Home | Auburn News | Media and Movement Building: The Five Best Strategies of the Last Fifty Years
A Report for Auburn Media
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 2
CASE STUDY 3
CASE STUDY 4
CASE STUDY 5
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 Call: The Montgomery Bus Boycott
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
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
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
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
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
CASE STUDY 2
In the Beginning Was Radio
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 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
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
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.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
CASE STUDY 3
The Birth of a Movement
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
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
“Act Like It’s Murder”: Operation Rescue
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
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)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
CASE STUDY 4
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 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.
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
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)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
CASE STUDY 5
A brief history of same-sex marriage in the U.S.
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
The definition of marriage
“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
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
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
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
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.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: