Tag Archives: Camp Courage

Camp Courage: Winning Back Marriage by Telling Painful Stories

This weekend’s Camp Courage in Sacramento was a good tonic for the loss in Maine and part of our collective path forward to restoring marriage equality to California.  The heart of Camp Courage is learning how to craft your “story-of-self” a personal, emotional version of who you are and why this issue matters so much to you.  The goal is to empower activists to use their personal narrative to bring about political change.  Stories-of-self can be used to recruit volunteers, to inspire a crowd or to change a persons’ vote one door at a time.

It isn’t easy to have people open up and share the most painful, scary, raw parts of their lives.  But those are the stories that are the ones that need to be told the most. The power of Camp Courage comes from people risking sharing their stories of pain thus forming community and strength.

Adam Bink over at Open Left quotes Harvey Milk’s famous “come out come out” speech and writes:

The same tactic Milk used for school employees everywhere must continue to be used in these communities. We have to encourage people in these towns to come out of the closet and say they want the right to marry. State Representative Mike Carey, who represents heavily Catholic downtown Lewiston and voted in favor of marriage equality in the legislature, pointed out to me that in these kinds of votes, the default vote is for fear, and it is a huge barrier to reach one’s conscience if they have no personal knowledge of the issue. For all the “gay marriage will be taught in schools” ads our opponents ran in Maine and will run in other states that tap that fear element, we have to counter with people who can give voters that kind of personal touch on the issue.

It isn’t just gay people that we need to come out and tell their stories, it is all of our wonderful straight allies.  No, there is no application to become a straight ally, just start telling everyone you know your personal story of why you support equality for all.

One of our amazing volunteers that helped put together Camp Courage Sacramento Chris Huack brought his parents to Camp.  He blogged about the experience at the Courage Campaign.  Here is Chris relaying the three reflections his dad had about Camp. (more on the flip)

1 – He had no idea the pain that LGBT people had felt over discrimination and losing initiatives like Proposition 8 and Question 1 until he saw people speaking about them openly and honestly at the Camp. See, I have always been a more stoic, let’s “focus on what we can do in the future” type of person, so for my Mom and Dad, they had never truly appreciated the pain this had inflicted on our community until they heard the stories of personal pain from others.

2 – My Dad shared with me his “Story of Self.” He had a gay cousin who had died of AIDS when my Dad was in his 20s. He had a lesbian sister who had come out to him and was now married with her wife. And he had me, his gay son, who was fighting for equality and who he hoped could one day get married in front of friends and family. LGBT issues had slowly intertwined their way thought his life and had always handled them decently (very supportive of me and his sister), but now realized his previous actions had been woefully inadequate and that he could no longer sit on the sidelines while people he cared about suffered and were discriminated against.

3 – He needed to get involved today. He wanted to sign up to canvass and to join California Faith for Equality, provided they had a means for him to contribute to meaningful action.

As stoic as I may be, I found myself fighting back tears as my Dad related this to me and my Mom agreed with him. Then at dinner, as my Dad related to other family members what he had learned and why it was so important for us to proactively work for change – I fully understood the importance of Camp Courage. Yes, it is a great experience for LGBT leaders and organizers. However, I missed an important opportunity in East LA, when I went to Camp but neglected to recruit my straight friends and family in LA to attend with me. This experience is not just a meaningful skills training for gay people – it is an opportunity to teach, empower and share ourselves and our struggle more fully with friends, straight allies and family. It is an opportunity to bring new faces and perspectives into the fight for equality.

One by one we are building an army to repeal Prop 8.  It is not easy, or fast, but it is absolutely critical to our success.  The best way we change hearts and minds is having everyone supportive of equality speaking from their hearts.  

We have to be vulnerable.  It is wrenching to know that as a gay person that the best path to earning the right to get married some day is if I share my most painful moments of my life with strangers in order to win their vote.  It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s what it takes and it is what I will continue to do.  Will you join me?

(full disclosure: I proudly work for the Courage Campaign)

Unite the Fight’s Camp Courage Op-Ed

(I added the report FOX 11 (LA) ran on the event to Unite the Fight’s crossposted piece. Note: I work for the Courage Campaign; “Unite the Fight” does not. – promoted by Robert in Monterey)

Of the countless meetings I’ve attended after the election, focusing either on the postmortem of the No on 8 Campaign (including Saturday’s Equality Summit), brainstorming strategy, figuring out how to build coalitions, planning events and actions, and trying to determine next steps for the movement, I have not been to one meeting that was as effective, inclusive, practical and educational as the Courage Campaign’s Camp Courage.

