Loss and Resolve: Lessons from Maine

(full disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign and was on loan to No on 1)

A year ago I knew what went wrong and I knew how to fix it.

A year later, I don’t know what went wrong.  I don’t know how to fix it.

We had the money.  We had a stable campaign.  We had the a robust well-oiled field campaign.  We had a strong campaign manager.  We had the turnout we wanted.  We had great coordination between the netroots and the campaign.  We had a not particularly religious state.  We neutralized the church issue.  We had a manageable voter universe.  We had an opposition with an inferior media and field operation.  We had TV ads with gay people in them.  We responded to their attacks swiftly.  

And we still lost.

Our campaign wasn’t perfect.  But it was damn good.

And that’s why this loss is so hard.  The lessons to be learned are not as obvious.  Not knowing how to fix it makes it tempting to throw our hands up in the air and say at 0-31 we just can’t win marriage rights at the ballot box.  Or we have to wait a decade until we can.

But that would be letting them win.  That would be giving up.  That would be accepting inequality.

We can’t.  I won’t.

We need to learn how to neutralize the schools issue better than we did this time.  We must continue telling our stories, one by one, person by person, door by door.

Nate Silver as usual has some smart thoughts:

I certainly don’t think the No on 1 campaign can be blamed; by every indication, they ran a tip-top operation whereas the Yes on 1 folks were amateurish. But this may not be an issue where the campaign itself matters very much; people have pretty strong feelings about the gay marriage issue and are not typically open to persuasion. There’s going to be an effort by many on the left to blame Barack Obama for his lack of leadership on gay rights issues; I think the criticism is correct on its face, but I don’t know how much it has to do with the defeat in Maine. A more popular Democratic governor, for instance, who had been a bit quicker on the trigger in his support of gay marriage, might have helped more.

Persuading voters to change their minds about marriage equality is extremely difficult, but it is possible and it happens every single day.  It just takes a lot of resources and is most effective on a one-to-one level.  

That means we must continue to invest in grassroots organizing, training new leaders to work in their communities and supporting their efforts over time.  We need to continue to build connections and relationships with faith communities.  We can organize in churches.  We can even organize in Mormon Temples and Catholic Churches.  It has happened.  It is happening.

There are lessons to be learned out of Maine.  We know that we can build a massive GOTV operation.  We know how to build a model where a campaign invests in the netroots and reaps the rewards.  The church issue can be neutralized.  It’s possible to set aside differences and focus on a common goal.  We can build a campaign to be proud of as a community.

What we can do now is have experts in Maine politics analyze the results to understand better how we lost.  We need talk to the No on 1 campaign leadership/consultants to get their advice like they did from our Prop 8 loss.

We can win marriage back in California.  We will win marriage back in California.  We can win marriage in Maine.  We will win marriage in Maine.

I am not quitting.  You better not be either.

This weekend I am picking myself back up and getting right back to work, training hundreds of activists in Sacramento how to organize at Camp Courage.  They will and I will come in with heavy hearts, but leave empowered.  

We will leave and fight the next fight together.

7 thoughts on “Loss and Resolve: Lessons from Maine”

  1. It’s people like you who are leading our effort to win.  Thanks for everything you did in Maine.  Thanks for keeping people focused on the work that we still need to do.  Thanks for your optimism.

  2. Thank you, Julia, for all the energy you put into the campaign. Totally motivated me to contribute and cheer you on from afar.

    I agree. No quitting.

    But let’s be smartl

    2010 is NOT the right time.  

  3.   It’s simply going to take the older people who have hang-ups about their and others sexuality to pass away

    and be replaced by people who are more tolerant (and they

    are–all the polls show the younger you are the more

    likely you are to support gay marriage).  This is more

    or less what has happened with race–all the laws were

    passed 40 years ago and we are starting to approach

    (we’re not there) equality.  Why?  The visceral racists

    have died (there are still plenty who hold racist opinions

    but they, for the most part, don’t have it as a fundamental

    part of their being the way they did 40 years ago).

     Wish I had better news to give you but in 10 years there

    will be breakthroughs all over.

  4. At 59, I’m hardly one of the more broad-minded young voters who typically support your cause. And I’m straight.

    But I also drove 3 hours to go to Meet in the Middle for Marriage Equality in California. Because I don’t believe anybody should be a second-class citizen in America.

    This is a question of equal rights under the law.

    I’ve screwed up two marriages. Yet I’m legally entitled to do it again–should I be crazy enough to try. I know gay couples who have a better track record. Why should I be able to marry and they should not? It makes no sense. And it’s not right.

    As for the argument that marriage is for procreation, that is provably false. Nobody has ever asked me whether I can or intend to bear children before I wed. Infertile people marry. Old people past their childbearing years marry. Nobody stops them. Just gays. Even ones with kids or who plan to have children.

    You keep working for justice. A lot of people are right there with you.

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