In his address at Gettysburg, Lincoln said that ours was to be a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” His speech took several days to write but only two minutes to deliver, and its lasting impact is undeniable. After November’s disappointing results in California, a motivated class of grassroots activists have been working on the campaign for marriage equality in Maine for months. The lasting impact of the results on November 3rd will be decided by two minutes of each voter’s time.
As a young gay man living in Manhattan, I identify as part of a generation that wants marriage to be an option rather than a dream. My friends and I wanted to give more than just two minutes to this cause.
Though a wedding isn’t on my immediate horizon, I joined a small group to travel from New York to Portland to volunteer for Protect Maine Equality, the group spearheading the “No On 1” campaign. The staff there, both paid and volunteer, was so excited to have extra hands on the ground. It was just a few minutes after our arrival that we were mapping door-to-door canvassing routes, calling volunteers to confirm their shifts, and reminding people to do the one thing that actually matters: vote.
We were working along side local members of the LGBT community, and some who traveled farther than we. (Greatest distance clocked by my count? Two thousand six hundred miles, by the Los Angeles crowd.) But it wasn’t just us queers; some amazing straight allies from near and far joined us. There was an atmosphere of a summer camp, with exercises in teamwork, trust, and camaraderie. The stakes, though, were just a bit higher than achieving summer celebrity.
Because of the accessible voting laws in Maine, registered voters have three options in casting a ballot. They can vote at their polling place on Nov. 3; they can vote early and in-person at the County Clerk’s office; or they can vote early by mailing in an absentee ballot. It’s that third choice the “No On 1” campaign is capitalizing on. Early voting is a simple and effective strategy; it locks in votes ahead of time, leaving little to chance come Election Day (weather, traffic, laziness). Which is why Protect Maine Equality’s plan has been to reach supporters and get them to cast their vote ahead of time. If the early bird catches the worm, the early voter catches a mean case of civil rights.
Our second day there, the campaign gathered for canvass training. We were provided with a script full of talking points and dialogue tactics, campaign materials, and ponchos to keep us dry in the biting rain. (Oh yes, it was wet!) We practiced the speech a few times and learned some solid facts about the state we could easily rattle off: There are roughly 1.5 million people in Maine; 995,000 of them are registered to vote. Recent polling indicates about 500,000 people will actually vote this year. And since Maine voting laws call for a “simple majority plus one,” only 250,001 votes are needed for a marriage victory. Run the numbers: Only 16 percent of Maine’s entire population needs to give us two minutes of their time.
We spent that Saturday and Sunday knocking on doors around Portland neighborhoods. We were targeting the doors of homes identified as supportive to the cause. It’s easier, after all, to nudge like-minded folks to vote than it is to convince your opponents to vote and see things your way. But that doesn’t mean we shied away from any door.
Those who answered our knocks were generally receptive, polite, and supportive. It was encouraging when one gay couple told us they’d be surprised if everyone on their block didn’t vote “No.” Another said they would be so disappointed in Mainers if Question 1 went “Yes” that they would likely move. We were thanked for our efforts and encouraged us to do more. And then there was the one woman who was busy when we stopped by her house — so she drove around the neighborhood looking for us so she could sign up to volunteer.
But not everyone was so supportive at first.
Daniel, a member of our canvassing troupe, knocked on the door of a woman who said she was going to vote “Yes.” When Daniel asked why, she said, “Well, because I’m a Christian.” Daniel responded that he was too, and that he thought religion had nothing to do marriage.
After a brief conversation, the woman said she was so glad Daniel had come by, because her friends had influenced most of her opinions. She hadn’t really had the chance to talk about the issues with anyone else, she said. Daniel’s two minutes with her might have just scored another “No” vote.
We returned from Maine exhausted but excited and cautiously optimistic. We had been blogging about our experience EqualMaine.com, and our friends across the country were waiting to hear what we would be doing next. So were we.
A phone banking party was an obvious choice. Easy to set up, these parties come with the support of Protect Maine Equality, who will provide the phone numbers and scripts for you to call. Today, at 5:45pm EST, we’re meeting on the south side of the fountain in Madison Square Park and will be dialing scores of 207 area codes from 6-8pm.
And we’ll be asking each voter in Maine to give two minutes.