Held in West Hollywood and knowing that it was going to last from 8:30am-5:30pm, I thought spending my whole Sunday at the event made the whole thing seem daunting. And I was skeptical. After feeling let down after so many attempts to do what the Courage Campaign was attempting, I was prepared to get bored, lose interest in the speakers and eventually tune out altogether. But amazingly, they held my attention the whole time, and I learned a lot. Borrowing the mantra, “Respect – Empower – Include” from the Obama campaign, Camp Courage succeeded in doing just that.

(Due to my having to write the Equality Summit report, I missed the kick off reception the night before, where many told me Cleve Jones gave a riveting speech. Unfortunately, I can’t report the details, but if any of you were able to make it, please write me and tell me about it, and I’ll post it. Also, I hear there is video of this – please let me know when it is up!)

Camp Courage kicked off strong with Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs telling the attendees that California is a “state that is tarnished” with discrimination. Indirectly referring to the Equality Summit and its panel of leaders who populated the stage throughout the whole event, he pointed to the empty stage behind him and said, “There are not a lot of people on this stage. You’re the stage!” And that’s how the rest of the day went.

Lisa Powell, lead facilitator who had worked with the Obama campaign, did a great job in leading the overbooked event, involving the crowd divided into predetermined groups with active sessions which lasted throughout the day and included:

   * Story of Self: finding your voice as an activist. After hearing examples from people telling their stories as to why they’re fighting to repeal Prop 8, Lisa broke down the storytelling technique, handed out a worksheet so that each person can shape their own story, and then each participant told their tale to their own group. Learning how to tell your own story is extremely effective in getting others involved in the movement, or opening the eyes of the opponents to the harm of Prop 8. After the sessions amongst the groups, a few were picked to share their story to the whole crowd. Many heart-wrenching tales were given, the unearthing of the motivation driving these activists.

   * Story of Us: the amazing Mike Bonin lead this session about building the movement, one leader at a time.

   * Voter Persuasion: how to talk to the others in one-on-one encounters. Led by Liz Moore of the SEIU, this was an extremely educational and effective session. After an improvised moment between Lisa Powell and Jenny Pizer, portraying a peaceful interaction between neighbors who voted differently on Prop 8, the groups were given worksheets with various scenarios that they had to improvise amongst themselves. Given tools in how to communicate with the opposition, many learned the power of proper persuasion without making those you disagree with uncomfortable or under attack. The emphasis of persuasion was on baby steps – you can’t change someone’s mind with one conversation.

   * Online Tech Tools: this session, led by Julia Rosen, Online Political Director for the Courage Campaign, debuted the organization’s online, grassroots tool, Equality Hub, which allows individuals and grassroots organizations to effectively plan events, socialize and organize. It also includes a voter phone banking tool that allows the individual to make phone calls from their own homes, similar to the Obama Campaign site. Definitely worth checking out.

   * Into Action: this session broke out into groups that contained practical education on door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, tabling, organizing a political house party and online organizing (which went into further detail about the Equality Hub, but also networking and education about online tools that are effective for planning events and keeping your organization’s members or participants active and updated).

   * Our Commitment to the Cause: Lisa Powell talked about the organization’s commitment, to the movement, but as well as the activists, and referred to the Courage Campaign’s project “Please don’t divorce us . . . “

Inserted throughout the sessions were touching (and amazingly concise) speeches from married couple Jenny Pizer of Lamda Legal and Doreena Wong, who, speaking on the legal and political context of marriage equality, spoke about their years in activism and told the story that after 24 years together, Doreena’s mother felt that Jenny was finally officially a part of the family after marrying her daughter; Torie Osborn spoke on organizing and movement building, focusing on respectful interaction with the opposition and learning how to actively listen; and Mike Bonin, telling his story of self, confessed that after working extremely long hours on the Obama campaign, and feeling ashamed that he didn’t do enough for the No on 8 campaign, promised he will never allow himself to put an LGBT initiative “on the back burner.”

With so much material covered in a relatively small amount of time, it’s a marvel that it was all accomplished, and miraculously, on time and on schedule! These Obama-turned-LGBT and equality campaigners know how to lead a large meeting, communicate and educate, but above all, inspire. Led by multi-generational activists, some new and some experienced, Camp Courage offers something for everyone of all ages and backgrounds. Either this is all new to you and you learn the essential basics, or it’s a refresher on old skills, you don’t leave empty handed.

The Courage Campaign plans to hold many more Camp Courage sessions around the state. They are asking us to vote on where some of them will be. I recommend you do, find one near you (Fresno is already confirmed and they intend to schedule more in San Luis Obsispo, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco) and GO. In order for this movement to propel forward and succeed, we must be educated, we must know how to work together, we must be on the same page, and we must remain inspired. Camp Courage is the step in the right direction. Do not miss out. GO.

Originally posted on UniteTheFight.org