SACRAMENTO — Returning from Maine after the passage of Question 1
, I made a last-minute decision to spend the weekend in Sacramento to attend Camp Courage. Modeled after “Camp Obama” that UFW veteran Marshall Ganz organized, “Camp Courage” is a project of the Courage Campaign
to train marriage equality activists in California for the eventual repeal of Proposition 8. I wasn’t the only Maine veteran to attend, and it was clear from the 100-odd attendees that we have our work cut out for us everywhere – and we were all ready to figure out how to change hearts and minds. Through two days of intense training on how organizers connect with people, I left last night a bit more hopeful for the future – and fired up to fight harder for social justice in the years to come.
“Our side in these campaigns always starts at a deficit,” explained Sarah Callahan, the Courage Campaign’s Chief Operating Officer and veteran of many electoral battles, at an afternoon workshop on shaping the electorate. “To win, we must produce abnormal voting. All Frank Schubert has to do is reproduce normal voting, and reinforce fears.”
Of course, in Maine we did
produce “abnormal voting” among our base. At the University of Maine in Orono, students turned out in record numbers despite it being an off-year (nearly matching last year’s Obama numbers) and liberal Portland likewise saw an unusual surge for that election. At a certain point, we must change hearts and minds.
Which was the focus for much of the conference – helping participants “find their own voice” to become better organizers and communicators, and to converse with those who did not vote our way. “Your job as an organizer,” explained Lisa Powell, “is to motivate. And to motivate, you must connect. And to connect, you tell your personal story.”
By working with facilitators in small groups, attendees learned how to tell their personal story – which often dealt with the struggles so many of us faced coming out of the closet, and demanding to be treated for who we are. Then we learned to relate our stories to the stories of others, and finally role-play how we would to talk to someone who voted “yes” on Proposition 8 – bringing in our personal stories in a way to connect with these people.
What’s the end game? Syd Peterson of Vote for Equality
walked us through a canvassing exercise of approaching a person who had voted for Prop 8, and what kind of non-threatening but effective means are to get these voters to re-think where they stand. “We won’t be able to change most minds on the spot,” said Peterson, but the L.A.-based group’s regular canvasses have been able to “move” 25% of the people they’ve talked to.
“Prop 8 passed by 600,000 votes,” he said. “That’s how many people we must talk to.”
Regardless of what year Prop 8 goes back to the ballot, marriage equality advocates know that the hard work begins now. This weekend was the Courage Campaign’s seventh Camp Courage – with the next one is scheduled to be in Santa Barbara in late January. And the atmosphere at this conference was upbeat about why we are in this struggle.
“You can't have a progressive state,” said Rick Jacobs at the start of the Saturday session, “if the people can take rights away from others.”