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What is Power?

Community/Meta Trial analysis

By Rick Jacobs

The essential question coming out of Day 7 of the Prop 8 trial is clear:

What is political power?

Today, Gary M. Segura, a Stanford Political Science professor, convincingly testified about the relative political power of the LGBT community as a class of citizens, as well as the level of vulnerability experienced by gays and lesbians in the political process.

Segura first defined the differences between political power and weaknesses. He then showed that gays and lesbians do not have that much power, which is surprising to some. Protect Marriage attorney David Thompson is trying to show that gays do have power because we give money, have access to public figures like Speaker Pelosi, have marriage in a few states and raised $43 million against Prop 8.

But juxtapose this with the amazing revelation of documents earlier this afternoon that show how clearly the Mormon and Catholic Churches coordinated and ran the field campaign for Prop 8. We knew the churches were involved deeply, but now we see that they essentially made the campaign work.

The summary from both sides reduces to this: After 30 years, we have a hate crimes bill. And even though Mr. Thompson keeps touting the Human Rights Campaign’s own writings promoting HRC, we see that we have little real power.

Let’s look at the record:

1. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a gift of the Clinton Administration; there is no sign that President Obama is going to move to repeal it anytime soon, especially after the Coakley defeat last night.

2. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was a gift of the Clinton Administration. We still have no commitment from President Obama or the Democratic leadership in Congress that this will be repealed and certainly not when.

3. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) languishes somewhere between the House and grey skies.

4. We have lost 33 out 34 ballot fights and 75% of the 200 or so initiatives that have been waged against us.

As Mr. Thompson for the defense inadvertently points out by having played excerpts from Obama’s speech, the gays get politicians to show up and get invited to parties. But nothing happens. We see that the hundreds of millions of dollars that the LGBT community has spent has not resulted in very little real power — the kind of power that can actually conjure fear in the minds of elected officials. As a friend and senior advisor to Obama remarked to me recently, not one federal office holder worries in the least about what the gay community says or does.

Professor Segura made clear that the foregoing is not necessarily true for Latinos or African Americans or women or evangelicals, as office holders appear to factor the votes of these specific constituencies into their decisions more often (recognizing, of course, that the the LGBT community is inclusive of all of these constituencies).

On this first anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration when Democrats are wringing their hands over the meaning of Martha Coakley’s defeat in Massachusetts, this trial shows us the clear path ahead.

First, progressives and the LGBT community itself must continue to support such breakthrough efforts as this trial. It is truly a groundbreaking event.

Second, we must build true political power. That means we have to show office holders that we will fight them, that we will run primaries against them and that we will reward them for good behavior. The idea that getting lots of stories in the newspaper is somehow going to change politics is ludicrous.

Third, we have to embrace and empower the grassroots communities that we see reading this blog and participating in any number of activities to advance equality, online and offline. An organization like the Courage Campaign Institute is more powerful with hundreds of thousands of small donors than this movement can ever be with a few donations from big corporations. And we are most powerful when we have hundreds of thousands of people across this country who will exercise political power.

Finally, we have to tell our stories. Let’s never forget how this trial began and of what this fight consists. It’s all about Jeff and Paul, Kris and Sandy. It’s about each and every family, straight and gay.

Those who possess power get results. If we have it, we don’t use it very well. It’s time to change all of that. And it’s starting right here in a Federal court in San Francisco.

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  • 1. Lexi  |  January 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Gary M. Segura's was definitely powerful, and once again the Prop 8 lawyers were unable to make him waver or to prove any of his testimony flawed.

  • 2. Nick West  |  January 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Power is "knowledge" and with that comes victory.

  • 3. Mikey  |  January 20, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Speaking of political power. Check it out. Cindy McCain! Proves not all repubs are crackpots.

  • 4. Jane  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:48 pm


  • 5. Carl E.  |  January 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    I have to admit, her particiation in the campaign has changed how I feel about her as a person, However, I do wonder where this activism was prior to 2010, when it could have perhaps made a difference…

  • 6. Alan E.  |  January 21, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Her eyes really pop out with all that white.

  • 7. Kahu Aloha  |  January 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    I am sure that the civil unions bill will die a quiet death in Hawaii this week and , if it passes, it will be vetoed by Republican Governor Linda Lingle (thankfully a lame duck in her last days).

