The New York marriage battle has gone truly social, and it's leaving some organizations feeling a bit out of control. A little after midnight on Saturday, undecided Republican New York State Senator Greg Ball, who has been raising religious objections to the marriage equality bill, tweeted through his Ball4NY account: "Opening up the discussion! So, if you were me, how would you vote on gay marriage? Yes or No?"
This was the first time in New York an undecided senator asked the Twitterverse how he should vote on marriage. Leaders of LGBT organizations and activists alike are taking Sen. Ball up on his message and tweeting like crazy. Now would be the ideal opportunity for gay rights organizations to approach Lady Gaga, the LGBT community's ally, and the person with the most Twitter followers (over 11 million) to ask her little monsters to mobilize their social universes to make their voices heard.
Unfortunately, one gay rights group decided to go public on Friday to distance themselves from Lady Gaga and to say her Twitter involvement might cause more harm than good.
The New York Daily News reports that on Thursday, with only two days left in the legislative session, Gaga Tweeted her fans and told them to contact another "undecided" senator, Mark Grisanti from Buffalo. Everybody has been tossing his number and the numbers of other "undecided" Republicans around, so it's no surprise she did too. She even told people to use HRC's click-to-call tool. The Daily News ran to the Human Rights Campaign for comment and HRC spoke right up. The Daily News reported, "HRC's Brian Ellner insisted the megastar did not coordinate her efforts with advocates -- and now some worry she's doing more harm than good."
What did that accomplish?
Governor Cuomo told the advocacy groups some months ago to "speak with one voice." Part of speaking with "one voice" means advocacy groups don't tell the press that they disapprove of grass roots activists exercising their free speech rights. You don't let light shine between any of us. If you need to convince Grisanti you have clean hands, you don't issue a press release about it. You tell him privately, "That tremor you just felt was one very powerful citizen's spontaneous reaction to your political position. We had nothing to do with it. We can't control her. But if you vote no, she could do something worse. But if you vote yes, you can be guaranteed that we will have your back." That's what political power is.
This is a decisive moment in the role of social media when it doesn't matter what organizations say. An elected official has asked people to contact him on Twitter, and the people should respond in kind. The people should be using every resource including Lady Gaga, to make their voices heard. Lady Gaga could get over one million people contact Senator Greg Ball on Twitter. Nobody on the other side has remotely the Twitter power she does. The organizations need to embrace that power and let it flow.
But the moment should not be missed, whether or not Lady Gaga is involved. It's all hands on deck. The time to be heard is now.
If you'd like to spread the word, Greg Ball can be followed on Twitter at ball4ny. You can message him by typing @ball4ny before your message. Use the hashtag #NY4M.
UPDATE (As of 6/20 1:49 p.m.): New York Observer reporter Azi Paybarah tweeted that Senator Ball told him that while the responses he's gotten are 1000 to one in favor of marriage, they came from outside his district. At first this might seem to prove the point that appealing to people like Lady Gaga or others outside the district for assistance is futile. In fact, it proves just the opposite. It shows that advocates for marriage need to reach deeper into the districts of undecided senators. And we need all the help we can get.
UPDATE (As of 6/20 3:23 p.m.): Another frequently retweeted call to action today comes from New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn - "Don't forget to call Dean Skelos at 518-455-3171 and ask for the Marriage Equality bill to be heard today. #ny4m"