Barack Obama’s gay push continues.
In addition to releasing a gay pride message yesterday, the Senator’s campaign last night organized an impromptu conference call for about 1200 Democratic supporters. While ostensibly meant to inform the Democratic candidate’s constituents, the call served another, far more important purpose: rallying Senator Hillary Clinton’s supporters.
In fact, the former contender’s name arose within seconds of the call’s commencement, when Obama’s deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand began, “It is a very important time for our country, our party, for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton.”
Hildebrand, a gay man who has been with Obama since the beginning of this arduous campaign, went on to highlight how exciting, challenging and, yes, painful the primary season has been for all voters, regardless of their preferred candidate.
Now that Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination, however, the Senator’s campaign must do everything in its power to rally the gay troops ahead of November’s election. And, obviously, it won’t be easy and it happen over night, nor does the campaign expect such a turn around. Said Hildebrand:
We know that there are a lot of people who have supported Senator Clinton who are on the call with us today and we greatly appreciate that. We know that each of you will take your time to wrap your head around the situation, to hopefully join Barack in his venture moving forward at whatever point you are comfortable doing so. We certainly recognize the pain that goes with some of this, but know that you have a welcome home here that we need your help, that we want your help. We will take it whenever you are ready should you get to that point.
In order to stress the message of unity – and prove the campaign’s gay chops – Hildebrand then turned the call over to Elizabeth Birch, the former HRC executive director who lent her support to Clinton’s campaign.
In perhaps the most emotional explanation we’ve heard on the matter, Birch explained the significance of this election in her family, which includes two biracial twins, a girl and a boy. Said Birch, “â€¦From the beginning had to be careful about how wildly enthusiastic we were about Hillary Clinton because, quite frankly, my little boy looks like Obama. So, it was complex and emotional.”
While well aware of the emotions involved, even Birch couldn’t predict her reaction to Clinton’s defeat, which she equated with the pain of watching the fall of a “vanquished warrior”:
I thought that I had been pretty hardened by Washington all these years and on the night June 3rd, I was in San Franciscoâ€¦and I burst into tears and I was so upset. It was a painful moment and it was acute and I hadn’t expected it.
Birch went on to explain the “heartbreak” of women everywhere, who had a long-sought dream deferred. Despite this pain, however, Birch pledged her support to another dream, one that bridges generations, genders and races:
I know, deep, deep in my heart, that it is just as important for my kids to see a woman take the helm as it is for them to see a gifted, wise, strong, very effervescent powerful man like Barack Obama, who is black and white, like them, take a leadership role in this country. So what I wanted to say is congratulations to all of you who have worked for Senator Obama, and to ask for your patience at least from me. This won’t happen in hours, but it will happen in days and we will be able to turn our hearts over to the other equally important dream.
Birch concluded her remarks by reminding listeners that Republican John McCain represents a sad continuation of the Bush Administration’s irresponsible governance. And that doesn’t bode well for queer Americans.
Birch wasn’t the only HRC honcho on the line. The gay non-profit’s president, Joe Solmonese, who just yesterday lent his organization’s support to Obama, got on the line to celebrate Senator Clinton’s long commitment to queer causes, but made sure to emphasize that Obama has just as much love for the lavender set. Recalling Obama’s pro-gay speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Solmonese stressed that, unlike John McCain, Obama includes gays in his picture of a new America:
He has a vision for America that includes us. This is a man who looks across the landscape of what he calls the unlikely story that is America and he sees us. He sees that we are part of the fabric of America and he has told me, he has told me himself on a number of occasions, that he sees it as his calling to bring disparate groups of people in this country together toward common goals and he does it at every opportunity.
Further, Obama’s popularity among young voters, who largely support gay marriage, only bodes well in the November election, when millions of California and Florida voters will weigh in on banning gay marriage in their respective states. Only Obama can lead our nation during this “transformative” period – and it’s up to gay voters to back his presidential bid. If people turn to McCain, says Solmonese, the results could be disastrous.
Obama’s camp also booked former John Edwards supporter David Mixner, who spent his limited time describing how Obama’s campaign welcomed him after Edwards dropped out of the race this spring. Mixner, a long time advocate and author, also put this race into a larger perspective:
[This is] probably for the first time since the 1992 convention, we have an extraordinary opportunity to make history as a community. We have four months to do it, so we must gather and unite in our opposition to McCain and in an opportunity to really create something special in this country – not only for the country, but for ourselves and future generations of LGBT people.
In addition to the cheerleading from this powerful and influential leaders, Hildebrand also spent some time outlining the campaign’s 50-state strategy, which has largely been modeled after the Democratic National Committee’s electoral plans.
“Hundreds” of offices will be set up across the nation, not just key battleground states and, in an effort to bring different constituencies together, DNC gay leader Brian Bond, who did not speak on the call, will be moving from DC to Chicago to head up the campaign’s constituency outreach. This move proves two things: one, Obama’s campaign has successfully won over the DNC and, more importantly, they’re committed to installing gay leaders in key positions, a move that will no doubt help boost public opinion among queer communities.
Now, regular readers know that we would normally be skeptical of such efforts, we heard two distinct emotions in every speaker’s voice: dedication and desperation. The Obama campaign clearly understands the danger of losing gay supports – and gay supporters should equally recognize the danger of missing out on Obama.
It would be a real indictment of America’s collective understanding and responsibility if we missed this historic, culturally explosive opportunity. Our country was built on oppression. By working together, we can potentially right some egregious wrongs. The Obama campaign understands that – and so should you.