    The Gay and Lesbian community has no power in Hawaii and far less tha the mobs turnned out by the churches to mark against us.

    I pray that this trial will embolden us to do a similar trial in the Hawaiian Supreme Court.

    God bless those who are defying SCOTUS by doing a re-enactment to get the truth out in public.

  • 8. michael  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    They posted a 4 minute preview of the reenactment.

  • 9. Richard W. Fitch  |  January 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    It is amazing to watch the defendents repeatedly undergird the case presented by Olson/Boies.

  • 10. SF Bay  |  January 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Rick, I haven't said so before, but I want to thank you for your hard work both live blogging the trial and making Courage Campaign a real power source for our community.

  • 11. couragecampaign  |  January 21, 2010 at 6:06 am

    you are welcome!! when howard dean said, "you have the power," he was correct. and the only way we'll get real power, as prof. segura points out that we lack, is working as a movement.


  • 12. Alan E.  |  January 20, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I was watching the Wheel tonight, and each contestant got to talk about their wonderful wife or husband and all of their beautiful kids. Have they ever had a gay person on who has talked about his or her spouse and kids?

  • 13. Jane  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Alan, it's so interesting. I overheard (impossible not to) a very sweet conversation between my manager and a friend. He discussed his kids and wife and the house they are about to move into. It struck me how effortless and utterly un-self-conscious he is. It's crazy silly that it's not that way for me; it should be. Anyway, it's really interesting. And sort of sad. But enlightening. I must be the change I want in the world.

  • 14. Marlene Bomer  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Most likely not, Alan… y'see, the host Pat Sajak is a member of the Rutherford Institute, a formerly far-right wing political association which is trying to move to the center.

    They were the main funding source for the Paula Jones lawsuit debacle, and early on they were associated with groups which called for the repeal of the Constitution, replacing it with a fundamentalist interpretation of the bible.

  • 15. Jeff  |  January 21, 2010 at 6:25 am

    Yes, they've had at least one. This is from a year ago, he was introduced as the guy's fiancee:

  • 16. michael  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Today's questioning by the defense attempted to portray the acceptance of glbt's in society today and how nice everyone treats us, as evidenced by Houston electing a lesbian mayor.

    Au Contraire. This website (below) speaks for itself, created by an anti-gay "pastor".

    Feel the love?

    Unfortunate updated information couldn't be part of the trial.

  • 17. lesbianmother  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    I tried to leave a comment on the website:

    "God does not want his followers to discriminate either. God is the only one who can judge. A religious leader like yourself is not doing God’s work as he should, by discriminating against another one of his creations."

    It says "Your comment is awaiting moderation."

    I doubt it makes it in the comments section.

  • 18. SF Bay  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Me too. though I don't expect to see it either. Kind of creepy reading all that homo-hatred isn't it?

  • 19. Marlene Bomer  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    I didn't really want to give this bigot a click on his counter, but I just thought you'd like to know there's a grand total of — wait for it — *21* signatures!

    The web site itself of ludicrous, and the rantings are typical of the religious reicht and anti-choice fanatics.

  • 20. mandolyn  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you for tracking this trial. I'm reading nightly, feeling inspired, and praying hard. Fight on!

  • 21. Richard  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    You said it all, Rick. And from my husband's experience, we also have to work to empower those LGBTQ folks who are still closeted out of fear. My husband has three times in the past started PAC's for the LGBTQ "community" here in the Fayetteville/Ft. Bragg area of North Carolina, only to see them fail from lack of interest, lack of action. He was the only one interested in fighing for our civil rights. And unfortunately, too many in the LGBTQ "community" fail to realize that until we unite and stand together to fight for our civil rights, we will continue to endure harassment, beatings, shootings, lynchings, burnings, and other forms of death and torture. Until we unite and work together fighting for our rights, we will continue to have to hide in closets to protect our jobs, our homes, our very lives and existence as human beings. Things are NOT okay, and they never will be until all of us are able to come out of the closets and show the entire world all of the similarities. We need to show the world that we are football players, baseball players, race car drivers, doctors, nurses, construction workers, road workers, we are in all economic and social classes. NOt all of us are Will of "Will and Grace." We are also in the economic classes of folks like the family on "Roseanne.' We have children, we have dogs, cats, and other four-legged, feathered and finned family members, just as the heterosexual families do. We have worries about the economy. We have worries about affordable health cre coverage. We have worries about our utility and mortgage payments. But we are placed at so many disadvantages, and while most of them are a result of the bigotry, hatred, and misinformation shoveled out to the straight community,some of this is our own fault for not standing together as one. The patrons at the Stonewall Inn won their fight because they united and stood together against the abuse. In the 41 years since that time, we have lost that sense of unity that is so absolutely necessary if we are to have a true community. We need to regain that. And we need to regain that NOW!

