QUEERTY REPORTS – Rick Jacobs isn’t your average run-of-the-mill critic of the No on 8 campaign. As founder of the Courage Campaign, a progressive netroots organization with over 300,000 members that partners with labor, religious and netroots groups, Jacobs is in a unique position to look at what went wrong with the No on 8.
Like many groups, the Courage Campaign offered its support and services to the No on 8 Campaign, but felt largely rebuffed. When the Jacobs saw that the Mormon Church was donating unprecedented sums of money through its members to Prop 8, the Courage Campaign created a television ad featuring two Mormon missionaries invading a lesbian’s home and taking their marriage certificate and rings from them. It would be the only large-scale criticism of the Mormon Church before the election.
Queerty spoke with Jacobs about No on 8, why the leaders of the campaign owe us an apology and what the gay community needs to do next.
QUEERTY: What was the Courage Campaign’s involvement with Prop. 8 both before and after the election?
Rick Jacobs: In August of this year, we made a very clear choice. We have considerable online organizing expertise and relationships in progressive communities and groups across the state and nation. We work closely with MoveOn.org, SEIU/United Healthcare Workers-West, California Nurses Association, SCLC of Greater LA and many others. We could have offered a great deal to the No on 8 campaign, but having tried to “break in,” I decided not to push any more.
I feel bad about that. Had we all broken down the doors, things might have been different. We worked with the campaign, but were never allowed into the inner sanctum.
As we saw the situation deteriorate, Courage decided to take on the leadership of the Mormon Church very directly. The Church leadership had pushed its members to donate as much as $22 million and to make calls and knock on doors. The official campaign would not take the church on, so we did.
We worked closely with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of LA. We got 17,000 people to sign a letter calling on the president of the church to stop breaking the ninth commandment, not condone blackmail and stop using the church to take rights away from a minority. We were not allowed to deliver the letters at the temple in L.A. (“>see the videos on our site), so we found two wonderful ex-Mormons who had been excommunicated for being gay. They delivered the letters in SLC in front of five TV cameras.
Then the next day, on November 1, we put up on YouTube the now famous ad, “Home Invasion”, that depicts two Mormon missionaries ripping wedding rings off of the fingers of lesbian couple and ransacking their house to find and destroy their marriage license. We found some money to run the ad on election day. This forced the Mormon Church to make its first public statement about the campaign. And we were even attacked by Bill Donahue.
The ad has gotten over 450,000 YouTube views and framed the church leadership as out of touch and over reaching for its interference in our state. The ad was written, directed and produced for under $1,000 by volunteers.
It was the only ad in the entire season that showed a same-sex couple. After the election, the LA Times editorial criticizing the No on 8 campaign said this was the only “hard-hitting ad” of the campaign, and it was not even an official.
After the defeat, we put up a pledge to repeal Prop. 8, which has now garnered more than 325,000 signers. We worked with Credo Mobile and MoveON.org and intend to make it the central organizing element of the campaign.
We continue to work very closely with many allies in labor and elsewhere to assure that the next campaign is bottoms up, a peoples’ campaign.
And just what exactly is the Courage Campaign anyway?
I have a long and varied background in business and politics. I quit my job managing money and businesses to chair Howard Dean’s presidential campaign here in California in 2003. That experience changed my life. I saw the power of movement politics, the hunger for truth and the reality of the Internet as an organizing tool.
I founded the Courage Campaign three years ago as a vehicle by which to bring the energy of the 2004 campaign back into California. We always export labor and capital and we never build political infrastructure here. In August 2007, we had 26,000 or so people on our list; today, we are close to 400,000. We exist to make California more progressive and governable. Right now, it is neither.
Equality California had a meeting with its Board of Directors last weekend and its begun asking people to submit the names and contact info of grassroots, netroots leaders to them. Are the “traditional” gay organizations doing enough?
I am not aware of Equality’s meeting. EQCA announced a “summit” of all interested in parties around repealing Prop. 8 to occur in LA on 24 January. It’s a huge list and growing. I have no idea of the purpose or intended outcome. One thing is clear: no one organization or group “owns” this movement, nor should it.
The next phase is a movement, a real bottoms-up movement that organizes and builds not just in the LGBT communities, but with all progressive communities. We cannot win our rights back unless we are out of the ghetto, ready to learn what’s important to others.
Here in California, we face a record budget deficit. Already, 250,000 kids are in danger of losing their healthcare. Hundreds of thousands of poor and elderly who depend on MediCal have lost many of their benefits. If you cannot get medical care or a job or graduate from school, you are not likely to be too concerned about gay people getting married.
