Are There Any California Activists Who Know How to Play Well With Others?


Have California’s activists finally decided on whether to push forward with a 2010 repeal of Prop 8? Or wait till 2012? Answering that question can be a fun game of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!

Equality Network’s co-founder David Comfort email blasted his network over the weekend following Saturday’s not-so-civil leadership summit in San Bernardino, the second one since Fresno’s post-Meet In The Middle rally. Comfort acknowledges: “Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community was unable or unwilling to come to an agreement on which way to proceed with a date for a ballot initiative to overturn Prop 8 at the Leadership Summit. The grassroots, myself included, should have shown more leadership in how we approached it and the decision to return to the ballot box. I am in this to build a grassroots movement, of which the campaign is a part. We were ass backwards. We should have been meeting about how to build a grassroots LGBTQ movement, and not pitting ourselves against one another in a fight to decide on when to return to the ballot.” All this standing around, argues Comfort, is only harming the cause. Which mean he is going ahead with a 2010 effort.

Not so fast, say other gays.

Federal challenges aside, there’s a large contingent of prominent activists who want to wait until 2012. The reasons are, mainly, twofold: 1) With the White House back up for grabs in 2012, that election will bring more (gay favorable) voters to the polls; and, 2) Big-moneyed donors don’t want to waste their cash on an iffy shot at a 2010 repeal, and would rather save their pennies for a single, more organized push in 2012.

That’s a line of thinking shot down by folks like David Mixner, but it’s not necessarily the outspoken do-gooders who will call all the shots — but the equality supporters with deep pockets. Even Equality California, which many blame heavily for the first Prop 8 disaster, understands the financial constraints of a 2010 repeal effort.

David Bohnett — the monied philanthropist who earned tidy sums from GeoCities, NetZero, and — is among the hesitant. He tells the NYT: “In conversations with a number of my fellow major No on 8 donors I find that they share my sentiment: namely, that we will step up to the plate — with resources and talent — when the time is right. … The only thing worse than losing in 2008 would be to lose again in 2010.”

That advice matches up with a number of political consultants Equality California’s Marc Solomon — the Massachusetts marriage equality import — says he spoke with.

Of course, a Prop 8 repeal campaign needn’t rely only on a small pool of wealthy donors. Collecting small sums from the hundreds of thousands of folks who receive email blasts from any number of California’s marriage organizations isn’t just a worthwhile course of action, but a necessary one. And even if a 2010 repeal fails, it’s less likely someone who donated $10 this time around will be so turned off they won’t find another $10 in 2012. Someone who throws $1 million at a 2010 push, however, might not be feeling so generous next time around.

And then there’s this argument: Get it done at whatever cost. At what price is equality? While the 2010 vote is just 16 months away, requires 700,000 signatures, and needs untold tens of millions of dollars to have a chance at being effective, there’s still the gubernatorial race (featuring gay friendly candidates like San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Jerry Brown) to bring out the homo-loving crowd. And waiting until 2012 means just that: Two more years necessary to kill voter-approved inequality.


So how do things stand now? In pure chaos.

Even the blog Unite The Fight, which championed the first summit in Fresno, described Saturday’s gathering this way: “Whatever you believe the reason to be, the Leadership Summit on Sunday was an utter failure. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.”

Here’s their 5-point description on why things went terribly awry:

1. Hard working organizers struggled long and hard to have a successful summit and took lots of consideration into putting together an agenda.
2. Attendees showed up, decided to more or less ignore the agenda (which wasn’t, sadly, sent out in advance so attendees weren’t prepared), crucified “the experts” and ran an ad hoc meeting.
3. People hissed and booed those they didn’t agree with, spoke over each other, shouted out cuss words, and debated every single tentative, progressive step forward. Yet at the same time, many attendees demanded a final decision be made on when to return to the ballot without agreeing on a process or getting the rest of the community’s input.
4. Ended with nothing accomplished. No next steps, no decision on when to return to the ballot, no agreed upon process to decide when to return to the ballot, no agreed upon deadline for a decision on when to return to the ballot. (The Coalition of the Willing was not agreed upon.)
5. Oh, and a last minute straw poll about 2010 vs. 2012 while people were filing out to leave, which was a last ditch effort to feel that something was accomplished but means absolutely nothing other than highlights the dire straits we find ourselves in.

The serial in-fighting between groups like Equality Calfornia, the Courage Campaign, and Love Honor Cherish probably isn’t helping things. Which begs the question: Will it actually take until 2012 for everyone to learn to play nice? Because Maggie Gallagher is laughing at you.

(Watch Saturday’s summit in its entirety on the next page.)