Obama Volunteers Recruit Travelers to Maine

11/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last year, California sent more Obama campaign volunteers to the swing states than any other part of the country -- in part due to a website called "Travel for Change." Now, the same activists who organized that effort are working to send volunteers to Maine -- where in 55 days, voters will determine the fate of marriage equality. The "No on 1" campaign has welcomed volunteers who can travel to Maine and commit to working for at least a week. Now, thanks to "Travel for Change," supporters can donate money or airline miles to make that possible. Many Californians, dejected at the passage of Proposition 8 ,want to help, and with "Travel for Change" they now can get the resources to make a real difference in Maine. As the right treats Maine as ground zero in their effort to halt the march towards marriage equality, defeating Question 1 on November 3rd can have a national impact in the fight for same-sex marriage.

Several weeks ago at Netroots Nation, I met the field director for "No on 1" -- and realized not only how the Maine campaign is crucial in the national fight, but that it's very winnable. Only about 500,000 people will vote in this election, and the campaign needs just $3 million (a pittance for California standards). Polling shows the race neck-and-neck, so a little bit of effort can make a huge difference.

Unlike California, where marriage equality was won in the courts, Maine advocates won at the state legislature -- which required a grassroots lobbying campaign that identified 50,000 pro-equality voters (mostly in "swing" areas of the state.) Now in order to protect this victory, the campaign is building off the legislative effort to win at the ballot. Rather than focus on just liberal parts of Maine, "No on 1" has a foothold in marginal places.

The campaign encourages out-of-state volunteers to devote one week in October for a Volunteer Vacation - where they will place you in one of the campaign offices to assist the field effort. Maine is a beautiful place in October, and the campaign will need all hands on deck. I signed up to go during the first week of October, after the early absentee ballots get mailed out.

It's not hard to see why Californians should get involved. While we argue with each other about when to repeal Prop 8 (2010 vs. 2012), losing Maine in 2009 could set back the movement. Conversely, a Maine victory would give momentum to repealing Prop 8 -- regardless of when it eventually gets back on the ballot. And the election will be over in two months.

"No on 1" will provide housing for out-of-state volunteers who stay for at least a week, but it's their responsibility to get to Maine. Which is not a big deal if you live in New Hampshire, but it's a deterrent for would-be California volunteers. Without an effort to get people from the West Coast, the campaign could miss out on a major opportunity.

Last year, Obama campaign supporters in the Bay Area created "Travel for Change" to help local activists fly to the swing states. By having donors donate their airline miles on the website to "sponsor" a volunteer, they helped fund 400 Northern California people to travel across the country. My friend Jay Jonah Cash co-founded the program, so I called him to start something similar for the Maine campaign. Within days, the "Travel for Change" team was re-established to send local volunteers out to defeat Question 1.

We now have a PAC registered with the Maine Ethics Commission -- "Travel for Change Maine" -- and can legally raise money to send volunteers to Maine. The Courage Campaign hopes to send members from each of its equality teams, and we are working concurrently with groups like Marriage Equality USA, the League of Young Voters, the California Young Democrats and the National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce.

Now the challenge is to get California volunteers to commit at least a week in Maine, and to raise the money to make it all possible.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco's Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published. He will be writing daily dispatches for Beyond Chron of the "No on 1" campaign, when he goes to Maine from October 3-13.