  • 22. David Kimble  |  January 21, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Thank you, Richard. I could not agree more with your very articulate statement. I believe strongly one of the reasons we have been denied so much in a society that has so much is because, as was pointed-out in testimony our community is truly invisible. Long ago, I decided to be who I am (like me or not). This decision has got me beat by thugs, who think they can change who I was born to be on 3 different ocassions, yet it has been a very liberating experience for me. What I am saying is we need to have the courage to crawl out of the closet and proudly announce we are gay!

  • 23. Marlene Bomer  |  January 21, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Just as religion is a hidden condition, so for many of us is our sexuality.

    My heart drops whenever a black person claims they can't hide their skin color, but we can hide our sexuality.

    I gently, but firmly remind them about the term "passing", which back in the Jim Crow days meant the person was light-skinned enough and had enough European features they could pass as either white or Cuban. Were they any less "black" because they could pass?

    I also talk about how much it *would* be easier if we could all wake up with pink stripes on our bodies in hues matching how we are on the Kinsey Scale: light pink on the low end, to solid, bight hues for the sixes.

  • 24. Doug K.  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    We, the LGBT community, are a "vulnerable minority" and hence specifically need the protection of the U.S. constitution. It is disheartening, to be honest, to see the stats regarding how many ballot measures have passed against us, and how we lost 75% of the initiatives waved against us. I actually thought we have been doing better than that. However, the promising thing is – is that all this is coming to light. It inevitably becoming even more and more evident to our heterosexist society how vulnerable we are and, in fact, protection from the "majority" is precisely what we need and deserve as well as equal rights.

  • 25. lesbianmother  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Richard I agree… although I have some fear i cannot let it ruin my life. I am woman in a long term relationship with another women. We have 5 kids (both of us were hetro-married prior and had children). The fathers are by choice not very much "dads." We are of the younger G & L community. We are more open about our family. She openly speaks of her "wife" to her co workers. I am a little more reserved at work because of my job. We are both in the business of saving lives. She is a Paramedic and I am in charge of a 911 center (not the same area 2 different counties in Southern CA). Do you think a hetro-wife is going to tell my girlfriend not to saver her husbands life, because she is gay?
    At home our children know we are gay and we are not afraid to let people most know. The schools know, the sports teams know. We are the "team moms" for our girls softball teams. Our preschoolers X-mas gift to us was marked "To: My Mommies." It is important that the world knows we are normal people, just like our neighbors.

  • 26. lesbianmother  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    in addition… We are starting to learn and understand the fears of the older generations of the LGBT community. It was only until yesterday when I understood the realisim of my Gay Uncle's murder in San Diego 7 years ago. It was never even investigated. It was labled a suicide. My family knows it was not suicide because you cannot strangle yourself to death sitting in a chair. Medically speaking, if you try to kill yourself by self strangulation you will pass out before you die. Hearing things about what has happend to others makes me understand why so many people are "in the closet" still. My mother has asked me to not tell my step-father I am gay, in fear that he will make her choose between seeing her daughter and grandkids and him. I have an older generation co-worker that does not want ANYONE to know she is gay in fear of losing her job because she was discriminated against years ago and fired because she was gay. I understand more now. I am glad it is not as bad now, but there is still discrimination. I want to badly to be MARRIED to my girlfriend. I want to have a complete family. I want to not have to be scared of intorducing her to co-workers as my girlfriend, instead just my friend….

  • 27. Jeffrey  |  January 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I would submit that gays and lesbians represent such a small amount of society that by default we don't and won't have much power, unless we change the way we are going about it.

    Essentially, we are a small group asking (notice the word-asking) a large group to change its mind. With the civil rights of ethnicities, there were at least numbers. Sure AA had Martin Luther King, but it shouldnt go unnoticed that it was religion that was the backdrop that enhanced their ability to unite for civil rights.

