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Tag: Barack Obama

What is Power?

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 We still have no commitment from President Obama or the Democratic leadership in Congress that this will be repealed and certainly not when.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.

48 Comments January 20, 2010