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The Making of 'Think Equal'

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Over at Blue Jersey's project, Think Equal, we've launched two new ads
over the weekend. View them href="">here.

What we're doing is somewhat novel for the netroots. Often campaigns
like these go from video to the web. We went from the web to video.
And while our campaign is aimed at New Jersey's voters, it's also
directed at the netroots around the country. For this reason, we've
been getting some e-mails asking us how href="">Think Equal came
together. What inspired us to do this and, more so, how we pulled it
off. So here's the story:

After the elections, I had been thinking about the NJ Supreme Court's
on same-sex couples
, and wanted to do something for equality. I
wasn't quite sure what I -- a straight political junkie kid -- had to
offer. I'd been blogging at href="">Blue Jersey for only
a few weeks at the time, and did a few posts on the subject, but I
wanted to do more.

I called Blue Jersey's founder, href="">Juan
Melli, to discuss what we could do. We talked about some
strategies, but they were all ideas for the long term. We wanted to do
something sooner.

One of the things we felt we could address is how the netroots talks
about marriage. Often, we ignore the substance of the issue to discuss
the politics -- how the right uses it as a distraction, how silly
their attacks are, and what's the best way for candidates to approach
the issue. In doing so, it makes us think marriage is being discussed,
but it's really not.

And I know because I'm a loyal reader. For the past few years, I've
clicked over to the big blogs several times a day and skipped around
the smaller ones throughout the week. I knew a lot about the politics
of marriage, but very little about the substance. That changed when I
got involved here in New Jersey.

I learned a lot in a short time. Originally, I thought I was helping
same-sex couples by promoting better framing language with the term
'civil unions.' But then I heard the stories of href="">Lt.
Laurel Hester and href="">Paula
Long, and saw that my political junkie mindset was crowding out
the real world consequences. There are href="">stark,
discriminatory differences between civil unions and marriage --
with serious and tragic implications for families. I learned that
thinking the term 'civil union' is a more politically palatable way of
giving same-sex couples the rights they deserve is actually
detrimental to change. To settle for civil unions is to settle for
political futility, expediency, timidity, and comfort. It would lodge
same-sex families into a limbo difficult to escape. They'd be
perceived as having the same rights, making those who want equality
grow complacent.

I knew that I wasn't alone in this misconception among people who want
equality. According to href="">a poll
conducted last week, there's a 33% increase in support for marriage
among New Jerseyans "when voters understand that civil unions don't
consistently protect gay couples." The same can probably be said of
the netroots, except that when they learn the differences, they'll
become much more vocal and active in affecting change.

Juan and I knew that this was the problem we as New Jersey bloggers
were best suited to tackle, but what should we do? We brainstormed
about ways to draw attention to the issue. We had talked about a viral
campaign with video shorts, as audio/visual media was more likely to
be passed around than a regular post. All of a sudden, lightning
struck. Juan suggested a parody of the popular Mac and PC commercials
and wrote the first script. Within an hour, I wrote the second spot,
and by the day's end, we had come up with a total of four scripts.

The next day I started cold-calling film professors and production
companies, looking for talented students and interns interested in
building their reels. On a whim, I sent a note to Danny Levinson of href="">Moxie Pictures, who
had produced Eliot
and the href="">September Fund's
commercials in the previous cycle. Danny forwarded our plea to one of
his production assistants, Evan Savitt, and we were on our way. It
hadn't even been 24 hours since Juan's idea.

Over the next three weeks, I put my job search on hold to devote
myself to the project full time. I commuted back and forth between
Jersey and New York City and rode the subway up and down Manhattan. I
worked on the scripts, on casting, on props, and on fundraising to
create the ads. Evan handled renting studio space and wrangling crew
members on short notice, which was the most expensive part. Juan spearheaded the website and was able to enlist the
help of Scott Shields from White Horse Strategies in designing it. It was a lot of hard work, but we
made it happen.

We encountered our fair share of problems.
  • Fundraising was a big one. We have some friends who pointed us in the right direction, but we're bloggers who had never done this before, and our goal was pretty ambitious. It became clear early on that we weren't going to raise enough beforehand to produce these. Juan and I discussed what to do and, after a vote of Blue Jersey's front-pagers, we decided to invest some of Blue Jersey's money in the project. We then received some generous donations from Garden State Equality and BlogPAC, but we were still $2,500 short. I decided we'd be able to raise it after they were produced, and halved my bank account to pay for it.

  • We had originally intended to shoot in mid-December, but the Democratic leadership decided they would rush a civil unions bill through the legislature to avoid debate. The hearings and vote would be over by early to mid-December. Our timeline had to be slashed by three weeks.

  • After casting several actors, one of them came down with pink eye just days before the shoot. We had to push filming back a day and recast all the roles to fit our new actors. We were helped by Justin Krebs of Laughing Liberally, who helped put us in touch with Laura (Civil Unions Gal) and Monica (Married Gal). Evan knew some improv actors who'd be free, so they filled some bit parts.

  • Preparation at the shoots. I was running around like crazy, assembling furniture, taking lunch orders, and trying to help with the actors' lines, pacing, and ideas. We had prepared a detailed plan for the day, but everything goes out the window once you're on set.
As you can see, it all came together. But the story's not over yet: our next job is pushing the spots on the blogs and in the press -- something we're still working hard on. Distinguishing the differences between civil unions and marriage equality and getting the blogs to talk about the substance of the issue is naturally going to take some time.

And it appears we'll have to keep it up, because the state's
Democratic leadership has its heart set on getting civil unions
through and hoping this issue goes away. But Blue Jersey isn't going
to let it go away, and neither should the netroots. Families are at
stake, and we have the unique opportunity to help them by spreading
information. By knocking out the misconceptions about civil unions and
marriage, we are doing a lot for equality.