I spent three decades as a public affairs and political consultant. I spent a couple of hours at Los Angeles Gay Pride last Sunday.
Being heavily involved right now in our LGBT civil rights movement, it is important to observe what is going on out there. Several hundred thousand people attended the Sunday morning parade and the annual weekend festival. June is Gay Pride month, and there are literally dozens of cities in California that hold Pride weekends throughout June and all summer long.
Last year's Pride was particularity interesting, because much to our surprise, gay marriage had been made legal just weeks earlier, and it was going to take affect days later. What an exciting and historic time that was. What a difference a year makes.
I remember last year that there was no one registering voters the entire weekend of LA Pride. Odd I thought, since one year ago we knew in advance that Proposition 8 was very likely going to be on the November 4th ballot.
Voter registration is an essential element in all major political campaigns. Practically every campaign and every political party has conducted voter registration drives almost going back as far as George Washington. It's basic, nothing really new or innovative. The idea is, to register new voters who will vote with you in order to help your side get more votes than your opponents. Like I said, pretty basic.
This year I went into the Pride Festival to do a little test. I wanted to see what all was going on with voter registration.
I had assumed that our wonderful LGBT organizations (and they are incredible organizations) would have hundreds of people out registering LGBT voters and all our friends at LA Pride this year. I figured that they would be taking advantage of this mostly younger crowd, and get everyone at Gay Pride registered to vote. After all we very likely will be back on the ballot to repeal Prop 8 in less than 17 months.
As I went to my first LGBT political booth, I asked gently if there was a way to register to vote? A young bewildered volunteer said, "not really sure." I visited the over 20 more LGBT political booths, out of over several hundred at the festival. Sadly, I could not find one voter registration card! Not even one!!!
During my wanderings, I finally met a very nice girl who had heard that the Stonewall Democrats booth had some voter registration forms. She marched me right over there, and I was thinking bingo, but alas, after some searching around they first said "we ran out," then said, "sorry, we don't have any." Then the cute volunteer added, "good idea though."
200,000 to 300,000 LGBT individuals and so many of our friends were in one place, who all agree that marriage equality should return to California. You do the math. Talk about a missed opportunity!!!
I'm pretty certain that at least half of the mostly younger crowd at Pride is not registered to vote yet. Once they do register, they will be voting for let's say 70 more years on many more LGBT issues and for candidates who support us. That's a lot of Novembers and Junes. In California, all new voters have the option of checking a box to have an absentee ballot mailed to their home forever. Vote at home = very high turnout.
It's simple. Elections are won by who gets the most votes. We narrowly lost last year. Let's put on the biggest, most successful most fun voter registration program in California history. Let's give it a catchy name like "Milk the Vote" or "Register for Equality." Then brand it, use our massive volunteer force that has been and continues to be organized, and let's go get 600,000 new LGBT voters and our friends registered now. This new army should be everywhere the next 17 months where there is a gay event, rally, march, college campus and any place that there are more than 25 gay people assembled.
It's a lot of work, but if all our organizations and volunteers get behind "Milk the Vote," or whatever the name is, we can make up the 599,602 votes that we lost by and win next year's election to repeal Prop 8. Let's make sure that California once again leads the way on equality.
I appeal to all our very effective LGBT organizations to work together and make voter registration the number one activity between now and next October 18th (last day to register for the November 2, 2010 election).
Hell, people can even register on line: http://www.sos.ca.gov/nvrc/fedform/ and then just print out the form and mail it in.
We lost by only 4% of the vote last year -- 599,602 votes out of the over 13.4 million cast on Prop 8. What a change from just 8 years earlier when we lost by 23%!
Please, make this the last Pride in California, or anywhere in the country for that matter, where we are not registering voters.
It is the smartest thing that we can be doing now and for our future.