As many of you who read my work know, I'm a history buff. I like to look at the lessons of the past and the big-picture for the future. The big-picture includes an understanding of our movement and the conservative movement, which is why I also think it's important to look at all of the tools that can be used to build movements, including things like ballot initiatives. A little over a decade ago, I co-founded, and served as the chair of the board for the first few years, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. The goal was to help progressives create a long-term strategy on winning ballot initiatives at the state level, because I think too often many of us in progressive politics underestimate how ballot initiatives can impact a movement.
There is one particular initiative I'm especially focused on this year, which is the same-sex marriage ballot initiative in Maine. Earlier this year, the legislature passed -- and Democratic Gov. Baldacci signed -- legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. It was the first fully legislatively-passed measure in the country (Vermont did the same, but the legislature had to override Republican Gov. Douglas' veto). The right-wingers put it on the ballot, and so now there's an election happening this year -- on Nov. 3rd -- to strip rights away from gay couples, like in California last year.
Now, you're probably wondering why a straight guy who grew up in NE, lived in IA for many years, and now lives in MD and works in DC, mostly on national issues, cares very much about an initiative in a little out of the way state that I've only even visited once. You may be thinking that Maine is this little state with two quirky Senators way up who knows where, where the largest city (Portland) is more like a medium-sized town to many of you. You may also be thinking that as a straight person this doesn't impact you, or that if you don't have a lot of gay friends, it's not something you should spend time or money on.
I think that's dead wrong, and here's why.
I have studied the conservative movement for quite some time. The conservative movement feeds off itself, and works together on a wide range of issues. Just like the famed "Wednesday Meeting" run by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist engenders communication, conservative movement victories embolden other parts of the movement. A win to repeal banking regulations, or to put restrictions on a woman's right to choose, or to ban consumer lawsuits, excites and mobilizes the conservative base. It also excites and mobilizes conservative funders to increase their giving. Nothing increases conservative giving like a winning record, and it increases across the board. It's not just the Catholic Church and Focus on the Family that funds anti-marriage equality initiatives. It's a broad spectrum of movement donors, foundations, and activists. They recognize that winning helps their base participate in other ballot initiatives, teabagger rallies, electing conservatives to Congress, and screaming at their member of Congress at town halls. That's why a win in Maine affects the entire playing field. They understand that a headline the day after the Maine initiative about them succeeding at rolling back the gay marriage bill helps them build excitement and momentum, and helps deflate and discourage progressives.
Losing on issues like this hurts our entire movement badly. If you're doubtful, think of how many people you know who said Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate they voted for since Ted Kennedy in 1980, or McGovern in 1972, or Bobby Kennedy in 1968. A lot of progressive folks pulled back out of politics, demoralized. Winning and losing matters. No issue and no constituency is an island, and we all sink or swim together.
In Maine, today (October 15th) is a big campaign finance deadline, as well as the very first day voters can vote early in their polling booths. It's the day when our side will know how much money they have to work with for the fall. In California for Prop 8 last year, there was a last-minute scramble by a lot of celebrities and folks in the netroots to raise money when it was clear we might lose the thing. As we all know, nothing helps our side win more than giving them a clear idea of what they can work with. They've already run some sensational TV ads with their contributions (see here, here and here).
If you can chip in $10, $25 or $50 towards demoralizing the conservative base of activists and donors, I guarantee it will help our movement in the long-run. Stringing victories together on health care, same-sex marriage, the economic stimulus, cap-and-trade, and a few other issues will help knock the wind out of the right wing movement's sails. You can click here to chip in and help notch a win for our movement. And you know, New England is beautiful in the fall- you can look at a lot of beautiful trees and changing leaves while knocking on doors. I hope our entire movement pitches in and helps on this cause.
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