    But in the case of gays and lesbians, it is religious groups, in large part we are fighting against. there are no gay 'Martin Luther Queens" telling us all that we when freedom comes to us we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" I certainly can't speak for all gay people. I think spirituality runs in us just as it doesn anyone else. But, it is my experience that many of us had just had it with organized religion because for the most part, they are the ones who have rejected us.

    African-Americans and other minorities often had something like religion to unite them, even though their cause apart from religion was certain, and still is, just.

    If anything though, that is where the power is for gays and lesbians, we are right. And because we are right, our demands will be ultimately fulfilled.

    I have to admit though, the wait sucks. It would be a big boost to gays and lesbians that they would be held, officially at least, in a different, more legitimate way. In this sense, it becomes illegitimate to discriminate against them, even though it would still happen. That has meant a lot to other groups.

    Again, my biggest concern is what happens if we win this trial and it goes to SCOTUS…

  • 28. Marlene Bomer  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Jeff — You have to realize that back in the days of Jim Crow there were laws prohibiting blacks from gathering of more than a few people, but church meetings were exempt. This meant you could have a political gathering, but had to hide it under the guise of religion.

    I've read of instances where the local sheriff or the White Citizens Councils (usually fronts for the Klan) came to "investigate", but were duped when it was clear they were having a "church" meeting.

  • 29. Jeffrey  |  January 20, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    i certainly cannot deny this. But, i would argue that 1) this does not negate the other many churches spewing hatred at the time to african americans. The churches disagreed with the way MLK was directing the civil rights movement. This is one reason he wrote the letter from birmingham. 2) the church supported the nazis in ww2 3) go back and do a history of what the church has done in places like the middle east during the crusades.

    My point is, the church is not known for its help of civil rights. No wonder today so many people dont trust organized religion. I am one of them. At any rate, i do think though that the church helped african americans unite during that time. Its in the language, its in the speeches, its in the whole movement. that is a very different situation than what gays and lesbians have had. For the most part, they have been rejected by the church, not supported in any way, shape, or form.

  • 30. activecitizen54  |  January 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    That this issue is at trial at all is a minor miracle and was loudly denounced by the "leadership of Gay Activism." You know those people who take our money for a "cause" and we see little to no actions on our behalf.
    Excuse the cynicism please but I honestly am disappointed that GLAD and HRC and the rest took a stand against this because of the "risk" involved.
    I'm bracing myself for the defense that we all know is coming. The Church is dependent upon lies, half-truths and innuendo and we all know it's coming.
    Thank God for the Courage Campaign, for each of the bloggers and for Olson & Boies and the team. Meathead is a hero now too.
    Thanks to all of you. I'm alone in the boonies and this is wonderful.

  • 31. michael  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Your not alone anymore 54

  • 32. David Kimble  |  January 21, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Thanks for the link to your website – and no you are not alone!

  • 33. Marci Walley  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    I am a 'gay at home mom' and have been following the trial throughout the day. It is funny to me that the defense objects to each of the plaintiff's witnesses' personal stories of how Prop 8 and general intolerance affects our lives because it's just 'one example'.

    When it comes to them putting witnesses on the stand, what will they be able to say about personally being affected by gays and lesbians and about gay and lesbian marriage?

    Like you, lesbianmother, I just want to marry my girlfriend of 10 years and give our son a lawfully committed family with married parents.

  • 34. Marci Walley  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Oh, and I love that any website covering the trial for the other side is slow to update and never has a comments page. If that isn't telling, I don't know what is.

  • 35. Marlene Bomer  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    That's because bigots are essentially cowards and bullies.

    They can't stand the light of truth and honesty, and would rather slink in the shadows of hate and prejudice.

  • 36. Johan  |  January 21, 2010 at 12:06 am

    From time to time I take the time to write an anti-gay organization an e-mail about recent events. I think I've sent out about 4 or 5 e-mails since last summer to the American Family Association, NOM and just Sunday week to ProtectMarriage. The letters are always polite, but never hide the fact that I'm gay.

    I guess none of you would be awfully surprised that the total number of responses that I have gotten so far is…. zero.

