How Hawaii's Marriage Equality Struggle Has Helped the Left Find What It Lost

11/11/2013 09:45 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Many years ago I asked famed women's rights leader Gloria Steinem how she ended up marching with the anti-war movement, the farm workers movement, the anti-nuclear movement, and so on. Her answer was simple, yet poignant: "We all recognized the underlying common thread of oppression." The political Left, in the U.S. in the late '60s, stood united and powerful because of that very understanding. It exercised a tremendous amount of influence on society. Sure there were factions and infighting, but like Steinem attests, the various movements of the Left came together.

Why? Sure there were charismatic leaders, but mainly because they understood holistically that no one is free when others are oppressed. The same basic forces that are oppressing you are oppressing me -- common cause stuff. Anti-oppression.

The years that followed the '60s never really displayed the same degree of unity among the Left as occurred back then. The movements fractionalized and compartmentalized themselves, and then started seeing their resources as zero sum games: "If I work on your campaign I won't be able to work on my campaign." Even worse, they started to make qualitative judgments that one cause was more worthy than another. And of course, the corporatization and co-opting of the professional Left was inevitable. Campaigns driven by donation dollars, but also the people who were running them would become co-opted by the very forces they were opposing in the first place.

Sure there were brief exceptions: Iraq anti-war movements and the WTO/IMF protests brought together the diversity of movements of the Left for a short while.

Now comes a civil rights struggle for marriage equality in Hawaii. The Left in Hawaii has been brought together. They all understood, and appreciated, the oppression the GLBTQII movement here felt: second-class citizenry. Add to the mix a mighty, vocal, well-organized Religious Right, and... "SHAZAM!" (as local gay rights icon Jim Neighbors has said) -- the Left is alive and rises again! Almost like a friendly Frankenstein -- perhaps resembling pot icon Tommy Chong -- stitched back together and struck by lightning bolts of righteous indignation.

So, multiple large assemblies, thousands of testifiers, and tens of thousands of pages of testimony later, gay marriage/marriage equality will become the law of the land.

Now the big question is whether it will last for more than these few short weeks. Will there be a collective yawn and belly scratch by the Left if the state... tries to grant minors the vote? What about legislation to require GMO foods to be labeled? Or maybe a fight to keep the funding for publicly financed elections on the Big Island?... Just to think of a few hypotheticals.

We shall see.