communities, meaning that the breakdown of the family only compounds the suffering of those citizens who already suffer the most.” (Witherspoon, 7)

Reason and emotion in the fight over marriage equality
Touching as it does on issues of children, democracy and race—not to mention sex and gender—equal marriage is bound to be a heated issue. The issues at play are intensely emotional: Will my children be taught to believe something I oppose? Will my church be forced to accept something that is against our faith—or be stripped of its nonprofit status if it doesn’t? Will my relationship, my love, be sanctioned by the state? Will my faith in a loving God that accepts me as an LGBT person be degraded?

The pros and cons of same-sex marriage as a legal institution are debated in the courts largely on the grounds of reason. And the devastating case presented against Proposition 8 in court suggests that equal marriage will win in due course. But in the battle for hearts and minds, the discussion takes place largely on the grounds of faith, feeling, and instinct. Anti-equality forces may sometimes succeed. Anti-equality forces may soften their message by speaking of gay and lesbian friends, or make equally pungent emotional appeals to the threat that they say LGBT people cause (such as in NOM’s “Gathering Storm” advertisement).

On the other side, emotional appeals are being used more and more as well. Increasing numbers of LGBT African Americans and people of faith are speaking publicly and personally about equal marriage. What’s more, pro-equality activists have long since realized that the more LGBT people are out and about, the more difficult it will be to paint them as any sort of threat to anybody. They share their personal stories, they enlist their straight friends in the fight for equality. And so, after having tried and failed to defeat Proposition 8 using antiseptic, focus-group-tested abstractions like “fairness” and “equality” and “discrimination is wrong,” LGBT advocates have taken a different tact: this time, it’s personal.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
The Witherspoon Institute. (2006) “Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles.”
The National Organization for Marriage. “Why Marriage Matters.”
Organizations dedicated exclusively to defeating same-sex marriage include Protect Marriage (pro-Proposition 8 in California), the National Organization for Marriage (works nationally). Other organizations work against same-sex marriage and on other issues, and these include the Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, and the Traditional Values Coalition.
The YouTube channel of the National Organization for Marriage.
The YouTube channel of “Protect Marriage,” the pro-Proposition 8 campaign.
Organizations and Web sites dedicated exclusively to supporting same-sex marriage include Marriage News Watch (formerly This Week in Prop. 8), the Prop 8 Trial Tracker (videotapes anti-equality protests), Friend Factor (“Where straight friends stand up for their gay friends”), Freedom to Marry (the campaign to win marriage nationwide). In addition, Public Research Associates is a right-wing watchdog that works on various issues, including LGBT equity.
A debate over same-sex marriage on the “Dr. Phil” show, in four segments. Parts One, Two, Three, and Four.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
What messages have anti-marriage forces used, and to what effect?
What are the weak points in anti-marriage forces arguments, and how are they failing to connect with some of their key audiences?
What are the legitimate concerns of people working against marriage equality?
How have anti-LGBT strategies and messages changed over the last few years?
What conservative groups and people are now shifting towards accepting LGBT rights, and what does this mean to the movement? James Dobson admitted to losing battles in the culture wars, and Meghan McCain supports gay marriage.