  • 37. C. T. Weber  |  January 20, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    I would like to expand on the second clear path ahead which said "we must build true political power. That means we have to show office holders that we will fight them, that we will run primaries against them and that we will reward them for good behavior." I think it should continue with "It also means that if we lose in the primary we must be willing to support third party candidates who support our vision. That is important because it shows we are willing to exercise power. We will fight them. We will not reward bad behaiver by giving them our vote in November general elections. Only then will we see a change in them. That is, when they see we really mean business."

  • 38. Dieter M.  |  January 20, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Here it is everyone, the TRAILER for the youtube broadcast re-enactment of the prop 8 trial…full sessions starting tomorrow.

    and check out my "don't divorce us" video on youtube to see where this all began: at

  • 39. Dieter M.  |  January 20, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Here it is everyone, the TRAILER for the youtube broadcast re-enactment of the prop 8 trial…full sessions starting tomorrow.

    they can't win!

  • 40. Jaye  |  January 20, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    One thing today's testimony made clear is that "GAY INC" (ie, HRC, GLAAD, etc.) are totally impotent, and it saddens me to no end that for more than a decade HRC in particular has taken in millions and millions of gay/lesbian dollars and really have nothing to show for it. I suspect the HRC elite are shaking in their boots over this trial. Because if it succeeds, ultimately they are out of a job posting their inane "statements" on their website and selling crap with the logo. I'm pissed we've been taken to the cleaners by them and moving forward, my partner's and my money will go to AFER and the Courage Campaign.

  • 41. ron  |  January 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    HRC and GLAAD have represented all of us during very tough times. Becons when there were none. Lets not turn on ourselves and all the work they have done. Turn ALL our anger where it belongs. Ignorance and religous bigotry.

  • 42. Jaye  |  January 21, 2010 at 1:15 am

    What work would that be? I'm serious. With a $45 million a year budget, I'd really like to know.

  • 43. Faith W.  |  January 21, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Activism across all ethnic lines is what is needed because issues of sexuality affect all working class people. By working class I mean anyone who relies on a paycheck to survive. Elites like Dick Cheney and his daughter will always be protected from the impact of homophobia while the working class of any sexual persuasion will bear the brunt of religious right policies like DOMA.
    We cannot count on the democratic party. Obama and Biden said they don't support same-sex marriage, clips of them saying such during the presidential debates helped pass Prop 8. Instead, they passed off the second class citizenship trope of 'civil unions' or 'domestic partnerships.' Look at Barney Frank's response to the massive LGBTQ rights march late last year- "the only pressure they are applying is to the grass" or something to that effect. They disdain real activism, just as they did during the AIDS crisis when activists were trying to connect AIDS to working class issues like the need for single payer health care, education, etc. Or, when trying to pass ENDA, politicians hedge at including trans folks under the umbrella of workplace protections. This nonsense has got to stop. We need a two-pronged approach- street activism coupled with the legal/policy organizations such as HRC and GLAAD, but unless there is a clear declaration that harm to one is harm to the many, things will go nowhere.

  • 44. David Kimble  |  January 21, 2010 at 5:45 am

    I have a question, if this court and ultimately the Supreme Court decide in our favor – what would happen with DODT and DOMA?

  • 45. Jerry Halstead  |  January 21, 2010 at 6:22 am

    "If we have power, we don't use it very well… " I don't believe we do have political power, even though the tide of popular opinion seems to be turning in our direction. We must develop ways to become truly inclusive of each other on all levels — from the personal to the geo-political — in order to build a unified base from which we can achieve the power required to achieve equality under the law. Sure, it would be great if heteros would suddenly love us. But, they don't have to. That's their choice. All we ask is legal equality.

  • 46. Hachetack  |  January 21, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Same sex marrage should not be allowed. Anytime you change the ingreadiants in a formula, you change the outcome. Most Laws are defined in limites and in scope, when you change one material fact you in fact change the end product. Same sex marrage produces nothing that can be defined as family, no ofsprings, no tax paying citizens. We can not use Discrimination as a Vehicle to aquire a change in law because, all laws are in fact discriminatory. theirfore opening the rights for all groups to be included such as Pedefilers, Childrens rights, or maybe the Mormons got it right when they marry in incest.

  • 47. Mary  |  January 23, 2010 at 8:20 am

    I cried tonight after reading this days stark recitation of the power we don't have. It was hard not to feel hopeless especially when this is in California. What hope do those of us in the south have.

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