Activists for marriage equality have to learn about the needs and cares of others and have to be relevant to those needs. That’s how we get to know each other and, as we saw in MILK, that’s how we build power.
You’ve been a critic of the No on 8 campaign. Why?
Continued criticism of the No on 8 is useful as a means by which to learn what not to do next. It is not useful to get personal or unprofessional about the critiques. My friend Andy Rappaport said after the 2004 presidential election, if something does not work after having tried it several times, the only thing you know for sure is not to dump a lot of money into that same strategy again.
Obama turned presidential politics on its head after learning what worked and what did not for Dean. The Obama campaign in no way resembled the failed Kerry campaign What we do next must resemble the Obama campaign.
We must catalyze and build the grassroots/netroots movement and we must have smart political leadership. We need both. The organizations that ran the last campaign must not run the next one. And the next campaign began on November 5th. The last campaign consisted largely of an executive committee of executive directors of LGBT organizations. They did not include actively labor and other progressive allies. The campaign was top down and insular. That cannot happen again.
Lori Jean of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center is against a ballot proposition to overturn Prop. 8, fearing that it would give the Supreme Court a chance to “punt” their decision in March. Is she right?
We cannot wait for the court to rule. That’s why the Courage Campaign is organizing now to build a million people to sign a pledge to repeal Prop. 8. If the court rules in our favor, we’ll need that deep support in order to fight the right wing attacks. If it does not, we’ll need to go to the ballot. And the next time, we will win.
Explain to me the value of your petition as opposed to or in concert with legal battles?
Our pledge shows that already hundreds of thousands of people actively want to repeal Prop. 8. Each of those people represents several more friends or family members. We will have a million or more people sign that pledge.
As I said, if the courts are with us, we’ll turn that force into a defense of the court’s proper ruling. If not, we’ll put it on the ballot.
Courage is building a training program, called Camp Courage, modeled after Camp Obama. Our first training will occur in January in L.A., followed quickly with others. Torie Osborn, a long time hero of the LGBT and progressive movements who worked for two months full time in the Obama campaign in California, is building and leading the trainings. With our allies in labor and elsewhere, we are building a field program that can engage everyone who wants to work.
This is a movement. It needs infrastructure. Together with friends such as Sal Rosselli at UHW and California Nurses Association, with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Delores Heurta, and many others, we are building that program.
None of the Prop. 8 leaders have taken responsibility for the loss. Should they? What would you do if you were in their position?
Even John McCain took personal responsibility for the failure of his campaign. I have said on several occasions to the self-proclaimed leaders of the campaign–Lorri and Geoff and others who were out front with the media a lot–they needed to take responsibility for the failure. Instead, they issued statements saying they were victims of a tough campaign full of lies from the other side. Well, guess what, the other side won and we lost. Of course they were tough and lied. Take responsibility and let the chips fall where they may.
Failure does not entitle you to run another campaign. Offer your advice and lessons learned, but do not try to run this again. Ever.
You’ve become a leader to many of the grassroots folks. What should they be doing? In short, where does the gay movement go now?
We have a golden opportunity now to build a real progressive movement that fires on all cylinders. As I have said to folks who ask me, first, don’t ask permission. If you want to do something, do it. Ask forgiveness. Second, we need organizing principles and infrastructure. The Courage Campaign was built to provide both. We have nearly 400,000 online members who care deeply about this issue and for the most part for building a progressive California. California cannot be considered progressive when it takes rights and healthcare away from people.
The next steps:
1. Train. Courage is providing a vehicle for that as I described above. Whatever you want to do, whether it’s contact your neighbors, religious groups or make calls, train.
2. Use the pledge as an organizing tool. The power of having one thing, one document to get signed, makes this all very much simpler. When you canvass in your neighborhood through tools that we will provide (we use the same software provider as the Obama campaign), you can ask them to sign the pledge. If they won’t, you can learn why and go back. When you go to a church, your goal is to get people to sign a pledge. They may not the first time, but some will. And those will be our allies inside of that church to help grow and learn and win.
3. Organize. Get your friends and some who are not to work together to change minds. Learn how to organize by training.
4. Make the 139,000 or so people in the central valley who voted no on 8 our friends. Help them to organize.
5. Lend your creativity. We are wildly creative community. Let’s use it.
There is more, but this is a good start. Together, we will win.